Cast your mind back to the halcyon days of the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Imagine your boxes of cassettes, or perhaps even your first CDs. Chances are you’ll also vividly remember LA Gear and Reebok sneakers, Hyper Colour clothing, bandanas, fluorescent hair scrunchies and, yes, the music of Martika.
Though there were other pretenders to the pop princess throne, Debbie Gibson and Tiffany among them, none of them ever truly came close to matching Martika’s success. The Latina songstress was barely 18 when she topped the charts internationally with a string of number of one singles in 1988 and 1989.
Following dreams of singing stardom, she’d stepped away from a successful career as a child actress, scored a recording deal and rapidly released a trio of the decade’s most memorable pop songs: the stirring, anthemic Toy Soliders, then More Than You Know and her cover version of Carole King’s classic, I Feel The Earth Move.
In 1991, after two years away from the spotlight, Martika released her second album, Martika’s Kitchen, and again topped albums charts across the US, Europe, Australia and Asia. The album’s highest charting song, as well as its most critically acclaimed, was her collaboration with Price, Love … Thy Will Be Done.
Over the next year or so, Martika’s Kitchen yielded a couple of other moderately successful singles, but none garnered the fame or acclaim of that one song and Martika herself slowly faded from both the pop charts and public consciousness.
Flash-forward to 2012, more than two decades after she topped the charts or toured the world, and the diminutive Cuban-American songstress has announced her first-ever Australian tour for September and October, promising a set-list that will feature both the songs that made her famous and some more recent material.
On the phone from her home in Los Angeles, Martika concedes laughingly that she’s “a bit unsure that anyone is still out there, listening, and excited to think that maybe people will still care what I am doing 20 years down the road, to be sure. I remember coming out to Australia to do promotional stuff and loving it.”
“The gay community has been very, very kind to me.”
Though she’s been firmly out of the public eye, the last two decades have been fruitful enough for the singer and sometime actor. She has again dabbled in acting and also continued to both write and record songs.
Growing up, she had enjoyed a successful career as an actress until, in her mid-teens, she had to decide whether she seriously wanted to pursue a career as an actress or follow her passion for making music. To do both, she reckons, “was virtually impossible.”
Rumours abound regarding the release a long-awaited third album, The Mirror Ball, but no firm release date has yet been set. Still, Martika herself is happy enough to talk about her transition from child actor and singer to international recording star. Indeed, she does so at length and with good humour.
“For so many years, singing and dancing both were my focus. I was what they called a triple threat in LA because I could act, dance and sing. So, growing up in the business, I was always out on auditions that involved acting, yes, but they also often involved singing. I think there was definitely much more competition for anything that had to do with straight acting but music has always been my first love,” she confides.
“I was fortunate enough to be focused on music. I did Cabaret For Kids, an incredible live show at The Roxy on Sunset Strip, and from there I landed up on the musical kids television show, Kids Incorporated. That last three seasons and coming off that I was basically practicing for making imaginary music videos and fantasising about recording albums of my own.”
Following her success on Kids Incorporated, Martika was signed by Columbia Records and initially groomed as a pop star in the mould of Madonna. All that changed, however, when her 1988 debut album yielded three internationally massive hit singles and, she says, “kind of completely altered whatever had been the plan for me.”
“Despite the fact that, yeah, I did have that success, getting signed wasn’t easy. It was far from easy. I was lucky because I met with an attorney at a nightclub and he was able to get me in the door with some folks at record companies and to get some more attention paid to my demo. It had, I think, been sitting a desk drawer somewhere for probably a couple years! It took some time, but I kind of knew that if I went to the Latino, then he’s gonna help me because, you know, we all kind of help each out,” Martika laughs.
“There was eventually one label that took interest and, lo and behold, that sparked a bidding war. That’s how it is – they won’t pay attention to you unless they know someone else wants to sign you! So, suddenly some guy who got your tape months ago pulls it out of his bottom drawer, listens to it, and there’s some pretty big and serious interest in what it is that you’re doing.”