soo, the sample in @ArianaGrande’s #TheLightIsComing (“you wouldn’t let anybody speak!”) appears to be from a CNN archive clip of a man shouting at Sen. Arlen Specter at a Pennsylvania town hall meeting in 2009 https://t.co/z8Cz9sVLbm
soo, the sample in @ArianaGrande’s #TheLightIsComing (“you wouldn’t let anybody speak!”) appears to be from a CNN archive clip of a man shouting at Sen. Arlen Specter at a Pennsylvania town hall meeting in 2009 https://t.co/z8Cz9sVLbm
thoughts on #TheLightIsComing
1. nicki’s part >>
2. the chorus is slightly bop-able
3. the verses feel weird??
4. i’m not mad at the lyrics, but i’m mad at the beat? or vice versa? idek
5. it may grow on me? maybe i need to see the video?
6. idk how to feel
Jimmy Wopo, rapper who many believed to be a rising star in the music industry, was shot and killed on Monday in Pittsburgh.
Police told local station WTAE that two men were shot around 4:20 p.m. in a car in the city’s Middle Hill neighborhood. Both men were taken to hospital, one in a stable condition and the other was critical but later died.
The death of Wopo, whose real name was Travon Smart, was confirmed by his manager, Taylor Maglin, who posted the update on Facebook.
“I lost my brother today and it’s the worst feeling in the world,” Maglin wrote.
“He was destined for greatness and he wanted the best for his friends, family and community. We lost a great person today, but just know I will do everything in my power to make his memory live on forever. Love you bro.”
According to the Associated Press, Wopo spoke with his attorney to discuss a major rap label contract moments before he was shot.
This shooting came on the same day as the death of fellow rapper Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, known as XXXTentacion to his fans, who was killed on Monday in Miami while outside of a motorcycle dealership.
Prior to XXXTentacion’s death, he was facing charges of domestic violence, which included battery of his pregnant girlfriend.
Producer Mike Will Made It and rappers Pusha T and Juicy J were just a few of the many who many shared their condolences after hearing the news of Wapo’s death.
Though no arrests have been made WXPI reported that police believe the incident was isolated.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Pittsburgh PD for additional information.
On Everything Is Love, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s new album released this past Saturday, a bunch of elements unexpectedly commingle: a line about Napoleon blowing off the Sphinx’s nose, the Migos’ signature adlibs, Malcolm X, joking references to the almost-demise of a marriage, trap acoustics, broom-jumping ceremonies, winky references to the streaming wars.
These are all strange bedfellows, but so, once, were Bey and Jay as a romantic pair. They’ve since gone from an unlikely May-December duo to one of American pop culture’s most rock-solid power couples, married with three small children and several business partnerships. The latest product of their union is a nine-song project, a laboratory that tests out just how well they work together, as artists, and as lovers now primed to reveal more of their mystique to the world after spending the majority of their romance collectively retreating from the public eye.
On the bridge of album standout “Lovehappy,” the couple distills the album’s overriding message: “We’re flawed but we’re still perfect for each other.” This is a meditation on perfection, rendered via a flawlessly orchestrated rollout at the London stop of their On the Run II Tour, over expertly crafted instrumentals, and an ideal concept under the circumstances: a reunited couple’s first extended collaborative project. Fresh off of a vow renewal, they’re in it for the long haul. This album is a symbolic re-exchange of rings, a symphonic take on #blacklove in a moment suffuse with it.
For as long as it’s taken for them to put it together, the collaboration lives up to the hype. Obviously, neither is a stranger to musical partnerships. Beyoncé’s made several albums with Destiny’s Child, and Jay-Z made Watch the Throne (2011) with Kanye West, Best of Both Worlds (2002) with R. Kelly, and a compilation with his old Roc-a-Fella labelmates. But this one makes the most musical sense of all those outside of DC’s discography. Everything Is Love comes roughly one year after Jay-Z’s 4:44 album, the rapper’s response to Beyoncé’s Lemonade, the album she released in May 2016 detailing her heartbreak and healing from his infidelities and other indiscretions. With all of the public confessions and restorative video projects and public appearances, the past two years have threatened to overexpose us to them. When Jay hinted at a joint album in his New York Times interview with Dean Baquet last year, people naturally wondered if the couple would be able to actually do something we haven’t heard before. And would there be anything new to learn? A weird question in retrospect given that they once even refused to admit they were married. My, how things have changed!
