Chic Compass Magazine

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Debbie Gibson: A Star is Reborn… Without Missing A (Foolish) Beat

BY STACEY GUALANDI

In true Debbie Gibson fashion, 2021 ended on a high note, entirely on-brand for the eternally electric youth – with a pajama party.

Her “live” Q & A CAMEO event brought together fans and former music mentors to celebrate the 35th anniversary of “Only in My Dreams,” the debut single that turned a 16-year-old Long Island musical theater prodigy into the “original pop princess.” It capped off a year Gibson could only have imagined in her wildest dreams. Literally.

In the last year, Gibson landed her first co-headlining Las Vegas residency at the Venetian with New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre; released The Body Remembers, her first original pop album in 20 years, and debuted “Christmas Star,” her very first self-penned Christmas single, all through her own label Stargirl Records.

Says Gibson of it all: “It really is wild, and I could just cry thinking about it.”

Call it a renaissance, a second act, or (my favorite) “Debbie 2.0,” Ms. Gibson says 2021 was an embarrassment of riches.

“It was so great, and I kept pinching myself,” says the triple platinum-selling artist. “It’s really fun to be 35 years into a career having a lot of firsts.”

When Gibson first emerged on the music scene as a teenage love song-writing fanatic, little did she know she was paving the way for the future Billie’s, Lorde’s, and Olivia’s who could sing, write, and produce their own hits.

“Back when I started, there was only a handful of us “teen acts,” and we were very much regarded as a trend that was gonna go away,” says Gibson. “It’s such a different world where teens are respected now, thank God. Young female writers, like Olivia Rodrigo, are respected, but back then, I was counted out.”

Shame on those doubters. In 1987, Gibson became the youngest artist to write, produce, and perform the No. 1 hit song “Foolish Beat” (she still holds the Guinness World Record for youngest female artist); and, she successfully crossed over to Broadway, performing in 17 musicals in as many years.

Since then, Gibson has also executive produced and starred in two high-rated Hallmark Channel movies; toured with New Kids on the Block, Tiffany, Salt-N-Pepa, and Naughty By Nature; and she appeared as a guest star in a musical episode of “Lucifer” on Netflix.

Clearly, this latest chapter didn’t just come out of the blue. It’s classic Gibson, and she has every intention of keeping the (PJ) party going.

“Nobody owns me right now,” she says. “Nobody owns my time, my image, my music, my schedule, and I could not live my life any other way.”

RUNWAY

For those who don’t know, Debbie “does” Vegas…that is, she lives, sings, writes, produces, and records in her own Sin City home studio. The town is her literal backdrop.

Most of her musical inspiration, she says, comes from a 50-year-old, mirror-covered grand piano, once owned by the late Liberace himself.

“I feel like every time I’m sitting at that piano, writing a song, he is around saying, ‘Thank you for keeping me in Vegas where I belong.’”

The other thing that is so Vegas? Her fashion vibe…evidenced by her ever-evolving style on Instagram. Her driveway is the new runway, and she loves to show off while takin’ out the trash. (I’ll wait while you check out her IG feed.)

That signature 80s black hat that so many emulated (myself included) has matured with her, but long gone are the sweaters and the teen-queen hole-y jeans with the smiley-faced knees.

“When I was a teenager, I always had a very accessible style,” reminisces Gibson. “You could mimic my style by going to the mall, which I always enjoyed.”

These days, you can still find her in PJ’s, but she will also playfully rock Spanx leggings with rhinestone Louboutins.

“Now, I love throwing on $10,000 earrings with a t-shirt. I definitely have high-end taste, but I also have really accessible and sometimes even borderline trashy taste. Ha!”

Gibson takes couture cues from two people: her style icon Tina Turner (“It was so endearing that she had that relatable rocker down-home thing about her”) and Las Vegas-based, high-fashion designer David Tupaz, Chic Compass Magazine’s fashion and creative director.

Tupaz says Gibson stumbled into his studio one day after a workout. “Hi!” he remembers her saying. “Is it okay to come in? I’m barefoot.”

“I was his dress-up doll,” adds Gibson. “He instantly started showing me around the store and the things he visualized for me. It became such a great partnership.”

Tupaz has since collaborated with Gibson for events, TV appearances, calendars, and he designed the black jacket with embroidered roses that she wore on stage during her recent sold-out residency. (He even got an unexpected shout-out from Gibson while attending the show when unsolicited, Joey McIntyre said that her jacket was his favorite!)

