By Rik Flynn | March 2, 2023
She started out on US TV show Kids Inc. and found worldwide stardom while still a teenager, but when the pressures of fame took hold in the early 90s, Martika fled the limelight…
You had a taste of the bright lights as a child, but when Toy Soldiers became a US No. 1 your career just exploded…
When I bounced out of Kids Inc. at 17, I wanted to get into recording demos. I honestly thought that maybe I’d have a few club hits and then continue to evolve for my next album, because I was a baby when it came to songwriting. So Toy Soldiers was such a shock to me.
It was so different from the dance music that was on my demo. My first single, More Than You Know, was that fresh pop, teenage bubblegum kind of record, but Toy Soldiers was my little quirky ballad. I was picturing the nursery rhyme Ring Around The Rosie when we were writing it.
I thought it would be an album cut. I didn’t realise that the label had seen it as the breakout hit and that my career would be defined by that record.
The subject of drug addiction obviously made a real connection with a wide range of people.
I got letters that had so much more serious content than just, “I love your music”. Suddenly, I was getting letters from mothers whose children had either committed suicide, had an overdose or were in rehab; letters from people who played my song at their kid’s funeral. All about how it had impacted their lives and relationships.
After the worldwide success of Martika, the pressure must have been huge for Martika’s Kitchen…
I didn’t admit it at the time, but now that I think about it, it was too much. I tried to ignore that I had to do a follow-up. That’s why it took so long. They wanted to use me as the poster child for the ‘Just Say No To Drugs’ campaign and I was like, “Wait a minute, I didn’t know that I was doing all that!”
Then I landed a part on this US series called Wiseguy, playing a lounge singer. We ended up going down to Miami and meanwhile I had this responsibility to make a follow-up to Toy Soldiers. It was a really amazing time for me as a person, but for my career? Maybe I wasn’t focussed enough.
Prince took a prayer you had written and totally transformed it for your 1991 single Love… Thy Will Be Done. How did the collaboration come about?
In those formative years when music means the world to you, he was one of those artists that was in my ears all the time. So, because I had to deliver a follow-up and with my lack of focus on all that, there was a meeting and I just threw it out there.
When he said, “Come to Paisley Park”, I was giddy like a teenage girl. I just wanted to rekindle that feeling when it was a fantasy before the reality of it all: the industry, the promotion, the world stage. Prince was an artist that could make the most bratty, nasty music and then he could take you to church and give you something so spiritual.
I needed to find that girl that just wanted to entertain, but I also needed that Toy Soldiers girl that did more than that. And that’s why I thought of Prince. I knew he could construct a hit, but at the same time I knew that it would come from an authentic place.
They expected a follow-up to Toy Soldiers and when I heard Love… Thy Will Be Done, I was like, “Well, there you have it.”
And then you turned your back on fame at only 22. Is it something that you regret?
When Martika’s Kitchen came out, I had to do a whole tour of Europe and just couldn’t stomach doing two years of it. When you’re a music star, you’re travelling around the world being that thing that you’ve created and having to turn that on.
There are certain artists that just have the key to their kingdom – they’re wired a different way – but I didn’t really understand what I was getting myself into and how to handle it. For me, it was just survival instincts. You either fight or you run. I guess I just wasn’t trained to go in the ring and do the rounds.
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