From the first song, the balmy, straight R&B stunner “Summer,” the two address those concerns, trading verses in a mode that feels long overdue and kind of surprising given their history. The lush heat and scintillating build-up of “Summer” are basically new for these two, who are maximal expressivists when duetting, usually out for the biggest, splashiest, poppiest form of conveying what it feels like to be with each other. But that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink songcraft has always felt like a distancing gesture, the sonic equivalent of a hall of mirrors, over-refracting simple sentiments instead of reflecting them. Coming off of intermittent pairings over the years, including “‘03 Bonnie and Clyde,” “Crazy in Love,” and “Drunk in Love,” Everything finds them, well, in love. Yet this time it feels lived-in. “Let’s make love in the summertime / On the sands, beach sands, make plans / To be in each other’s arms,” Beyoncé sings. Jay rhymes about his trajectory in that season over a lifetime, and the psychological, as well as material, peace music has given his family. It’s sweet, and its laid-back lyricism feels refreshing given all the superlatives we’re used to from them.
On the song Beyoncé channels Lauryn Hill, especially her iconic The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill–era trilling, melismatic vocal runs. The song also echoes “Summertime,” George Gershwin’s jazz standard written for all-black opera Porgy and Bess. “Summer” is a thesis statement by the couple, pointing at an iconic symbol of black American love. (Releasing the record on Juneteenth, that annual celebration of black emancipation in this country, helps to cement this link). The quintessential “Summertime” line “Your daddy’s rich, and your mama’s good-looking,” is certainly true of Blue, Rumi, and Sir’s parents. But their mama’s also rich, and a bigger star than their daddy is, and, as she conveys on “Nice,” she’s such a honcho she don’t care about streaming numbers.
She might be ambivalent, but this record will surely rack up spins. Tracks like “Apeshit,” “Nice,” “Heard About Us,” and the bonus track “Salud!” brim with crowd-pleasing braggadocio and Carter-brand shoutouts, perfectly priming them to climb the charts. As light and effortless as it is, the music has some ideological heft. This is a record replete with references to prison reform, Kalief Browder and Trayvon Martin, and the Carters’ reception on Martin Luther King Boulevards as a testament to success. Jay’s rapping on “Black Effect” is exquisite and psychologically complex. The contemporariness of the album, via its trap-influenced sound, is the most clever use of the genre’s conventions. Trapping is hard, but making a long-term romantic relationship work is probably more difficult.
Trapping is hard, but making a long-term romantic relationship work is probably more difficult.
Much of Jay and Bey’s music of late has had a thread of black economic self-empowerment and up-by-your-own-bootstraps lyricism; Everything slyly redistributes some of that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of black women. On the album’s “713,” Jay raps, “To all the good girls that love hustlers / To the mothers that put up with us […] / We only know love because of ya […] / Black queen, you rescued us.” The notion that black women have rescued black men will undoubtedly make some of us groan, and others feel appreciated, and many of us might very well do a little of both. The underlying theme of this album is black women’s capacity to pull themselves up, and also their men and children.
On “Friends,” the chorus “Come pull me up, pull me up / And never let me down” is reserved for the support engendered by pals of the couple, but elsewhere on the album, you feel the weight of black women’s labor. (The album’s cover is a black woman picking a black man’s afro.) In a year when black women saved themselves and the entire state of Alabama from Roy Moore’s election, and a year and a half since 95% of black women voted as a bloc to save the country from Donald Trump, the narrative of the black woman who “rescued us,” as nebulous as that “us” is, is pervasive. It’s also true of Beyoncé’s role on this album. Her vocal play, and sheer profile, keep this record from becoming 4:44 part two. That’s still a good album, just not the kind of massive hit they’re used to.
If Lemonade was inspired by black women’s interior journey toward self-actualization, most prominently via Bey’s allusions to Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, and if 4:44 was Jay-Z’s Citizen Kane, as I wrote upon its release, then Everything Is Love also bears some relation to a landmark piece of American cinema. This album is, in many ways, reminiscent of Charles Burnett’s classic cult film Killer of Sheep (1977), a striking, musically rich meditation on black love rendered through the banal. Only on this album are Beyoncé and Jay-Z rendering their version of the black mundane through branded, filtered, already uncontroversial fodder.
