Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another.
This issue we will cover "Opposites Attract" by Paula Abdul. "Opposites Attract" was released as a single in November of 1989. It was the sixth single released from her 1988 debut album Forever Your Girl and would be her fourth to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it spent three weeks there in February of 1990. It also went to #1 in Canada and Australia while reaching the Top 10 in at least nine other countries. Some of that success was due to the amazing music video that they created for it.
The music video won a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video and featured Abdul dancing with MC Skat Kat, a rapping cartoon cat, similar to how Gene Kelly danced with a cartoon Jerry Mouse 1945’s Anchors Aweigh. "Opposites Attract" was directed by the husband and wife team of Candace Reckinger and Michael Patterson. They began working together on music videos in 1985 by animating the video for a-ha's "Take On Me" (which is one of my very favorite videos of the decade). Patterson and Reckinger went on to direct several more music videos including Suzanne Vega's "Luka" and Sting's "Be Still My Beating Heart" among others.
Like "Take On Me", the animation technique called rotoscoping was used to capture MC Skat Kat's movements. The incredible dancer Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers, who might be best known as "Turbo" in the Breakin' films, was used for MC Skat Kat and Paula Abdul's dancing partner. He performed the dances against a blue screen, then they used rotoscoping to draw the animated form over Chambers' dance moves.
MC Skat Kat was actually animated by members of the Disney animation team, working outside the studio between major projects, under the direction of Chris Bailey. Bailey had previously worked on the Don Bluth animated arcade games Dragon's Lair and Space Ace as well as Disney animated films including Oliver & Company (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), The Lion King (1994), and Hercules (1997). Quite the talent pool was brought together to create this outstanding music video which is another of my very favorites of the entire decade. We haven't even mentioned Paula herself who does a phenomenal job dancing and interacting with a cartoon cat herself. She has a way of being adorable and sexy at the same time and her personality always shines through. You should also remember that she was/is a world-class choreographer herself even before becoming a pop star.
Without further ado, let's watch the music video for "Opposites Attract" by Paula Abdul...
How did a rapping cat end up being in this song in the first place? The song was written by Oliver Leiber who also wrote two other hits from Abdul's debut album. I had the pleasure of an interview with Oliver Leiber and asked him about creating each of those hits including "Opposites Attract". There are some great stories about creating these songs, so I recommend you check out the entire interview, but here is what he had to say about adding the MC Skat Kat rap section:
So my remix tracks were done and I needed a rap. Back then I used to listen to a low-watt local R&B radio station broadcasting out of north Minneapolis (I am forgetting the call numbers now). There was a DJ who did a hip hop segment and his name was Derrick “Delite” Stevens and I liked his speaking voice. I called the radio station and somehow got in touch with him. I asked him if he had ever rapped and he told me he had. I told him I wanted him to rap on the next Paula Abdul single. Silence. He was kinda in disbelief. Why was this white dude calling him outta the blue to rap when I had never heard anything but his radio voice? He agreed to show up at Paisley Park Studios and there we met for the first time. I had written a “rap” that I knew wasn’t legit by any stretch of the imagination but I knew that it said what I wanted the rap to say and that a few elements were key. So I said to Derrick, “Just listen to my rap, take the overall direction of where I’m going but do it your way with your words and phrasing.” He said “cool” and right then and there he began spinning what I had written into his own thing and that’s what ended up on the single! I believe he went on to do a whole record as MC Skat Kat once the single blew up!
Everything fell into place just right to create this amazing music video. Even though the album was released in 1988, this song almost didn't qualify as an '80s hit because it wasn't released until the end of 1989 and it really peaked in popularity in early 1990. That debut album by Paula Abdul really had some impressive longevity to it. "I take two steps forward. I'll take two steps back. We come together 'cuz opposites attract."
Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!