Paula Abdul's 'Forever Your Girl' Turns 30: All the Songs Ranked (Critic's Picks)

Paula Abdul Forever Your Girl
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Paula Abdul poses for a portrait session during the filming of the video for "Forever Your Girl" in 1988.

Before she became best known as an American Idol judge, Paula Adbul was challenging Madonna and Janet Jackson for dance-pop diva supremacy thanks to her blockbuster debut, Forever Your Girl, which came out 30 years ago on June 13, 1988. After taking 64 weeks to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- the longest climb to the top ever -- it went on to be certified seven-times platinum and notch four No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. In honor of the album’s 30th anniversary, we rank all the tracks, straight up.

10. "Next to You"
The album’s lone ballad is a forgettable love song that makes "Rush Rush"—Abdul’s No. 1 smash from 1991’s Spellbound—sound like "I Will Always Love You." Not trying to be any more than the change-up filler that it is, it exposes Abdul’s vocal weaknesses, putting her lack of range, texture and nuance on display.

9. "I Need You"

The Minneapolis sound—and the subsequent success of Janet Jackson’s Control—had a big impact on Forever Your Girl. It can be felt on tracks like this one, produced by Jesse Johnson, the former Time member who had worked with Jackson on 1984’s Dream Street. But its synth stabs and tight, funk-lite rhythm guitar don’t amount to much more than serviceable dance-pop.

8. "State of Attraction"
Written by the "Man in the Mirror" team of Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, this song is nowhere near in the same hemisphere as that 1988 Michael Jackson hit. With a gyrating groove that again owes to the Minneapolis sound, it’s a level or two below the album’s singles, showing that Abdul isn’t a strong enough vocal presence to lift the lesser material.

7. "One or the Other"
On the album closer, Abdul issues a fed-up ultimatum ("You can only have one or the other/Is it it gonna be her?/Is it gonna be me?") over some jittery funk. This track—the only one co-written by the singer—shows that Jody Watley’s 1987 self-titled solo debut was also an influence on Forever Your Girl. But Abdul lacks the fierce feistiness that the underrated Watley had on tracks like "Looking for a New Love."

6. "Opposites Attract"

The Grammy-winning video—in which Abdul cavorts with an animated feline, MC Skat Kat—is ultimately more memorable than the song. Still, the final Forever Your Girl single, which hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1990, is a guilty pleasure. Featuring the Wild Pair duo of Bruce DeShazer and Marv Gunn on vocals, it’s one of three tracks written and produced by Oliver Leiber, formerly of the Minneapolis R&B group Ta Mara and the Seen.

5. "Forever Your Girl"
Also written and produced by Leiber, the title track is an irresistibly giddy declaration of devotion. "Baby, just remember I gave you my heart/Ain’t no one gonna tear us apart," sings Adbul, who, with her perky chirp and girlish innocence, is right in her wheelhouse here. Behind those propulsive synths, this Technicolor twirler skipped all the way to No. 1 on the Hot 100.

4. "Knocked Out"
As produced by L.A. Reid and Babyface, Abdul’s first single is one of the most soulful things she’s ever done, recalling the new jack swing flow that the duo also brought to Karyn White’s self-titled R&B debut in 1988. In fact, "Knocked Out" was a Top 10 hit on what was then called the Hot Black Singles chart. Packing a deeper thump than the rest of Forever Your Girl, it scores its own kind of "love TKO."

3. "The Way That You Love Me"
Like this whole album, its opening track took the long road to success. Released as the second single in 1988, it didn’t really take off until it was re-released the following year after Forever Your Girl had exploded. Eventually, the song reached No. 3 on the Hot 100. Produced and written by Leiber, it’s a percolating mix of the Minneapolis sound and new jack swing, with some Zapp-esque vocal effects giving a robo-funk edge. Through it all, Abdul’s undeniable charm shines through. 

2. "Cold Hearted"
Dancing a bit on the dark side, there is something slightly dangerous about this track for the pretty vanilla Abdul, who warns about this cold-hearted snake: "Girl, don’t play the fool." With its seductive groove—produced by Elliot Wolff, who had worked with Chaka Khan and Peaches & Herb—Abdul’s third No. 1 single on the Hot 100 may be the sexiest thing that she’s has ever done. Bonus points for the erotic, Bob Fosse-inspired video showing off her dance chops.

1. "Straight Up"

This album’s straight-up classic—also produced and written by Wolff—propelled Abdul and Forever Your Girl to the stratosphere, becoming her first chart-topper on the Hot 100. Yes, it benefited from its iconic black-and-white video featuring Arsenio Hall and Djimon Hounsou, but this sassy, slinky strutter deserved to be a smash without it. After choreographing Control videos for Janet Jackson, this was Abdul’s own "Nasty" moment. And it still gets you caught in a hit and run every time you hear it.


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