Everything is much louder and polished than that film is, but its central notion, of exploring the depth of black romantic relationships, remains. If it sounds strange to compare this über-visible couple to a quiet but respected, little-seen black cult film, consider this couple’s trajectory. Their relationship has become so intertwined with American lore. They are not only making fun of the infamous elevator incident on the “Flawless (Remix)” and on 4:44, but they’re also already cannibalizing their more recent foibles. At the very beginning of the couple’s On the Run II Tour, earlier in June, we learned that Jay and Bey renewed their vows. On “Lovehappy,” the album’s jubilant closer, Beyoncé sings to her husband, “You fucked up the first stone, we had to get remarried.” There’s something uneasy about “Lovehappy” and the couple’s assurance that their marital troubles are far behind them. Their ultra-visibility nowadays, and their transparency, belies what made them so interesting. In this light, their recent public sharing is the equivalent of a couple posting pics online all the time in order to beat back some of their doubts. This is a really, really good album. It’s buoyant, sunny, and coherent. And every song could be a single. Something about it, though, just feels like a person poised to drop their smile when you turn away.
To go back to Miseducation, which has received so much fanfare this year, being sampled by Drake and Cardi B, Lauryn Hill gave a generation of black music fans a deft mix of vulnerability and hard #bars, of rap and R&B together (see the movement from Miseducation’s opening track, the Wyclef Jean diss “Lost Ones,” to the doo-wop cover “Tell Him.”) Sonically, Everything Is Love encompasses this juxtaposition. And the style, of the two trading rap and sung bars, recalls Miseducation’s compositions. There are even interludes that hearken back to that album’s skits about the meaning of love. Instead of Hill’s voice stylistically splintered, here you have two distinct voices and artists melding into a cohesive unit. That sounds awfully a lot like the dictionary definition of marriage.
Or the idea behind #blacklove. It’s a hashtag and an ideal and it’s everywhere. It’s pervasive on social media, and even a docuseries on OWN. Everything Is Love is the apotheosis of this phenomenon. The prevailing thought is that love between straight black women and men has been under siege since at least slavery, and current criminal justice measures exacerbate the challenges facing black partnerships (admittedly, there’s less of an appreciation of the struggle nonhetero lovers face). In American pop culture, the black duet has been the space for erotic energy and a kind of image-forecasting, the black woman and man in literal and figurative harmony.
In the late ’60s, when America was imploding and black communities were literally on fire, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (1967) and “You’re All I Need to Get By” (1968) were both mainstream Motown candy and something for black couples specifically to savor, before “black is beautiful” was a firmly accepted view. In the ’70s, when some black men and women were sparring over black feminism, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s duets offered sophisticated common ground. Diana Ross and Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love” (1981) anticipated the crack era and so loomed over the broken families that followed as a kind of bygone utopia you could only access on FM radio. Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By” (1995) and Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo’s “Nothing Even Matters” (1998) came along during a culture war between younger black women and men, right after rappers started dissing R&B and all the tenderness it held within it, and before Nelly swiping a credit card in a woman’s butt elicited protests at Spelman University. The timing of black duets has always been really meaningful whether or not their performers intended for them to be.
So what does Everything Is Love say about the time we’re living in? We’re in an era of hyperbranding and viral hashtagging, and for a couple so insistently and shrewdly focused on accruing wealth and maximizing their profile, surfacing with their first joint album in an era of #blacklove is prudent. Again, it makes sense that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill feels like a touchstone for this album, but the diversions are real, too. The elusivity of “that thing,” or the “everything” from “Everything Is Everything,” Hill referred to 20 years ago has been overarticulated to such a degree on Everything Is Love that you wish some of it were still a mystery. ●
Niela Orr is a writer from Philadelphia. A former BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellow, she is a columnist for the Baffler and an interviews editor for the Believer. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Elle, and McSweeney’s Quarterly.
The album, titled Everything is Love, is the Carters’ first joint record together. The nine-track album is exclusively available on TIDAL, Jay-Z’s streaming music platform.
The music video for the feature track “APE SHIT” was also dropped on Saturday.
The video was shot at the Louvre museum in Paris and features the couple dressed in coordinated pink and blue suits standing in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”
The music video, directed by Ricky Saiz, was shot last month.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.
