Still Electric :: Debbie Gibson

by BeBe Sweetbriar

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday August 11, 2011

With a string of hits like "Only in My Dreams," "Shake Your Love," "Foolish Beat," and "Lost in Your Eyes," Debbie Gibson is definitely revered as the Original Pop Princess, at least of the '80s. Her first two albums "Out Of The Blue" and "Electric Youth" established her as not just a teen phenom but also an actual music force to be reckoned with garnishing her a shared ASCAP Songwriter of the Year honor in 1989 with Bruce Springsteen. Miss Gibson was one of the first young stars to capitalize on her popularity and fame by brand marketing outside of music industry through launching her own Electric Youth Perfume with Revlon, paving the way for such pop stars as Britney Spears, Beyonce, Miley Cyrus and others to follow.

Of course we know Debbie to have gone on as Deborah Gibson and to have starred on Broadway and London's West End in such musicals as "Les Miserables," "Grease," "Chicago" and "Cabaret." She also made an attempt to shed that girl next-door image of her teen years by posing for Playboy. She is a big talent with a huge heart, naked or not, who so graciously gives of herself and money to support many worthy causes, particularly those that benefit the lives of youth. So, it is not a surprise that I caught up with Debbie in Los Angeles recently to talk about her place in pop history, the challenges of being a teen star today, the Tiffany rivalry, her upcoming new album, and her connection with her gay fans.

The Original Pop Princess

BeBe: I am sure you are aware that you have been bestowed the title of the first O.P.P., or the Original Pop Princess. How does that fit with you?

Deb: I like the O.P.P. - I had not seen that abbreviated before (laughs). I'm going to start using that. I think that is super cool. I never really consider myself being the original, in fact, it's funny that this generation thinks that they invented everything. I think my generation has a better sense of history. I remember being on "Good Morning America" with Leslie Gore (recorded "It's My Party" at the age of 16), and was thinking, 'Oh my God, this woman paved the way for me.' So I always look who came before me, from Marie Osmond, Leslie Gore, and so on. I guess I was the first woman in awhile, you know. There hadn't been a real prominent teen performer in quite awhile. The labels were definitely not looking to sign young people at the time I got signed. That machine was not really oiled up and ready to go. They didn't know quite what to do with me. I was definitely a guinea pig/pioneer at that time.

BeBe: Plus you did it all. I mean you wrote (songs), produced, sang. That was by far, for someone of your tender young age of 16, unheard of.

Deb: I think that definitely set me apart. And also, I think I was lucky enough to have my Mom (Diane Gibson), who really went to the wall for me. Obviously they (Atlantic Records) wanted to put me in with all the hit makers at that time. You know, just kind of put me through the machine if you will. And my Mom was really gutsy and would sit at these big round table boys club record meetings and say, '....listen her stuff is as good as anything on the radio. There is no reason she shouldn't have the opportunity to speak to her peers'. I mean who better to speak to especially young girls than a young girl?

Holding on to her record

BeBe: It has been almost 25 years since you released "Only In My Dreams" back in the fall of 1986. I say that with a bit of grain of salt only because I remember it well. With that being said, any plans to do a silver edition remix version of the song?

Deb: That sounds like a really cool idea (laughs). BeBe, thank you.

BeBe: And next year the silver anniversary of your first album "Out Of The Blue" is coming up as well, so you have a couple of whammies going on.

Deb: That's actually quite a good idea. I had thought in the past of redoing my own hits. So, you never know. It is quite a good idea.

BeBe: Well, I'm going to look for it and if it does come up, you know I'm going to try and get my little kudos for that (a liner note mention is the least a girl could expect, right?).

Deb: Exactly (genuinely laughs).

BeBe: You still hold the Guinness Book of World Records for being at the age of 17 the youngest person to ever write, produce, and sing a Billboard No. 1 song with "Foolish Beat." A record you have held since 1988. You think that with this reemergence of young recording stars lately that that record will be broken soon?

Deb: Part of my motivation to start my Electric Youth Camps, recording and writing camps, was because I wanted to encourage that. I wanted to encourage them to be self-sufficient in their writing, producing and everything. But I kind of laugh because I have been watching them (young stars) one by one go by. Justin Beiber is too old to beat my record. Taylor Swift is way past the age. So, I go I might as well hold on to it a little longer. I mean I would think and hope that somebody would (break the record), and then on the other hand, I selfishly quite enjoy them not doing it. I think it would be fun if I could mentor the kid that breaks my record. I mean it's kind of kooky that I have managed to hold on to it for so long. This is (producing) still a male dominated field, and even though I am not just the first female, but the youngest, to do so, it is still very difficult. I mean I have seen some kids come through my camps that are incredible. The talent is out there. It's a matter of the record labels to give them a chance to do their thing.

BeBe: I think also that there are a lot of teens out there who sing and dance, but you had a music education background behind you as well that helped you.

