This is the 12th post in a biweekly series. Read about the series — and just what we mean by “freestyle music” — here. Freestyle Fridays post on the first and third Fridays of each month. 

Singer-songwriter and actress Marta “Martika” Marrero (born in 1969) released two albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s, selling over four million copies worldwide. “More Than You Know” was the first single released from Martika’s eponymous debut album; it hit the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1988, and later peaked at #18. Her biggest hit was the second release from the album, “Toy Soldiers,” which hit #1 in mid-1989.

Martika started as an uncredited orphan in the 1982 film version of “Annie.” Next, and more memorably for some people of a certain age, she played Gloria on the long-running musical children’s show “Kids Incorporated.” After that run, she was signed by Columbia Records, and her debut album was released a couple of years later.

“Kids Inc.” followed a bunch of kids living in an adult-free world who, several times per episode, would break into song. The songs were always clean versions of popular contemporary hits  like a “Kidz Bop” album with a slight storyline. The show ran from 1984 to 1996, moving from syndication to The Disney Channel. It was a sort of precursor to Disney’s 1989 reboot of “The All-New Mickey Mouse Club,” which spawned superstars like Britney, JT, Xtina, Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell, and many others. Whatever you might say about it, “Kids Inc.” had a winning formula.

But “Kids Inc.” was a weird show. It remains beloved by many who were just the right age for it, but it was incredibly cheesy to anyone older than that. I remember “Kids Inc.” airing on Boston’s Channel 56 at around 6pm on Saturday nights in 1984. I was way too old to appreciate the lame kiddie versions of my favorite pop songs  but, coming from a TV family, if it was on, we watched it. (Also, it was about a bunch of kids regularly breaking into song, so…) Here’s Martika taking on one of my favorites — Scandal’s “The Warrior.”

One of my favorite odd facts about “Kids Inc.” is that cast member Stacy Ferguson  who later evolved into sexpot Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas  was a tiny, adorable, blond moppet at the time. She was a rather bad actor, but she nevertheless gave some  polished musical performances on the show. This isn’t one of them, but you need to watch a way-too-young Stacy singing a way-too-old-for-her song to Martika’s character, “Gloria.” Yes, that’s really Fergie as a little girl.

Martika’s debut album and initial singles seem to mimic another young female artist from around that time, Debbie Gibson. Their first singles were infectious, freestyle-infused pop songs (“More Than You Know” and “Only In My Dreams,” respectively), followed by over-played and overwrought ballads that were much, much more successful (“Toy Soldiers” and “Foolish Beat”). The marketing plan seems obvious, no? Obvious, and successful.

Fun Facts

  • Number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100, April 1, 1989
  • Number 12 US Dance/Club Play Singles

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