Christina Schmidt, best known for playing Terri MacGregor on Degrassi: The Next Generation, said she was surprised when Drake personally got in touch with her two weeks ago and asked her to be a part of “a really special project.”
According to Schmidt, although a lot of the details were kept under wraps there was plenty of excitement when Degrassi cast members eventually figured out they were reuniting on their original Toronto set — and it would all be for the music video for the old cast mate’s latest single, “I’m Upset.”
“It was a whirlwind of emotions,” Schmidt told BuzzFeed News on Thursday. “To come back together was a really nice feeling because it was where we spent our youth together. That was our high school.”
The music video was released late Wednesday night and delighted both Drake fans and nostalgic viewers of the hit teen drama, which originally aired in the early 2000s.
BuzzFeed News spoke to three Degrassi actors — Schmidt, Jake Epstein, and Jake Goldsbie — who also appeared in Drake’s video to learn the inside story of how it came to be.
The majority of the show’s original cast gathered on set on Sunday around 6:00 p.m. for an overnight shoot that didn’t let them out until around 5:00 a.m., the actors said.
Epstein, who played Craig Manning on the teen drama, said that Drake was waiting on set to say hello to everyone when they arrived.
“For a lot of us, we didn’t get a real high school reunion so this was maybe the closest thing,” Epstein said. “There was a lot of laughing, swapping stories, and catching up. It immediately felt fun.”
Make-up artists and wardrobe assistants were at the ready, responsible for picking out looks for each of the cast members. The actors even crowded into their former dressing rooms to change and hang out in.
Goldsbie, aka Toby Isaacs, told BuzzFeed News that the cast shared a catered dinner together before filming in the Degrassi cafeteria set, where they usually ate lunch when filming the show more than a decade ago.
“We were sitting there and eating, and the phrase, ‘This is so weird’ was definitely repeated a few times,” Goldsbie said, adding that the experience felt more like a family reunion than a high school reunion. “We fell into being friends again very quickly.”
Schmidt, Epstein, and Goldsbie were all clear about the fact that they still call Drake by his birth name, Aubrey.
“No one felt like, ‘Oh it’s Drake,’” Schmidt said. “It’s still Aubrey, and there was still the same humbleness and the same love that we had when we were doing Degrassi.”
Epstein echoed Schmidt, saying, “Aubrey’s the most famous rapper on the planet, but there’s also another side to him that’s very genuine and very grounded.”
Despite the fact that it’s been 17 years since Degrassi: The Next Generation premiered, and that Drake has since gone on to become one of the most popular rappers in the world, Schmidt said “nothing had changed about him.”
“I definitely had some moments of being on set and looking around and being like, ‘Where am I?’ It was insane,” Goldsbie said. “It was crazy being on the set with Aubrey, but he’s also Drake.”
Regardless of his celebrity, Goldsbie said chatting with Drake was “very much just me talking with the guy I’ve known since I was 12 years old.”
“It was like talking to my old friend who I used to play video games with and be dumb with when we were teenagers,” Goldsbie said.
Schmidt said the vibe on set was like a party, with bartenders even present mixing drinks.
Sometimes it wasn’t even clear when the cameras were and weren’t rolling, Goldsbie added, with the cast just freely enjoying each other’s company.
Schmidt, Goldsbie, and Epstein all praised those who worked behind the scenes to make the project happen under such short notice, most notably director Karena Evans, who also helmed Drake’s “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What” videos.
The actors said they weren’t told when the video would premiere, but they were all impressed with the final outcome.
“Aubrey’s success is out of this world,” Epstein said. “We were happy to be together and we’re all so proud of him and so happy for him.”
Schmidt said that Drake was sentimental with the 20 or so cast members during filming. He said the rapper sat and talked with them about “how amazing this part of his life was,” reminisced about how they all “grew up together,” and said that he’s always thinking about his Degrassi family.
The music video for “I’m Upset” comes after Drake’s recent rap beef with Pusha T in which they each released diss tracks aimed at one another. In Pusha T’s diss track, “The Story Of Adidon,” the rapper alleged that Drake has a secret baby named Adonis and also insulted Drake’s mom, dad, and friend/producer Noah “40” Shebib, who has multiple sclerosis. He also used a photo of Drake in blackface as the cover art.
Drake released a statement in response to the blackface picture, saying he did the photoshoot in 2007 and that the picture “represented how black African Americans were once wrongfully portrayed in entertainment.” Drake has since remained silent and hasn’t responded to Pusha T.
