Interview : Debbie Gibson, Chart-topper, actress and record breaker
Interview by Thomas Anderson | Photo Credit : Paul Natkin/Getty Images – Taken in 1988
Debbie Gibson, the American singer, songwriter, producer and actress, first burst onto the UK charts at the age of 16 with the self-penned Only In My Dreams – her first of six UK Top20 hits. She quickly became the youngest artist in history to write, produce and perform a No1 song in the US with her hit Foolish Beat – entering the Guinness Book of World Records. To date, she is still the youngest female to hold that record and has sold more than 16 million records worldwide. When she’s not busy with her own career she mentors young performers and songwriters. Her new 13 disc box-set We Could Be Together is out now.
You achieved so much, so young. You must have had a lot of fun?
I honestly preferred to be onstage and at rehearsals. The press part of it was fun at times but it was a grown up political world that I sometimes was too naive to understand and not take personally. I could take or leave the parties! I was always really into preserving my energy and mostly focused on the actual music above and beyond anything else.
You have a lot to be proud of, and a Guinness World Record too. What are you most proud of?
I am mostly proud of being a survivor in this industry and maintaining my integrity along the way. Every decision has not been perfect, but I constantly learn from my mistakes and am in tune with what is authentic and when I am selling out. I have not had many of those moments…my own BS meter is in check! I am proud I stood up for the integrity and authenticity of my music and walked away from a lot of money when that was at stake.
If you went back in time and had a word in your 16 year old selfs ear, are there any words of advice you’d give yourself?
Relax and enjoy it all. Everything was moving so fast and I thought everything was life and death. I would now say, “Girl, it’s only showbiz!”
“I constantly learn from my mistakes and am in tune with what is authentic and when I am selling out.”
What do you miss most about the 80s?
The purity and innocence.
Who were your idols growing up?
Billy Joel, Elton John, theatre women like Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand, every Broadway “Annie”…I also loved Michael Jackson, George Michael, Madonna…I am forever a pop music fan!
How did it make you feel when you suddenly became a role model to many people yourself?
I was like “Don’t look to me for that!” (laughs). I did not feel like I was perfect by any means but rose to the occasion as best as I could.
When are you at your happiest?
Sitting at the piano, amongst friends and loved ones, onstage…and these days anytime I am with my new puppy Joey!
Video : Electric Youth
UK No9 & US No1 | 1988
Video : Only In My Dreams
UK No11 & US No4 | 1987
What are your Top3 favourite songs by British acts?
1 – “Love Changes Everything” by Climie Fisher popped into my head so fast! I have always loved that song. It is catchy and feel good, and as a writer I say “I wish I wrote that hook!” The message is simple and true and resonates deeply.
2- “Everytime You Go Away” by Paul Young. I love the Hall and Oates version too but Paul’s version is what took it mainstream. It encapsulated a summer of my teenage years and I went to see him in concert. The soulfulness and the sparse production get me every time!
3 – I am going to cheat and list four songs because I cannot choose between George Michael and Matt Goss. And, it is hard to pick one song, but today I will say “One More Try” by George. George was able to transcend musical boundaries and his style was pretty sophisticated for American audiences at the time but he broke through and opened our minds and hearts. His vocals were soulful and even a bit theatrical at times but found their place on pop radio.
4 – I am going to go way back to “When Will I Be Famous” by Bros – because as far as first singles go, this one is a clever, kitchy, strong, and relevant to this day. I could go on and on about Matt’s solo music as well and his transition to becoming a Vegas headliner – which is where I currently live. He reinvented himself and built something from the ground up in America which is no way an easy task. He is a dear friend, an incredible one of a kind talent, and I am so proud of him!
“I pinch myself daily as I have literally checked off the list of roles every female would want to play.”
You’ve appeared in so many musicals, from Grease to Gypsy. Is there a role and production that has been a real standout for you?
I pinch myself daily as I have literally checked off the list of roles every female would want to play. Les Miz was incredible. Gypsy with Betty Buckley was a highlight. Cabaret on Broadway was a standout and I would still play Sally anywhere anytime. Being in the UK for a year for Grease is one of my favorite years of my life. I have been so lucky in my theatre career.
Are there still things you want to achieve?
Of course! Though it is also nice knowing if I never did another thing professionally I have left a mark. It takes the pressure off and puts me back to where I was at 16 when I was really doing all of this as a glorified hobby. So, now I am creatively amped up by the idea of getting my original musicals on their feet, doing film and TV, mentoring young talent, and first and foremost continuing to write and release new music. It’s coming…I have always said it would be so cool to have that Tina Turner pop comeback moment. It’s still on my radar!
Demon Music Group have released ‘We Could Be Together’ – a 10 CD and 3 DVD set packaged in a lavish 12” x 12” coffee table book. The set is Debbie’s first-ever full career retrospective that celebrates her 30 years in the music business and includes over 200 tracks. Order your copy here.
We Could Be Together includes a 32-page scrapbook containing rare and unseen images personally chosen by Debbie. The set features all the classic hits including Shake Your Love, Foolish Beat, Only In My Dreams, Electric Youth, You’re The One That I Want, Lost In Your Eyes and many more. Also included are 8 albums – Out Of The Blue, Electric Youth, Anything Is Possible, Body, Mind, Soul, plus the first ever UK release of Think With Your Heart, Deborah, M.Y.O.B, and Ms. Vocalist. Additional remixes are also part of the package with classic 12 inch mixes from Shep Pettibone, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, Masters At Work, Harding/Curnow, Junior Vasquez, and more. A CD, ‘Stage, Screen & Beyond’, features sought after rarities from throughout Gibson’s career, plus exclusive, previously unheard new recordings. The 3 DVDs include classic videos and live concerts on DVD for the very first time, plus exclusive bonus footage. Debbie also provides her own in-depth commentary, plus a brand new interview with producer Fred Zarr.