Before Paula Abdul cultivated her image as Simon Cowell’s foil on the OG American Idol, the former Laker girl made a name for herself as a professional choreographer for artists like George Michael, Duran Duran, and most famously, Janet Jackson. While she found a good level of success in dance, Abdul didn’t want to limit herself as an artist. She saved her earnings, leveraged her work ethic and pop appeal, and recorded a demo that would lead to her debut album, Forever Your Girl.
Despite Abdul’s teaming up with music heavyweights like Babyface, L.A. Reid, and Daryl Simmons, Forever Your Girl’s success was hardly a sure thing at the time; the album hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart, but not until 64 weeks after its original release. However, once the album took off, it earned the title of the most successful debut album of all time and was certified seven times platinum with over 18 million copies sold throughout the world.
Forever Your Girl is a pop/dance album with a touch of R&B that definitely sounds like it’s from 1988. Instrumentation on the album trends towards synths, drum machines, and the odd horn here and there. The instrumentation throughout the album is consistent–perhaps too consistent, as occasionally the songs sound uncomfortably close to one another. Pairings “The Way that You Love Me” and the punchier “Opposites Attract (featuring the Wild Pair, as well as MC Skat Cat in the music video), as well as the R&B-leaning “Knocked Out” and the crushworthy “State of Attraction” could swap music with little notice. That’s not even where the similarities stop, considering all of these songs are about the magnetic pull between two people in a relationship or on the verge of being in one. While these similarities might seem a little flat, it also makes for a consistent listening experience. If one song makes you want to dance on Abdul’s album, chances are all of them will.
In an album about love, crushes, and attraction, the standouts touch on darker, angstier notes. Forever Your Girl wouldn’t have become what it is without Paula Abdul’s most famous song, her third single “Straight Up.” Originally discovered by her mother, “Straight Up” was originally rejected by the studio, but Abdul struck a deal with the powers that be to put it on the album. Done in minor chords with a darker tone, unlike the cheerful promise of the follow-up single “Forever Your Girl” or the Whitney Houston-esque “The Way That You Love Me,” “Straight Up” is Abdul’s unbelievably catchy demand that her lover be honest with her about the state of their relationship. The single was released a year after the album, selling a million copies within days and skyrocketing the success of Abdul and Forever Your Girl. “Straight Up” still receives radio play, because as Daniel J. Levitin explained in This is Your Brain on Music, the song is known for “holding a certain appeal over many, many listenings.” The song is catchy, dramatic, and has a perfect dance beat.
While you can’t beat “Straight Up” for angst, fifth single “Cold Hearted” takes the trophy for shade. Rumored to be about her breakup with John Stamos and his playboy ways, the darker, synth-ridden “Cold Hearted” serves as a warning to other girls to watch their hearts around him. “You’re the one giving up the love/Anytime he needs it/But you turn your back and then he’s off and runnin’ with the crowd/You’re the one to sacrifice/Anything to please him/Do you really think he thinks about you when he’s out?” Abdul sings, dispensing a timeless reality check for anyone in a relationship that is giving more than they’re getting. While clearly from different eras, “Cold Hearted” fits in perfectly with more recent tracks like Marina and the Diamonds’s “How to be a Heartbreaker” or Dua Lipa’s “New Rules.”
While Forever Your Girl dates itself with both sound and slang, there’s a universality to it that can’t be denied. Crushes, love, and betrayal are well-trod topics in pop music for a reason; musical styles come and go, but angst, both good and bad, is forever. Pair that angst with catchy lyrics like “I take–two steps forward/I take two steps back/We come together ‘cause opposites attract” and you have the makings for pop music that lasts. Tracks from Forever Your Girl still find their way onto the radio for our enjoyment today, and Abdul toured with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men last year for the Total Package Tour, performing a setlist mainly comprised of selections from Forever Your Girl. Though its popularity is important to consider, Forever Your Girl’s record-breaking achievements also can’t be forgotten. Besides being the album that held the record for being on the market longest before hitting #1 on the Billboard chart, Forever Your Girl was the most successful debut album of all time (at that time) and marked the first time an artist scored four #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles from a debut album. Straight up: Paula Abdul and Forever Your Girl earned their spot in pop history.