The eighties were a tough decade for any stars wanting to make a lasting impression on pop music. With the rising success of oversexed stars Madonna, Prince and George Michael in the earlier half of the decade, however, the industry paved the way for an endless flood of eat-me-up bubblegum pop for a choice demographic: young girls with a lot of money and self-esteem to spend on becoming just like their favorite teen idols, being they were far too young, people at that time thought, to idolize the alternatives. This trend undoubtedly paved the way for little girls Britney, Christina and Jessica, who favored the Catholic schoolgirl persona before morphing to the role of trashy debutante later in their own careers.
But for predecessors Debbie G. and Tiffany, who were Mouseketeers compared to their successors, the mere tongue in cheek references, which now only cause coyish laughs from today’s consumptuous youth, was good enough “back then” to make them go platinum. Looking back at the beginning of the “futuristic” era, Teen Beat cover staples New Kids on the Block, Debbie Gibson, and Tiffany were constantly found throwing teenage girls towards the malls they concerted faster than you could slap on some glitter Bonne Bell and a neon New Kids slap bracelet.
So when Martika finally arrived onto the ‘tween scene in 1989 with her self-titled debut, it was almost too late in the game, as the bubblegum pop cracked somewhere around 1991. Predating her musical debut, Martika starred in the eighties Mickey Mouse Club, aka Kids Incorporated, from 1984-86, alongside the Save by the Bell-famed Mario Lopez. The success of her debut inevitably paved the way for 1991’s Martika’s Kitchen, an impressive sophomore album that allowed the artist to spend time with hotshot producer Prince both on and off the record.
Although such short-lived careers would presumably fair better on one of VH1’s I Love 80’s, Martika’s past as an eighties bubblegum pop star has finally caught up with her in the second cheesy, infectious pop music’s second coming. Ever since the release of Eminem’s “Like Toy Soldiers,” which is, well, like, a throwback to “Toy Soldiers,” Martika’s second hit single off her 1989 self-titled debut. Columbia decided to release Toy Soldiers: The Best of Martika this year in honor of the homage, hoping to share some of the limelight in the same way Dido did with Em’s “Stan.”
Yeah, Eminem really saved Dido’s career there. She’s so big right now.
Fortunately, the songs on Toy Soldiers: The Best of… fight on their own to retain Martika’s success, claiming her as one of the better acts to survive an era overloaded with one hit wonders.
In the very spirit American Idol contestants keep a careful eye on the pop star they try to mimick, Martika does a fine job of doing her best Debbie G. on first single “More than You Know,” which broke the seal of her aforementioned debut. Other hits from this album include the aforementioned “Toy Soldiers,” and the cheesy-lined “Water” (Like water/I could not live without you/I want to dive so deep into you I might drown). Tracks from the sophomore disc spice things up, with sexually-pumped lyrics by Prince on “Martika’s Kitchen” (It’s been so long since you’ve been down in the kitchen baby) and “Love…Thy Will be Done,” topped off with a gospel choir, hailing much style again from Prince, the album’s producer.
Despite Columbia’s need to dig up Martika’s fruitful past, the artist herself lacks interest in any ruminations of the past. After the devastating pop crash of the early nineties, Martika kept her nose out of the biz, vowing to come back when the moment was right. She resurfaced momentarily in 1999 to feature on The Conga Club’s “The Happy Song,” a compilation of fine Latin jazz tunes. Now the singer makes up one half of the new Latino sensation Oppera, led by guitarist/producer Michael Mozart. The duo released their debut, Violince, mid-2004.
And where are Debbie G. and Tiffany now? Well, Tiffany has made three failed albums (not including her contributions to the Jetsons movie soundtrack in 1990) since the pop draught she experienced just after the success of her sophomore album, Hold an Old Friend’s Hand, in 1988, before surrending to Hef’s lures in the April 2002 issue of Playboy. Debbie G., or Deborah, insisting “I’m not a teen pop star anymore,” has faired a bit better, with a couple stints in theatre and television, besides her six or so failed albums after the minimal success of 1990’s Anything is Possible. And now, for her latest single “Naked,” she’ll be starring in the March 2005 issue of—you guessed it—Playboy.
Well, Martika did star as Taylor, a lesbian/entrepreneur in the call girl business in a 1994 porn called Sex & Money. But digging up this part of her past could only help, not hurt, her image at this point. Too bad the same can’t be said for the other two.
However inattentive Martika, or anyone else, may be right now concerning the success of her past at this moment in time with Toy Soldiers: The Best of…, at least it’s a vault still worth cracking open.