Schmidt told BuzzFeed News she was aware of the recent “diss tape” drama, but said Drake just seemed happy on set to be around old friends.
“I think it’s just a time [in his life] when he really felt like it’s all love,” Schmidt said.
“We are so blessed and he’s been blessed, and I think he really wanted to show some love for where he came from and that you can always to go back to your roots.”
Epstein, too, said he didn’t know if the video was “some kind response” to the Pusha T drama, but was glad for the opportunity to reconnect with old friends.
“[Drake] said he’d been thinking of doing something like this for a long time,” Epstein said, “and if there’s any of us who could get us all together in a room and have fun, it would definitely be him.”
Krystie Yandoli is an entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Krystie Lee Yandoli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Paula Abdul exists in today’s culture largely through her reality television stints: as the zany (and nice) judge on American Idol, and the tearful, memeworthy diva — mocked by Kathy Griffin — from her 2007 reality show Hey Paula. But long before that, she was the original “pop princess” — an avant-la-lettre Britney Spears — initially launched to stardom 30 years ago today, with the release of her 1988 debut album, Forever Your Girl.
Abdul’s crisp dance moves and coy, girlish attitude eventually helped propel the album to record-setting success, garnering the first four of her six No. 1 singles. Those hits demonstrate the range of her pop persona, from the sweetheart appeal of the title track to the iconic David Fincher-directed video for “Straight Up” to the deep cheese of a duet with the rapping animated “skat cat” in “Opposites Attract,” which Abdul recently reenacted with connoisseur of corniness James Corden. (He plays the cat.)
They turned Abdul into a Diet Coke-endorsing superstar, and throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s her commercial success rivaled Madonna and Janet Jackson. “She was like Miss America in people’s hearts, when she was at the height of her success,” former Virgin Records A&R vice president Gemma Corfield, who worked closely with Abdul her entire career, tells BuzzFeed News. But while there are entire cultural studies syllabi devoted to Madonna, and reclaiming Janet Jackson’s legacy has become its own genre of criticism, Abdul’s brief pop reign has largely been lost to history.
In fact, Forever Your Girl became a slow-burning success only after it had almost been written off as an irredeemable flop. The story behind the making and release of the big hits off the album, written by producers Oliver Leiber and Elliot Wolff, reveals the alchemy that resulted in its particular sound, in many ways a reflection of Abdul’s quirky humor and perspective. And it serves as a reminder that record companies and producers can’t manufacture big stars from the top down.
“It was a confluence of innocence and being unafraid that brought it all together,” says Corfield. “Once you have success, then you’re trying to always beat the success. But when you haven’t had any, you don’t know any better.” Leiber describes the process of selecting “Opposites Attract,” one of the album’s No. 1’s, a little more bluntly: “It’s not like it was Clive Davis with an amazing ear that said, ‘That’s a hit for Whitney,’” he says. “It was Gemma saying, ‘Do you have a third song?’ and me making up a half-assed chorus over the phone.”
Pop stars tend to be best remembered for being either transgressive, era-defining stars or nostalgic one-hit wonders. Abdul landed somewhere between those two extremes, maybe in part because, as she sang in her last original song (which she performed on American Idol in 2009), she was “just here for the music.” Unlike Jackson or Madonna, she was never interested in generating controversy or using her songs as a form of autobiography, and female pop stars historically haven’t been taken seriously when they just want to sing and dance.
In a post-poptimism era, most people accept that an artist who isn’t a songwriter, or who doesn’t have a powerful voice, can still matter culturally; the New Yorker covers Britney Spears. But that wasn’t necessarily the case in the early ’90s. Abdul did win one Grammy for a music video and two Emmys for her still-influential choreography, but ultimately, as Rolling Stone writer David Wild put it around the time of her rise, she was seen as proof that “an uncanny grasp of style and image can compensate for a lack of innate musical talent.” Taken all together, Abdul’s discography is often corny in a so-bad-it’s-good way, but cheesy pop has its own rules and inspirations. And for a brief moment, Abdul choreographed them into something unforgettable.