Deb: For sure. I mean now you've got Garage Band (music making software) and stuff. That's not going to help you say score a film some day. Kids have to realize that the classical training and all of that is still where it's at. There is really no substitute for real deal training.

Story continued on following page:

Watch the video of "Foolish Beat":

Different today?

BeBe: Is there anything else that is different about being a teen superstar today than it was back when you were one?

Deb: There's tons. Obviously technology in terms of... I was lucky that I didn't have to worry about cell phones, camera phones and TMZ. Definitely when I was a kid you could live a little more anonymously. I definitely feel for the teen stars now in that area because kids should be allowed to just be kids and not be looking over their shoulders all the time. That's a shame. That is one huge difference for sure.

BeBe: We have like three prolific '80s night parties here in San Francisco that have done a great job at exposing the Now Generation to your music and videos of 20+ years ago. What is it in your mind that the music of the '80s era has that appeals so much to youngsters today?

Deb: I think the '80s music appeal has always been that it is just shamelessly "feel good." It's not trying to put on the dress of social consciousness. It's really about escaping and having fun. The melodies, the synth sounds, everything related to '80s music is kind of in your face, fun, and feel good. Going back to the synthesizer sound, they were a little thin and flimsy. And they weren't trying to be anything else. I think that's what people like about it. And obviously everything that is old is new again. A few years ago I did a concert with Rick Astley ("Never Gonna Give You Up"), and my now 19-year old niece said you know Rick Astley? I'm like you know Rick Astley? She thought that was so cool. So, everything comes back around. You know 10 years after my first record came out I was not cool, and then 20+ years after I am cool again. It kind of makes you realize you can't take anything too seriously because it really has nothing to do with me. It's just how things are circular and come back around. If people get some distance from an era, they appreciate it and look at it with a different perspective.

BeBe: I think people forget how you grew up in musical theater. Even after you starred in such stage productions as an adult such as "Les Miserables" on Broadway, "Grease" in London, "Funny Girl," "Chicago", "Cabaret," "Gypsy," and the whole nine yards. So then, can musical theater be considered your first love?

Deb: It was. If you would have asked me when I was 5 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a Broadway star. And I love doing musical theater. I am sure I will do a ton of it in the future. But with that said, I'm at a phase in my life where there's nothing like getting on stage and performing in more of a raw, primal way. And musical theater obviously you have to color within the lines. I love going on stage and not knowing what is going to happen. And being able to change up notes, and riffs, and keys and songs. It's a funny thing because I have friends that are still in that mindset that if a role for a woman comes up that's a prime role, they are all over it calling their agent. They call and tell me,'....oh my God, you should be going in for this'. Right now I just don't have that desire. I feel like I got to play like every amazing role like you just said... Fanny Brice ("Funny Girl"), Sally Bowles ("Cabaret"). Sally Bowles was my favorite, and I would play Sally Bowles again anytime anywhere. That is a really raw role. But being able to play Belle in "Beauty And The Beast," Sandy and Rizzo ("Grease"), Eponine ("Les Miserables"), Gypsy Rose Lee ("Gypsy")... I've gotten really to play everything that would have been on my wish list.

BeBe: Well, a few years ago you did a combo plate, if you will, a Pop To Broadway one-woman show in Atlantic City that went over real well, I understand. Thoughts of doing something like that again?

Deb: For sure. That is the way I'd like to incorporate theater in my life in the future. I'd love to do a showroom in Vegas at some point. I look at people like Bette Midler and the women who have come before me in that one-woman show arena, and I can definitely see myself heading in that direction.

BeBe: You have definitely written hits for yourself over the years. That's a given, but you have also written for other people. Is there someone out there that you would like to collaborate with that yu think would be a total smash?

Deb: A couple of people just came to mind. Rob Thomas (ex-Matchbox Twenty lead singer), I would love to work with. I love him as a person, a songwriter, and a performer. And last week in Victorville, California, I got on stage with Clay Walker (Country No. 1's "Rumor Has It," "This Woman and This Man," "Live Until I Die," "What's It To You") who is my new buddy. I love country. I have always loved country, and I would also like to collaborate with him also. I feel like country now is what pop was years ago. You could hear Taylor Swift doing "Out Of The Blue" and that being considered a country song now. That, to me, is where all the melodic pop melodies are now. So, I would love to do some sort of a country collaboration for sure.

BeBe: Your current album "Ms. Vocalist" you released in the fall of 2010 was only released in Japan, correct?

