The legal battle over whether Paula Abdul was the sole lead vocalist on certain songs from her multiplatinum Virgin Records debut album “Forever Your Girl” began Tuesday in U.S. District Court, with both sides playing hardball during opening arguments.
Charges by the attorney for plaintiff Yvette Marine that the vocals on Abdul’s album were mixed electronically and thus “bionic” ran up against accusations by the defense that Marine was an opportunist seeking to drag a beloved entertainer through the mud. Both attorneys used a stereo system to play cuts from the album for the jury in an attempt to buttress their cases.
Virgin Records was sued two years ago by vocalist Marine, who claimed her voice was blended with Abdul’s on four of “Forever Your Girl’s” 10 songs to create, in effect, a co-lead vocal, with the hit cuts “I Need You” and “Opposites Attract” coming in for particular attention.
Marine’s suit seeks redress for inadequate credit and compensation, with Virgin hotly disputing the notion that she is owed anything. Abdul was not a party to the suit. Virgin has since countersued Marine.
Abdul, who was in court Tuesday flanked by Virgin co-chairman Jordan Harris and Virgin VP A&R Gemma Corfield, said she was glad the suit was finally coming to court after two tumultuous years of accusations. “It belongs in the courts, not the tabloids,” Abdul said. “My fans will know the truth.”
Marine, who is pregnant and ill with a case of chicken pox, was not in court. Her husband and manager, Rick Barlowe, was present and declined comment.
The gloves came off early during opening arguments before U.S. District Court Judge Wallace Tashima. The five-man, four-woman jury — most of whom appeared to be far removed from their dance music days — heard Steven Ames Brown, attorney for Marine, say Virgin had told a “lie” when it claimed Abdul was the only lead singer on the album.
Brown said Marine had been denied her due despite “singing the same music, the same words and making the same contribution that Paula Abdul did.”
Brown contended that time and budget constraints forced Virgin to blend Marine’s vocals with Abdul’s on four songs. He said the label intended to create a new “teen idol” and would not let Abdul’s lack of professional vocal experience stand in its way.
“Virgin Records lied for money,” Brown said. “Not just a little money, but lots and lots of money.” Brown claimed he would produce an expert witness who would estimate that “Forever Your Girl” had generated $ 120 million in revenue.
Judge Tashima cautioned Brown several times when he veered into prepping the jury for Virgin’s arguments. But Brown underlined his intention to prove that Virgin intended to defraud the public. “I’m counting on you to make them do the right thing,” he concluded.
Joseph Yanny, Virgin’s counsel, was equally blunt in his attack. At one point , Yanny alluded to what he claimed were the plaintiff’s attempts to settle the suit. “They said all of this can go away if (Marine) gets a record contract. It became clear to Virgin that something was happening. I won’tcall it what it is since I don’t want a mistrial.”
Yanny underlined his point by stating, “Virgin decided it wanted to spend millions on defense and not one cent in tribute.”
Countering Brown’s arguments about co-lead vocals, Yanny said, “This suit is not about who sang on this album, it’s about what they sang.” Yanny reiterated Virgin’s claims that Marine was properly credited and compensated as a backup vocalist. “The evidence will say Paula was the lead on every track.”
Yanny played heavily on the theme that Abdul was a hard-working entertainer being attacked as “an easy target” by a greedy opportunist. “She wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth,” he said, noting that she dreamed of becoming “the all-around entertainer your kids and grandchildren love.”
Marine’s integrity was also hammered at in Yanny’s opening remarks. He pointed out that she used her real name, Yvette Lucera, on several documents, suggesting that Marine was trying to avoid taxes and contributions to American Federation of Television & Radio Artist funds by using her real name.
He also noted the apparent time lag between the album’s release and Marine filing suit, noting that Marine, a child of a veteran performer who was a musician’s union member since age 13, “knew her rights and knew how to enforce them.”
Yanny indicated that producer L.A. Reid would testify on Abdul’s behalf, as would several Virgin executives. Abdul indicated she would be willing to testify if necessary.
The trial was recessed until Monday by Tashima.