February 2, 2016 by NowhereButPop
In 1988, there was only one album to spawn five #1 hit singles in the U.S., and that was Michael Jackson’s Bad. With four #1s and another single that got all the way to #3, Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl came closest to duplicating Michael Jackson until Katy Perry finally reached that plateau with Teenage Dream. Now just because an album sells, doesn’t mean it’s a good album. As with the case of Paula Abdul’s debut album, commercial success doesn’t translate to critical acclaim. Forever Your Girl pales in comparison to the contemporary works of Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson.
Despite a few solid offerings, Forever Your Girl is lacking in almost every area. The lyrics and subject matter are all hollow and clichéd as every single song portrays an idealized version of romance and relationships. The sole exception is “Cold Hearted” which depicts a “cold hearted snake” who goes out “running with the crowd”. Even though it deviates from the idealized romance of the rest of the album, it still represents a very boring and played out topic in pop music: that of a fictitious, negligent and philandering lover. Listeners have heard it before from artists who quite frankly did it better than Paula Abdul does on Forever Your Girl.
With the exception of the insultingly catchy “Opposites Attract” and the new jack swing masterpiece “Straight Up” every song on Forever Your Girl ranks somewhere between being average and lazily derivate. For the most part pop music is supposed to be feel good music that doesn’t concern itself with the real world, but this album takes it a step further and toes the line between being an airhead and being empty-headed. It takes light-hearted clichés like being madly in love, unending loyalty, and love at first sight and makes it infinitely and sickeningly fluffier. On tracks like “One or the Other”, the only track marginally written by Abdul, the concept of infidelity is laughed off with inconsequential levity. At its worst, Forever Your Girl sounds like it originally started off as a Disney movie soundtrack before it was passed along to Paula Abdul.
Songs like album opener “The Way that You Love Me”, “State of Attraction” and “Knocked Out” are way too cutesy even for a pop album. These songs play up the stereotype that pop music is nothing more than superficial and vapid musing with nothing to offer but overly cheerful platitudes. The worst part about it is that all of these songs sound almost identical to one another. After repeated listens I still can’t tell “I Need You” apart from “Next to You”. Not only are most songs on the album almost synonymous, but they’re all incredibly dated. Forever Your Girl is an 80s album in all the worst ways. From the overly produced beats to the gross misuse of a drum machine to the reliance on fads like electronic voices raining down on a given song, Forever Your Girl is an album that in trying to combine all the different pop fads of the era becomes mired down and held back by those same techniques.
The only song on the entire album that takes itself somewhat seriously is “Straight Up”, a confident and jazzy piece demanding the truth from a haphazard lover. There’s an attitude and an assertiveness unique to “Straight Up” that isn’t found anywhere else on Forever Your Girl. This makes the song the only clear-cut standout track because of it deviates from the jovially ignorant tune of the rest of the album. Whereas on “One or the Other” Abdul knows her man is cheating on her but still treats his disloyalty cavalierly by giving him the choice to pick her over this other woman. On “Straight Up” she’s instead demanding to know the truth about her man’s feelings and keeps the pressure on him until his intentions are made clear. She’s not fucking around on “Straight Up” and that’s when the album takes an intriguing turn. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last very long however.
The other two enjoyable tracks, “Opposites Attract” and “Forever Your Girl” work because there’s a playfulness that doesn’t border on being ignorantly chipper. “Opposites Attract” has a hip-hop edge to it and a call and response banter that highlights the chemistry Abdul has with The Wild Pair (also known collectively as MC Scat Cat). “Forever Your Girl” is a sweet number that would be much better if the rest of the album didn’t try so hard to be sweeter than honey and more wholesome than milk. And just like how too many sweets can cause a toothache, an album rife with overly cutesy and ridiculously clichéd songs causes listeners to grow sick of Forever Your Girl halfway through. There’s just too much unbridled and unnecessary cheer. As a result songs that had a chance to be great, like the title track, are grounded down in a saccharine goop along with all the other songs on the album.
Forever Your Girl concerns itself only with one thing, and that is making an emphatically naïve album that somehow manages to capture all the negative stereotypes of both a genre and an era. I’d imagine that this album was predominantly purchased by 13 year old girls who just experienced their first crush and then envisioned their wedding five minutes after they were asked to the school dance. Maybe it’s me though; maybe I just can’t accept this overly poppy and unbelievably chipper album because of my affinity for more realistic pop stars like Madonna and Janet Jackson. Or maybe I just expected a little more cynicism from a former Laker Girl.