Abdul famously transitioned into the music industry when her work choreographing the Laker Girls led to her discovery by the Jacksons. After helping craft Janet Jackson’s moves for the “Nasty” and “Control” music videos, she was signed to the then-new label Virgin Records by Jeff Ayeroff, who had worked in marketing at A&M Records with Janet. “She said, ‘I can sing, you know. I want to do an album,’” Ayeroff recalled later. “Here’s someone with a personality and she’s gorgeous, and she can dance. If she can sing, she could be a star.” But the story of how Abdul found her bearings as a professional singer, and learned to work with producers, is not quite so straightforward.
One of the main criticisms leveled against Abdul after her album’s release was about her voice. LA Times journalist Dennis Hunt, profiling Abdul in 1989, called her voice “just passable,” and Abdul told him, “With my singing, there’s room for improvement.” But, as Corfield points out, “She didn’t play an instrument or was a good singer in the traditional sense of the word, but she had an unusual and unique tone to her voice, intrinsic value to her voice, that was very catchy.”
That didn’t immediately emerge on the first song she recorded for Forever Your Girl, “Knocked Out,” produced by Babyface and L.A. Reid. At the time, Reid and Babyface were on their way to peak popularity, and they “didn’t want to spend a long time in the studio fiddling about with her there,” says Corfield. “I don’t think they were that empathetic.” In his memoir, Reid recalls — in diplomatically brief terms — that it took “a long time to record her vocal.”
Leiber remembers how affected Abdul was by that first recording experience. “I don’t know if they gave her an hour or 15 minutes, but they kicked her out,” he tells BuzzFeed News. “They said, ‘Thank you, you know what, we’re gonna finish this record without you,’ which freaked Paula out,” he says. “She was sort of traumatized from that experience.”
The album’s sound, and Abdul’s musical identity as it is remembered now, started coming together more clearly after she and Corfield started working with Leiber and Elliot Wolff (the writer and coproducer of “Straight Up”). Corfield allowed them to produce their own songs, bringing their unique sensibilities, and a willingness to collaborate with Abdul, to the project. “Because the writers were also producing, mostly for the first time, except for L.A. and Babyface, they cared a lot,” remembers Corfield. “They put a lot of time and effort into it. I think that sort of youngness and the greenness of everybody was part of the charm.”
Leiber and Wolff took the time to help Abdul come into her sound throughout the recording process. Leiber found that her natural vocal range “was best when she was actually moving and dancing … I had her dancing to a certain extent,” he recalls of their time in the studio. “On my stuff you can hear shit jingling on some of the songs.”
Abdul would later be remembered — in some ways dismissed — as a Janet Jackson knockoff, because Jackson had first used new jack swing and the funky Prince-style Minneapolis sound as a female pop singer to make Control, two years before Abdul released her debut. Leiber was certainly influenced by and circling the Prince camp while living in Minneapolis; he recorded the demo of the first song he made with Abdul, “(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me,” with the artist St. Paul, who’d been part of Prince’s bands the Time and the Family.
You could also make the case — and Abdul has — that she helped create Jackson’s dancing style, which remains influential to this day. Referring to Jackson’s choreography, Leiber says, “There was a sense that that was really [Abdul’s] dance style. She gave it away, she was a choreographer, but she kind of wanted to own it. So I knew that the order of the day was to try and make a Janet kind of record.”
As they worked together, Leiber adapted that sound to work with Abdul’s own distinctive persona, particularly with the song “Forever Your Girl,” for which he drew on poppier influences, like Madonna’s “Borderline.” Before working with Abdul, Leiber had started a song, inspired by his girlfriend from North Dakota, called “Small Town Girl.” It was “very upbeat, very major, very poppy,” he says, and he played it for Abdul. “I just got this strong feeling from her of this sort of innocence, a sweetness about her, a timidity about her.”
Leiber wrote the song’s lyrics after their first meeting. “‘Forever Your Girl’ was my take on the sweetness that Paula had and my imagining how she might handle it if she had an insecure boyfriend,” he says. The song later doubled as a declaration of her new status as America’s sweetheart, and it would ultimately become one of her signature hits.
It was Abdul herself who stumbled onto, and strongly advocated for, the funky pop of “Straight Up” and “Cold Hearted,” after her mother got a demo from Wolff, then an unknown writer/producer. Wolff died in 2016, and Abdul spoke at his wake about her reaction to first hearing the “Straight Up” demo. “We were actually crying-laughing, but I was also so intrigued, and my mom said, ‘I’m putting this in the wastebasket,’” she recalled. Abdul pulled it out of the trash, telling her mother, “There’s something about it that’s crazy good, and I have to hear it again.”
