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Paula Abdul – Cold Hearted

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If you believe the Buggles, video may have killed the radio star, but for superstar Paula Abdul the opposite was true. Never known for her vocal prowess or her instrumental stylings, Abdul was first and foremost amongst a group of 80s artists whose success on the pop charts was shaped by and dependent on the rise of MTV and the growing influence of music videos on the musical tastes of pop fans. Like her chart contemporaries Duran Duran and Janet Jackson, among many others, Abdul used videos not merely to promote her records, but really to create a 360 degree pop experience for listeners. While it helped that Abdul was a brilliant dancer and choreographer and knew how to pick a catchy song, it’s hard to imagine her becoming a star or her hits becoming the smashes they were without the accompanying amazing and innovative videos.

Abdul’s rise to fame is a familiar tale: success first as a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers, followed by a stint as a choreographer for Hollywood films such as Big and Coming to America and then, most famously, a run as the dance muse and video cohort of Janet Jackson during her Control period (check Abdul out as one of the sassy backup girls in the video for Nasty – the hair is really quite amazing). In 1987, eager to break out on her own, she recorded a singing demo, and her famous friends and dance skills helped her land a deal with Virgin records. The resulting album, Forever Your Girl, was released in 1988, but took almost a year to take off. The first single, Knocked Out was a moderate chart hit in the US, but the follow-up (It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me was an outright bomb. Abdul and the label, however, weren’t ready to give up on the project. For the album’s next single, Straight Up, they created a stunning black and white video that highlighted Abdul’s spectacular dancing and her razor-sharp cheekbones. The song became a huge no.1 hit in the States and top 5 hit in the UK.

Straight Up was followed by another US no.1, the sweet Forever Your Girl, but it was the album’s third single, Cold Hearted, that kicked Abdul’s career into overdrive and solidified her American imperial phase of eight consecutive top ten hits (including five no.1s). The song, a synth-heavy minor key warning to women everywhere against wrongdoing men, is deliriously catchy, but it was its controversial video that triggered its rise to success and solidified Abdul’s stature as a pop icon. In the video, (an homage to the ‘Take Off With Us’ scene from Bob Fosse’s film All That Jazz) Abdul and a group of super sexy dancers writhe around on the floor and on scaffolding in various states of undress while some conservative business-types watch in horror. The video – which features, at 2:53, one of the most amazing knee slides ever (mine hurt just watching it), is a marvel of clever choreography and attitude, and its overtly sexual content proved tantalizing to viewers, making it at the time one of the most popular videos ever shown on MTV.

Cold Hearted was a stone cold smash in the US, rocketing to no.1 and becoming one of the biggest hits of the year. But in the UK it was simply stone cold, peaking at a frustrating no.46.  It’s unclear why it bombed – my theory is timing, as it was released in September 1990, more than a year after it had peaked in the US, presumably to cash in on Abdul’s UK success with her MC Skat Kat duet, Opposites Attract (we got a terrible, ‘this will do for 1990’ Chad Jackson remix – Ed.) Abdul, of course, had a few more hits in the early part of the decade and then went on to her greatest achievement – as the world’s most supremely wacky judge on American Idol – followed by a one season turn on the US version of X-Factor. And as recently as this past January, she made a surprise appearance on Lip Sync Battle, dancing to Cold Hearted with Jenna Duwan (Mrs. Channing) Tatum and still looking amazing and dancing amazingly well, proof positive that video did not kill, but rather immortalized, this radio star.

Paula_Abdul-Cold_Hearted_(CD_Single)-FrontalEntered chart:  29/9/90

Chart peak:  46

Weeks on chart: 3

Who could sing this today and have a hit?  It would need to be someone who could sing, dance, and look good on scaffolding:  Channing Tatum, anyone?

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