Debbie Gibson established herself as a songwriting prodigy at the age of 17 with her hit ballad “Foolish Beat” – setting a Guinness World Record, which she still holds to this day, for the youngest female artist to Billboard Hot 100 No. 1. Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment music editor Lyndsey Parker during a recent “Teen Idols” themed episode of the Totally ’80s podcast, Gibson celebrated the 35th anniversary of that chart milestone — but they also took the time to celebrate her fellow teen idol, Tiffany, who she often had to go up against in the press when they were just starting out.
“I have to take a moment to say that Tiffany’s voice is unbelievable – it was then and it is now,” Gibson proclaimed. “I listened to [Tiffany’s own No. 1 single] “Could have been” recently in my bedroom, like at night like you do when you’re a teenager, and I was like, “Get it, gurl!” Like, oh my God. She’s such a naturally gifted singer, so powerful. You know how you always want what you can’t have? My voice was always that pristine bell voice, and it had the texture that, like Bonnie Raitt, has. She has this texture that you were born with. And I was like, ‘How do I get that? That’s so cool!’ Her voice is so rich and thick, and it still is.
In 1987, when Gibson and Tiffany both released their huge debut albums, Gibson was a Tiffany fan from the start and the feeling was mutual. “I used to have the Walkman with the split headphones, and me and my younger sister Denise used to listen to ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ every time we were on a plane taking off; it’s very cinematic. I was a fan, and [Tiffany] says the same to me: Her sister had my poster on her wall. It was all very supportive and still is.
But while Tiffany had success with covers of Tommy James’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” and the Beatles’ “I Saw [Him] Standing There’, Gibson scored with self-penned singles such as ‘Out of the Blue’, ‘Only in My Dreams’, ‘Shake Your Love’ and the historic ‘Foolish Beat’. Tiffany may have been considered the superior singer, even by Gibson herself, but Gibson, being a songwriter, garnered more critical respect. Gibson never quite understood this media-made rivalry – the sensational tendency of journalists to constantly compare them.
“Why can’t multiple artists occupy the same space? There is a different number 1 song every week. There are a hundred songs on the charts every day. There’s plenty of room for everyone,” Gibson said. (It should be noted that there was plenty of room in the pop market for both Gibson and Tiffany in the ’80s: the two sold a combined 17 million albums before their respective 20th birthdays.)
“I always defended [Tiffany] when people would say, “She doesn’t write her own songs.” And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but neither is Whitney Houston.’ Bring someone along That upwards?’ No, because some people are singers first and foremost,” Gibson said. “I’ve always said I’m a songwriter first and then a singer. That’s how the universe made me. So it’s a great marriage when you find the great song and the great singer, and they come together. And who cares? Like, does anyone ever stop to think when they listen to Elton? [John], ‘Well, he didn’t write the lyrics’? Not me. That’s an Elton John song. yes I know [lyricist] Bernie [Taupin] wrote it too, but now [Elton is] embodying it and bringing it into the world. So I was always like ‘shut up’ about that.
Before her MTV success, Tiffany made waves on television in 1985 with her mighty power vocals. Search stars, finishing in second place overall. Other teen singers who went on to participate in that show with varying degrees of success included Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Aaliyah, Alanis Morissette, Destiny’s Child, Usher, LeAnn Rimes, and David Archuleta. But interestingly, Gibson was rejected from the show after multiple attempts.
“I auditioned for Search stars literally 10 times and couldn’t get it out,” Gibson chuckled. “I auditioned with covers. I remember I did [Connie Francis’s] “Where the boys are.” I remember I did Mine songs: I did ‘Only in My Dreams’ before it ever came out, and I was told that my songs would never be hits. I was told my voice was too this or that or whatever. I didn’t even get on the show. It’s crazy. But that’s the point: I was always, I think, a wayward artist. I remember Gwen Stefani saying if she was on The voice as a contestant, she did not think she would get through. There are certain artists who are about their tone and about their vibe and about their songwriting, but not necessarily the slickest singer that won a contest.
Gibson and Tiffany eventually appeared on TV together in an iconic, Dynastycatfight in the SyFy cult classic Mega Python vs Gatoroid (shot by Madonna/Go-Go’s/Janet Jackson video director Mary Lambert), who mocked their supposed (read: non-existent) feud. “Oh my God, that scene goes on and on and on on. It’s like, “Okay, some male masterminds came up with this to see me and Tiffany in hot dresses, whipped cream, kicking tables, hitting each other,” Gibson laughed. “You would think our collaboration would have been at one point musical, like, “OK, we’re going to write this great song together.” But we were like, ‘No, this opportunity is coming along, and it’s too kitschy and funny and cool to pass up.’ My exact words to my agent were, “What? Is this going to ruin the movie career I do not to have? Yes, let’s do it!’ Tiff and I were giggling so hard the whole time. We had stunt doubles. … We didn’t do the backflips, but we did a lot of them. … The blow was real.”
In 2019, as Gibson and Tiffany embarked on the hugely successful Mixtape Tour with fellow former teen stars New Kids o
n the Block, Salt-N-Pepa and Naughty by Nature, Tiffany told Yahoo Entertainment that she always believed she and Gibson “would making music together, and so far it hasn’t happened – but it could be on this tour. We do have some time and she plays beautiful piano. Maybe there’s a ballad for us in it. … There might be time to get on Deb’s bus or she on mine, and see if we can write a ballad together, I’d love that!” That collaboration is still not there, but Gibson told Totally ’80s that she is ready for it too.
“She and I didn’t work together, but I wouldn’t rule that out,” Gibson said. “I am open to everything. I mean, I think she and I are very different musically. I almost wonder what it would be like if she wrote me a song, and I wrote her a song – like, “Hey, this is my vision for you,” and she said, “This is my vision for you .’ I think That would be quite interesting, because actually I do have a vision for her, in the country pop kind of way [vein]. Again, me [think] Bonnie Raitt in my head; I’m going to Wynnona [Judd]. … That could be interesting. You never know.”
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