“Straight Up,” which inspired countless punning headlines about her upward trajectory at the time, remains Abdul’s most iconic song and the most-viewed music video of any of her hits. Today, it just sounds distinctly of its ’80s era, making it hard to understand why Abdul — or anyone at the record company — might have found the song laughable. But Leiber, who calls the song a “masterpiece” (and Wolff a genius), remembers having a similar initial reaction. “You couldn’t tell, in the beginning, if this shit is really horrible or is it just brilliant,” he says. “His stuff lyrically was campy and comical and not cool, and that’s how it hit me in the beginning, and that’s kind of how it hit everybody. I think that’s why it ended up in the trash bin.”
That campiness is likely what turned off the record company executives. (Abdul said she had to convince them to include “Straight Up” on the album.) “All the world’s a candy store / and he’s been trick-or-treating,” is one of the metaphors of “Cold Hearted,” in which Abdul advises a girlfriend against a player, spitting out the phrase “cold-hearted sssssnake,” a slithering bit of pop onomatopoeia. “That was the stuff that hit my ears and I went, ‘This shit is not cool, and this guy has definitely not been hanging with the brothers,’” Leiber recalls, chuckling.
But Abdul, says Leiber, “was always ahead of the curve. She heard it and she was right: His stuff just has its own thing.” She worked hard with Wolff to get the vocals right, recalling that he went as far as writing out the song phonetically for her. “That’s how I learned how to say the rap,” she explained. “He was meticulous with Paula,” Leiber says. “He just went line by line, vowel sound by vowel sound, and there’s a uniqueness to it.”
Both these songs brought out another aspect of Abdul’s sonic persona, with more attitude and less of the sunny, girlish appeal of the other songs on the album. But “Straight Up” — indeed, all of Forever Your Girl and Abdul herself — might have been lost to history, because the record company slotted Wolff’s song in as a B-side, and went with the more famous producers’ track, “Knocked Out,” as the first single.
“We were initially working her on the R&B side,” says Corfield. Much was made during Abdul’s rise of her ethnic ambiguity, but, as Corfield put it, “she’s a Jewish girl from the Valley, as far as I’m concerned,” and her sound was not “urban” enough for non-pop stations. Babyface and L.A. Reid’s “Knocked Out” failed to gain major video or radio airplay traction on the R&B charts when it was released in the summer of 1988. And the second single, Leiber’s “(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me,” accompanied by a stylish, big-budget video shot by David Fincher, initially peaked at 88 on the charts. The record company, which was new in America, was giving up on the album. “So I asked, ‘Is the record a stiff or what?’” Abdul later told People. “And the record company said, ‘Paula, it ain’t happening.’”
Ultimately, Abdul’s stardom was not sparked by record company machinations, her choreography, or even MTV, but by old-fashioned radio play. It wasn’t until the end of the year that “Straight Up,” the quirky song Abdul had advocated for, was selected and played by the pop radio station KMEL in San Francisco, and immediately took off. It rushed up to Billboard’s top 20 based on radio, before a music video was ever shot, prompting Virgin to push it as a single. And Fincher’s imagining of the song in the now-iconic black-and-white video, featuring Abdul’s distinctive dance moves, helped define her own kind of hip girlishness. (The Djimon Hounsou and Arsenio Hall cameos didn’t hurt, either). Thanks to the success of “Straight Up,” the other Leiber and Wolff songs were released as singles, and “Forever Your Girl” and “Cold Hearted” both eventually peaked at No. 1. And the album, which holds the record for slowest climb to the top of the charts of all time, finally began its ascent.
Once the momentum picked up, Abdul was able to imprint herself even more on the music, altering “Opposites Attract” to fit her vision for its music video. “She always wanted to do an animation song. She had a bee in her bonnet about it for ages,” recalls Corfield. Leiber originally wrote the song — borrowing the title from a dime store romance novel — as a call-and-response tune between Abdul and Prince backup singers the Wild Pair. “The rap was put on it to be the voice of the cat, because she wanted a video with an animated character,” Corfield says. Leiber collaborated on a rap with a radio DJ he found in Minneapolis, Derrick “Delite” Stevens, who became the voice of MC Skat Kat in the video, “and that was a massive video, and again gave her a number one,” remembers Corfield.
