On Jan. 24, 1989, Debbie Gibson released her sophomore album. It would spend five weeks atop the Billboard 200 and yield the Hot 100 No. 1 ‘Lost in Your Eyes.’ On the set’s 25th anniversary, Gibson reflects on its success and reveals what’s ahead in 2014. To read the Q&A, go to Billboard.com.
Here’s a more extensive look at the answers submitted to BillBoard for #ElectricYouth25 and counting.
1, It’s said that an artist has his or her whole life to make a first album, but a limited window to make the all-important follow-up. Did you feel that pressure when making “Electric Youth”? Perhaps not so much, since some songs were written, and performed live, years earlier? Plus, you could draw on the experience of having made “Blue.”
I love this question and it definitely applied, but not to the first two albums because in a weird way the first two albums combined were like my debut. I had presented Atlantic Records with more than 100 songs before they signed me, just to release “Only In My Dreams” as a 12-inch single to make sure it wasn’t a fluke and I was a teenager who wrote. So, even though some of the songs were written after “Out Of The Blue” came out, many were actually from that first batch of songs I wrote between the ages of 12 and 16. Also, the beauty of recording as a teenager is you don’t really know pressure yet. I had no bills to pay and I lived with my parents so it was all really a glorified hobby to me. Pressure just did not enter into the equation.
I later did feel the pressure to release albums and had not accumulated songs from true-life experiences, which is why a lot of the material became mediocre. I’m thrilled to say I have now taken that same kind of “real life” moment to accumulate my next batch of songs for an upcoming record. I feel like it’s “Out Of The Blue” and “Electric Youth” all over again because I am in a true “channeling” mode that can only come from giving yourself the luxury of time and living real life as opposed to “trying” to create or recreate something.
2, How do you compare “Out of the Blue” and “Electric Youth”? To me, the latter presented a more mature artist, with songs like “Silence Speaks” and “No More Rhyme” more adult-leaning, lyrically and musically, than much of “Blue.”
It’s funny to think a maturation process happens between the ages of 16 and 18, but I guess yes those few songs do represent a more poetic and less “on the nose” teenage point of view. And now thinking about it, I had traveled the world in the time between “Out Of The Blue” and “Electric Youth” and went from rags to riches, so to speak, all of which will grow you up real quick.
3, How did “Lost in Your Eyes” (a three-week Billboard Hot 100 No. 1) come to be the first single from “Electric Youth”?
I had started performing that song on the road on the “Out Of The Blue” tour. From the opening two bars of the piano intro, it elicited screams from the audience. It had yet to be recorded or played on the radio, but it was already a hit. It is a hit and that’s not ego talking. It is just true of any artist and any song that has that feeling of being familiar, yet new. My acting teacher Howard Fine actually said that phrase to me in relation to what is a hit – be it a hit piece of theater, a hit song, etc., and it’s so true. It’s like an old friend and you predict where the melody is going to go in a satisfying way and there is an excitement when you hear it because you know it is for you and your generation.
Was there any trepidation, either from you or the label, about releasing a ballad first, with pop radio historically tempo-driven?
I literally do not remember the conversation about the release of the first single. Clearly, there was no argument or no contest. Doug and Ahemt, at that point, were way more involved than they were in the very beginning when it was Larry Yasgar, Bruce Carbone and Anthony Sanfilippo in a back office, with no windows, promoting my dance records. And I obviously knew a thing or two at that point, and instinctually knew what would work next for me in my career. I had also witnessed first hand the audience response on the “Out Of The Blue” tour.
(Although, obviously, “Foolish Beat” had topped the Hot 100, providing key evidence that you know your way around a ballad.)
Obviously, dance songs can stand the test of time, but nothing penetrates and spans all age groups, all ethnicities, all genders etc., like a ballad. One of my favorite things is, to this day, many people come up to me and tell me they learned how to play the piano from that song and from that sheet music, which is such an honor to me. I curse my younger self every time I go to belt the high D at the end live! Taylor Swift… just you wait ! (Laughs)
4, What was the inspiration for the album’s title? As a then-18-year-old, did you feel a responsibility to be a voice for your youthful fans?
That was one of those channeled titles I feel was meant to be a phrase that was infused into pop culture at the time. I never really put any thought into coming up with it. Literally it, and the song, “dropped in” and I looked up to the sky, waved and said thank you! To me that’s how anything inspired comes. If you and your thinking get out of the way, the universe provides what is supposed to be out there and it comes on through.
I also believe, if it is not picked up by someone, the universe will lay it on someone else till it comes through. There was a melody and a song I was working on more than three years ago that is the exact melody as “Move Yourself To Dance.” I swear I didn’t plagiarize it! Mine came years before and I have recordings that are dated as proof, should Daft Punk ever try to sue me when mine comes out. (Laughs) It’s called “Turnitaround.” My point is, I joke with my boyfriend, I waited too long and the universe really, really wanted that melody out there and thought I was taking too long so dropped it in on someone else.
Fans do love the imagery of the phrase “Electric Youth” and it did, at the time, feel like there were so few of us teenagers out there, unlike it is today with the throngs of them and award shows devoted just to them. Me, Tiffany and New Kids were at the forefront and there was Shanice, Tracy Spencer, Menudo, The Jets, Glenn Medeiros, and that’s about it. If I had to list everybody under the age of 20 with records out now that would take up pages and pages of this article! So yes I did feel, in this weird way, responsible to lead a movement of youth empowerment and to encourage kids to use their creativity, if you will.
