DANCER AND choreographer Paula Abdul was one of America’s most successful singers of the early ’90s. Her first three albums of lightweight pop-dance music offered a reassuring image, in contrast to the threatening one of Madonna, and sold a total of over ten million copies.
Abdul studied tap and jazz dancing from the age of ten and made her film début in Junior High School in 1978. She choreographed steps for the basketball dance squad the Laker Girls while still in college. In 1985 she choreographed several music videos and created the dance sequences for several Janet Jackson hits, including ‘Nasty’ (1986) for which she was given an MTV award in 1987. She subsequently choreographed videos for Duran Duran, Debbie Gibson, Dolly Parton and ZZ Top as well as working on Oliver Stone’s film The Doors.
Abdul was signed to a recording contract by Virgin in 1988 but her first singles made little impact. The commercial breakthrough came with the album Forever Your Girl. Four singles from the album topped the US charts in 1989 and 1990. They were the title track, ‘Straight Up’, ‘Cold Hearted’ and ‘Opposites Attract’, which was composed by Oliver Leiber, son of Jerry Leiber (of Leiber and Stoller) and had a rap from Derrick Delite of Soul Purpose. Shut Up and Dance (The Dance Mixes) contained remixes of tracks from the début album and was issued in 1990. The producers included Family Stand (Peter Lord, Jeff Smith and Sandra St Victor), Don Was and L.A. and Babyface.
By now Abdul was frequently seen at awards ceremonies, charity concerts (she contributed a track to the Disney album For Our Children, a fund-raiser for AIDS victims) and on high-profile advertising campaigns for Reebok shoes and Diet Coke. She designed a shoe line for the L.A. Gear clothes company. In 1991 backing singer Yvette Marine brought a case against Abdul and Virgin claiming she shared lead vocals on two of Abdul’s recordings. The case was eventually dismissed in 1993.
Abdul’s second album of new material was Spellbound (1991). It included compositions by Prince (‘U’) and John Hiatt (‘Alright Tonight’) and two US No. 1 singles, ‘Rush Rush’ and ‘Spellbound’; ‘Blowing Kisses in the Wind’ was also a Top Ten hit, while ‘Will You Marry Me?’ featured Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Head Over Heels* (1995), on which she was partnered by the likes of Color Me Bad and Haza, was less successful and Abdul turned increasingly to television and theatre, appearing in her first film, In the Shadow of Evil, in 1998 and taking the lead in a revival of Dorothy Fields’ Sweet Charity (and choreographing the production) in 1999.
© Phil Hardy, Dave Laing, ‘Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music’, 2001