“We always remember celebrities and great talent based on how they look, but I think Debbie is a person who expresses herself by how she performs and the music she delivers,” says Tupaz. “I think she goes beyond the style.”

He also draped her in another Tupaz original on the back cover of The Body Remembers CD.

“I’m a theater girl, and I love a little theatrical flair,” admits the Brooklyn-born beauty, “so for me, that had like a high-end, JLo-kind-of-vibe in a way, but it felt like my own.”

“I think I represent what a normal woman could do with fashion if she gives herself permission to have fun,” says Gibson. “So, I think it’s taking my old sense of accessibility and bringing it into now with a little more refined point of view.”

THE BODY REMEMBERS

Whether talking about her wardrobe—or her work—Gibson says she rarely, if ever, dwells on the past, but she has no problem revisiting it.

“I heard a great word the other day that I cannot take credit for. An awesome gal named Nicole, who I had a meeting with in the TV world, came up with this word … newstalgia,” says Gibson.

“[Newstalgia] is the modernization of nostalgic things that people are loving, and it makes me happy. I think there’s no quicker way to age yourself and date yourself than thinking everything great was done in the past. But I think you have to have a sense of what’s going on in the world now and then pull elements from everything great that ever was.”

A perfect example is her iconic ballad “Lost in Your Eyes,” featured on her 10th studio album, The Body Remembers. When Gibson said yes to McIntyre’s request to duet on her original #1 hit—another first—her 20-year-old co-producer (and “secret weapon”) Sean Thomas updated its sound with the times, yet kept it timeless.

“That’s what was so fun about making this album: finding the ways and the places to be me, but not to be stuck in anything old,” says Gibson. “Joey helped to breathe new life into this song and give it a whole new chapter. I get goosebumps talking about it.”

Gibson also says working with “an incredible team of collaborators” allowed her to stay true to her classic sound (heard on the summer disco bop “One Step Closer” and the Tracy Young DJ #VegasVibe Remix “Girls Night Out”), while also stretching her voice (as in “Strings” and the Fred Coury-produced “Legendary”).

“I do think and hope that people were pleasantly surprised as to how modern [the album] sounds,” admits Gibson.

FREEDOM

Since its release, fans—(aka “DebHeads”)—and critics have embraced it.

People’s Brianne Tracy wrote, “Gibson took all of the hard-earned wisdom learned over recent years and channeled it…” while Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone said, “The time is right for Debbie Gibson to get her due as a pioneer.”

Music executive Doug Cohn says he isn’t surprised the “pop princess-turned-pioneer” can’t shake their love. “Debbie chooses to do things that make sense for her,” he says. “She knows who she is, and I don’t think she’s trying to be something else.”

Cohn and Gibson met (and alllllllmost dated!) as Long Island teenagers. Years later, he cast her as a judge on Nickelodeon’s “America’s Most Musical Family.” Now, three decades in, they are best friends.

He’s confident her career has legs, in more ways than one (“you’ve seen her taking the trash out in her Instagram videos…she’s 50 and she’s got good legs!” jokes Cohn), and believes she’s just the entertainer Las Vegas needs.

“She’s the real deal,” says Cohn. “She’s very talented, period. She can go into any room and win anyone over. She can sing any song. She can play any piano. She’s got it. Secondly, Debbie’s work ethic is second to none.”

I’d say. Gibson wrote her new album during the pandemic! Shockingly, that work ethic has never been rewarded with a Grammy.

“I have an extreme amount of trust in the universe; that’s why I’m not bitter,” admits Gibson. “Me and my team feel that we made a Grammy-worthy album, which was important, and that I could be considered…but it’s still a political game. I will forgo the Grammy and decide what I say yes and no to in my life without anybody pressuring me. For me, the victory is in the longevity.”

LEGENDARY

Speaking of longevity, Gibson is running full steam ahead. Right now, she’s producing a full-length holiday album, due this year; she’s writing a book and planning a possible residency return in Las Vegas.

“I have a brainstorm list that looks like a 10-year plan,” says Gibson. “I have a lot of big ideas, and I’m just slowly chipping away at them and prioritizing them with Heather Moore, my manager and partner-in-crime. I’d like to tour, and there are movies to be made, TV projects to be done. I’m a creator at heart.”

For over three decades, when it comes to true staying power, Gibson hasn’t missed a beat. And if she were ever to produce a musical about her life, she’d call it “Eternally Electric.”

“It would have the depth and richness of Les Miserables, with the grit of Cabaret and the joy of Mama Mia. If I could somehow combine that into one, that sums up my life.”

Pajamas included. Sweet dreams, Debbie.

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