Deb: Yes, because that was basically songs that went Number One by males in Japan as done by me in English. It as very specific for that market. I've always loved Japan. I've always had a huge connection with my fans there. When they (Sony Japan) came to me with that idea, I thought that is so whacky, but it could be a blast. And it was. It was really, really fun. There may be a group two and three in my future, I'm not really sure. It was really cool to kind of play homage to their original music. But that first single, "I Love You," was done (originally) by an artist who passed away at the age of 26 years old. Yutaka Ozaki (1965-1992) was his name. He was sort of like their James Dean of music. He was like a young tragic figure. I got to meet his son, and his widow came to my concert there. The song has a profound impact on the people there. The song (Debbie's version) went number one over there. It was such a cool feeling every time I did that song live. People had this huge emotional connection to that song. And they also grew up with me, and so here I was half way around the world performing that song to them. It as very cool.

Story continued on following page:

Watch the video of "Lost In Your Eyes":

A new CD?

BeBe: It is a beautiful song. I watched the video, and of course, you represent it very well as only Debbie Gibson can do.

Deb: Oh, thank you.

BeBe: Now, you are working on a collection of songs to be released in the U.S., correct?

Deb: Yes. I am doing a new album. I've been writing a ton. The music has been kind of pouring out of me lately, which has been really exciting. One of the biggest differences of how I used to go about things in my writing when I was younger to now was that I used to do more quantity with a few hit songs in the middle of the mes I wrote.

BeBe: There were a lot of 'B' sides in there.

Deb: Yes. Songs that will never see the light of day. But now it's like I have been more into living my life and getting inspiration. Things just hit me. The songs just kind of come out and write themselves. And I go, ooh, this is a hit! So, that's been what's coming along lately. Very, very exciting.

BeBe: When do you think we will see the release on this project?

Deb: I am not sure, but we'll probably release a single or EP by summer time, and probably a full album by the fall.

BeBe: In the meantime, you and your teen rival Tiffany released a sci-fi film earlier this year ("Mega Python vs. Gatoroid"), and have decided to do a tour together this summer. That's kind of cool and interesting. I think we have all envisioned a rivalry between you two. Was that real or imagined by the public?

Deb: That was so imagined. It was just like Britney (Spears) and Christina (Aguilera) came out. I used always think why do the fans have to pick a side with Tiffany and me? Why can't they buy both of our CDs and come to both of our concerts? And that's why we came up with this tour. You know money is tight these days, and so to come to one concert where they kind of get their '80s fix and they get to hear what each of us is up to now... it's kind of a time to band together. It's a sisterhood, really. It's going to be a really fun show.

BeBe: She (Tiffany) does country now, so here's your country collaboration you can do.

Deb: I know. It's interesting because we both grew up with different influences, me with more of the pop women and male singer-piano players like Elton John, and Tiffany grew up with more like Stevie Nicks and Reba (McEntire) and hair bands. So, we had such a kick doing all the press together for the movie and seeing how much the fans seeing us at the same place at the same time. For me, it (the tour) was like give the people what they want. This is fun and kind of tongue in cheek. We get that people think that it is kind of kitschy.

BeBe: I know you do a ton of charity work, especially when it comes to children (Miss Gibson has no children as of yet). You recently were in San Francisco to guest host a Svedka Vodka sponsored Fairy Princess charity event for the Richmond Ermet AID Foundation. Tell me a little bit about the connection you have been able to make with your gay fans over the years through your music and charity work?

Deb: Well, when I first started playing clubs I was 16 years old. And to get "Only In My Dreams" off the ground I'd play a teen club, a straight club, and a gay club all in the same night. And I remember t 16 saying to my Mom, "Oh my God, I can't wait to get to the gay club!." (laughing very hard). I felt, even at 16, that is the audience I connected with the most. The teens were too cool for the room. At the straight clubs I was like interrupting their evening of drinking and picking people up. But I thought the gay fans were there for the music. It was just a love affair from day one! I don't know how to explain it really, but there has always been a connection. Obviously the dance-pop music and my musical theater part of my career connected me to the gay audience also. I don't know how it is or why it is that certain female performers kind of take on that of being the spokesperson for the gay community? But I have always felt at home with it.

And it sounds so clichť', but for me, it's not even just about gay rights, it's about equal rights. I'm a people person and I am all for everybody having equal opportunity. If someone can dream it, they should be able to do it.

Debbie Gibson and Tiffany appear on August 13, 2011 at the House of Blues Chicago, 329 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60654, (312) 923-2000.

For more about Debbie visit her website.

Watch this interview with Debbie Gibson:

Based out of San Francisco, BEBE SWEETBRIAR is the Omni Present Drag Chanteuse. As an entertainer and hostess, BeBe can be scene every week hosting and performing at countless events and parties in the San Francisco. One of the few drag personalities to sing live while performing, BeBe has literally graced every notable stage in San Francisco, bridging many gay sub-community gaps. She has also been the opening act for Destiny's Child Kelly Rowland, "Ugly Betty's" Alec Mapa and Dance Diva Kristine W. Adding recording artist to her list of performance accomplishments in 2008 with the release of her first single "Save Me", Ms. Sweetbriar will soon release her fifth dance single in 2012 called "Show It Off".. As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media's next short film series, "" to be released in 2012.