Forever Your Girl went on to sell 7 million copies just in the US, and that massive success changed the dynamic around Abdul, as she suddenly became both a major corporate priority and a public target. Singer Yvette Marine, who Leiber had hired as the demo vocalist for “Opposites Attract,” sued Virgin, claiming that her voice was on the song’s lead vocal. Coming in the wake of the Milli Vanilli backlash and Martha Wash’s C+C Music Factory lawsuit — which prompted an authenticity witch hunt amid public suspicion that music video performers weren’t actually singing their songs — the lawsuit sparked endless bad publicity and reports of Abdul as “the latest lip sync scandal.”
Abdul, who sat front row of the courtroom every day, ultimately won, but the allegations didn’t help her musical credibility. The case made headlines in 1991, just as she was releasing her second album, Spellbound, and fed a larger skepticism about the rise of “manufactured pop” designed to compensate for artists without songwriting skills or big voices. The success of Abdul’s debut also impacted the sound and marketing of her next album, because there was now a big success to live up to and reproduce.
“Everybody was a sweetheart for the first one, but was also green. Everybody was sort of, like, scrambling,” says Leiber. “Whereas there wasn’t really much A&R-ing for the first record, all of a sudden there’s A&R-ing going on, and there’s management going on, and there’s these people making decisions.” Abdul’s new managers — former promotions men — rejected Leiber and Wolff’s input for the second album, and the members of one of their other acts, the Family Stand, became her writers and producers.
Spellbound did eventually hit No. 1 — setting a record as the lowest-selling album to do so — and gave Abdul two more number one singles: “Rush Rush,” a stripped-down ballad emphasizing her vocals accompanied by a Rebel Without a Cause–inspired video featuring Keanu Reeves; and the follow-up single “Promise of a New Day.” But it was also perhaps the first sign that Abdul was losing her grip on the zeitgeist — and musical credibility — as she moved out of the teen pop mold of Forever Your Girl.
The vaguely new-age video and lyrics of “Promise” (“What will change the world / No one knows,” “Hear the younger generation ask / Why do I feel this way?”) came across as an awkward attempt at more adult, socially conscious themes, in the mold of Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, that didn’t fit with Abdul’s image. Critics have singled out her performance of “Vibeology” at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards as the moment she jumped the shark, because of her “unflattering” costume and her supposedly shaky attempt at live vocals.
Abdul later joked on her reality show that her bedazzled leotard at the VMAs made her look “fat” and nearly ended her career. But it was more likely the long delay between her second and third albums that defused her momentum. Abdul took time off after Spellbound to deal with personal issues, including an eating disorder and her divorce from Emilio Estevez. By the time she reemerged with Head Over Heels in 1995, Corfield says, “She wasn’t as cutting edge … a lot of hipper artists had come up in between. You have to change with the times to stay current, and maybe she wasn’t current; obviously she wasn’t. Her kids, her fans had gone on to the next thing.”
In 2001, Abdul reinvented herself as the reality television star we know today with her debut as a judge on American Idol, and she’s spent the better part of two decades since mentoring budding pop stars and dancers; she pioneered the pop-to-panel move later employed by other divas like Jennifer Lopez, Spears, and Katy Perry. Still, Abdul’s quirky, enduring appeal has helped her music continue to resonate in unexpected ways, whether she’s reenacting “Straight Up” dance moves with Kelly Ripa or providing the soundtrack for a lip-sync battle on RuPaul’s Drag Race. “She’s done well and made a career for herself,” says Corfield, “so she’s got the last laugh, probably.”
Abdul’s short-lived 2007 Bravo reality show Hey Paula is a candid production from that brief window before celebrities wised up and turned all “reality” productions into boringly glossy infomercials. In one scene from the series, as Abdul is walking down the street after an awards show, a random guy in a car screams, “Hey, Paula! You know that you’re a legend!” He cheerfully adds, “Yeah! ‘I’m Forever Your Girl!’ Remember that?” Abdul laughs appreciatively. It’s a bittersweet moment that unexpectedly captures the promise of that optimistic first album title — that even despite pop’s ruthless tides, Abdul could remain eternally ours. ●
Pier Dominguez is a Culture Writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Dominguez has a Ph.D. from Brown University in American Studies.
Contact Pier Dominguez at email@example.com.
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