I remember being on the airplane sketching out the album cover. And FYI, back then there was no Photoshop, so that ginormous neon sign that was photographed for the cover still lives in a huge wooden crate in my storage space. Man! You just got me thinking that I must ask my boyfriend if he’d mind it being in our living room. HA!
5, Keeping with the album’s theme, mentoring young talent has long been a passion of yours. What is it about helping teach young people music and performing skills that’s such a vital cause to you?
I love collaborating with young people. Had many a pop star friend say they would never work with younger, unsigned talent. I have probably more than 200 songs copyrighted as a collaborator with people under the age of 15. To me, giving them and their writing skills validation, at that age, is priceless and will encourage them to do great things in the future. There is a teenage boy named Brandon Vitale (http://www.reverbnation.com/brandonvitale) who I feel is like a new Pet Shop Boys and a future writing force. Also, Leilah Ali’s song “Choices,” we worked on together at one of my music camps, is on iTunes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHuoK11uYDQ). I wanted to help her channel her teenage voice and angst and combine it with my knowledge of how to craft a hook and how to produce something lush. I co produced it with Gavin MacKillop, who has many more years experience than myself, and together we provided her with a real world experience and a finished product that she can then take to social media and promote.
I simply have no ego because it’s not us doing the writing anyway. Again, to me, it’s us channeling from somewhere else. So because I am not a credit monger, there is no credit to give away or share in a way. There is only talent to help facilitate and collaborations to be had and I just want great music to be out there. I want young people to know they do not have to be reliant on big-name, high-priced writers and producers because everybody has the power, if they open that channel!
Bonus Question: What’s ahead for 2014? You’ve blogged that you’re working on not only new music, but also a book?
I have been quietly going through a lot of things in my life that I don’t like to tweet about or blog about, so I’ve decided to put it all in a book because I have developed many techniques for getting through challenging situations in life that are not exclusive to being an entertainer or a celebrity. They are “real life” situations and are framed by anecdotes from my career. I think people will find it interesting to know and I bet this is the case for many performers and many people that in general, from outside appearances, when it looks like the chips are up, quite often people are going through their darkest and most difficult moments. And when people from the outside are looking in and saying “poor thing,” often that’s when people are the happiest and most fulfilled. I am collaborating with longtime Rolling Stone journalist and Sirius radio host Jenny Elicu, who is helping to channel my voice beautifully.
I am the composer on a new musical with Jimmy Van Patten, “The Flunky,” which may possibly be renamed “FlunkyTown” to reflect LA and all its wannabe stars who migrate here to live in guest houses of stars, while slowly giving up on their own talents and getting sucked into celebrity itself as its own vocation. We hope to see it have a Vegas debut in the near future.
I am an expert/judge alongside Darrell Hammond on the upcoming ABC show “Sing Your Face Off” and have also helped to create some TV movies that are in the works for production this coming year. I am also touring South America this spring. And some fun projects are in the works to celebrate this anniversary that have to do with the Electric Youth perfume as well as a possible TV special with a very well-known outlet.
I couldn’t count, but I know I’ve performed at least 50 dates this past year, which is as many as Britney will perform in Vegas and yet people will come up to me and say, “are you still performing?” And yes in a weird way that’s what I consider to be a slow year! And I’ve been intentionally taking time to live life so the next phase of music will be relatable and not a series of songs about being a pop princess in a bubble! That’s what I love about Miley these days. For better or for worse, she’s out there in the world and singing from a real and raw experience and viewpoint with no apologies.
New music reflects that at my point in life. You mentioned in the first question people take a lifetime to create those first albums and then suddenly people wonder where you stand if you’ve not released anything in 5 to 10 years, but the truth of the matter is the last five years of my life have not been “Only In My Dreams” but me “Awake from the dream.” I have always been drawn to relationships that involve tough love. My mother Diane, who managed me for more than 25 years, was that to me. And now my boyfriend Rutledge is that and my sounding board and inspiration for much of the new music. He won’t let me get away with being anything less then all I am. I’ve learned to not settle for the first clever rhyme scheme, but to wait for the absolute perfect “couldn’t be said better” or in a fresher way moment.
I joke that Liberace is also a collaborator because almost all the new material has come to me while sitting at his all glass and mirrored “Jonathan Livingston Segull” piano that lives in our home. I know he’s around and is helping shape the music. He was the first artist I ever saw live and to now be the keeper of his piano…WOW!
This album is not a “churn it out,” crafty pop album. It’s visceral. I must be in a certain emotional space to record it and I am coming upon that time in the very near future. No one cares if an album comes out in 2010 or 2014 or whatever. They only care it’s worth the wait and it’s great. And this will be…and is!
Thanks for this interview, Gary. It’s been a blast talking to you over the years. I do want to say a special thank you, and feeling sentimental over “Electric Youth” anniversary, to the guys in the back office at Atlantic, my mama and Buddy Casimano, who still dances with me to this day after dancing the very first club date with me ever. And to Doug Morris, whom I have not seen in many years – we went through a lot together and I will never forget how much faith you put in me, and the ride we went on together – eternal gratitude! And the late great Ahmet Ertigan, who when he came to see me on Broadway in “Cabaret,” said “Dahhhhling you have become so many things.” He continued to listen to my new material to his last days and insisted that I release nothing less than greatness, which has stuck with me and has inadvertently shaped the music that is yet to come.
Thank you to my army of “Electric Youth” – the DebHeads! I am so proud to be a part of a generation that breeds such loyal music fans who don’t rewind… they just “jump back in time!” You are all Eternally Electric and timeless in my eyes.
Here’s to the next chapter!