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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Music > Features Interviews F to J > Debbie Gibson

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Debbie Gibson

Shocks Your Mama

by Jay S. Jacobs

(Editor's Note: This interview was conducted in 1994 when Debbie's fourth album was released)

Debbie Gibson played a stripper in the video for her recent single, "Losin' Myself." Her current single is called "Shock Your Mama" and the promo clip features Debbie in a scantily clad frolic through France. Her newest album is called Body Mind Soul, and is a celebration of the physical, the mental and the spiritual.

Step back for a second. Debbie Gibson? Everybody's favorite girl-next-door? The singer who chirped the praises of electric youth? The girl who appeared on the cover of her first album in a pair of torn jeans with a smiley face drawn on her knee and a giant stuffed teddy bear? The type of singer you'd be proud to take home to mom? Welcome to the nineties, guys.

I can't help but remember that Madonna appeared as a stripper in her "Open Your Heart" video before being led down the road to becoming whatever it is that Madonna has become now. Should we be expecting the Debbie Gibson Sex book next? Simulating masturbation onstage? Bacchanalian parties?

Not likely. Gibson admits that her sudden change of image has surprised a lot of people, but she does not feel that it is quite as radical as some people are saying. For example, "Shock Your Mama" was a bit of a spoof. She was trying to show that Debbie Gibson at her sexiest isn't far off from the material girl at her tamest.

"I know I've always been labeled the girl-next-door," Gibson laughs, "but I want to show that the girl-next-door knows how to work it, too. Because there's a part of me that's very, very ambitious and very energetic. I wanted to show that spirit on this album."

Actually there is a long history of female singers who eventually felt stifled by their goody-goody image and successfully crossed over to the bad girl style -- Olivia Newton-John and Sheena Easton pop immediately to mind. But Debbie Gibson says that the change is much more basic than that. "This album is a reflection of what happens to people from the age of sixteen to twenty-two. You go from being a junior in high school to graduating college and being out in the real world. Forming more of your own identity."

Gibson has been on the music scene for seven years, so it is hard to remember that she started recording for a major label when she was only fifteen. She has grown up in the spotlight. Gibson was only sweet sixteen when her debut album  Out Of The Blue stormed out of nowhere to pick up five top-thirty singles. The follow-ups Electric Youth and Anything Is Possible added four more hits. Gibson has also released three top-selling videocassettes. Last year she made her Broadway acting debut as Eponine in  Les Miserables. She has also been very active in the fight against AIDS. That's a lot to go through by twenty-two. It isn't that reasonable to expect her to still be writing songs like "Only In My Dreams" and "Out of the Blue."

Debbie admits that as it was all happening, it didn't seem so strange to be in the middle of this whirlwind of success. "For me, it didn't seem weird at the time. I look at it now and I could see how it might seem strange," she laughs. "At the time I figured I was in show-biz since I was five.   So okay, it's my time. I've worked eleven years. That was how I felt about it. The only time it was strange was when people brought it to my attention."

Body Mind Soul is Gibson's statement of growth. She wants the world to know that she isn't the same cute little Debbie Gibson. "'Losin' Myself' was the most sensual song I've ever done.  It's something that I've been through.   That feeling of really getting wrapped up in a relationship -- to the point you lose sight of yourself. As far as the video goes, I felt if I'm going to be singing about losing myself I have to show another side of myself. If I did a video for 'Love or Money' the image would be very different than 'Losin' Myself,' because it's just a very different side that I'm showing in that song."

Body Mind Soul celebrates more than Gibson's coming of age as a woman.  It also looks at her growth as a person. Her albums always contained message songs, but they were always a little vague, like "Electric Youth" and "Anything Is Possible." On the new album, Debbie explores such adult subjects as date rape in "When I Say No," prejudice on "Tear Down These Walls" and AIDS on "Kisses 4 One." Gibson also chalks this up to maturity and doesn't think it will startle her fans at all.

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"Another change that has occurred to me personally is I've decided to look at what's going on in the outside world more, not just what's going on in my own little world," she explains. "I think the die-hard fans that are in the fan club love when I sing message songs. That's one of their main reasons for being into my music. I don't think it will surprise them. Maybe people who just know me from the radio might be a little bit surprised. But these are things on my mind."

Gibson is especially trying to let people know about AIDS.  She has been an active fundraiser and campaigner for pediatric AIDS charities. "Being an entertainer, you're in the ultimate position to influence people. You can either take that power and use it or abuse it. I've just chosen to use it in a positive way."

"I think most human beings have concerns about AIDS. About children and where the world is going. A lot of artists show that concern, but a lot go out of their way to hide it because it doesn't make them look as hip to the music industry.  Which I think is ridiculous, because it's the 90s and we've got so many problems right now. If an educator can help, I think they absolutely should. It's part of the territory in a way. As a human being I care about these things, so of course, I'm going to speak about them.

"What really hit me is that I've met children with AIDS," she continues. "I've been involved with the Pediatric AIDS Foundation fundraisers. That probably is what initially got me interested in speaking.  When you see these little innocent children walking around who have to deal with AIDS on a daily basis, it's heartbreaking. It really is."

Another longstanding interest that Gibson has been nurturing in recent years is acting and the musical theatre, which is where she started her career. She did a run as Eponine in the Broadway cast of  Les Miserables, where every night she performed that musical's showstopper, "On My Own." Gibson is now up for the lead role of Sandy in a revival of Grease which is planned to reach Broadway next year. Even though she has been recording for years, she has always felt a strong kinship to the great white way. "Pop audiences aren't exposed to theatre music," Gibson says. "They think all theatre music sounds like a big tap number or something. Like Liza Minelli or whatever, which I happen to love, but a lot of pop fans don't. You sing a song like 'On My Own' and it's just such a great song it can't be denied. I want to do a whole Broadway album someday."

Gibson's last album, Anything Is Possible, didn't sell as well as the first two, and Body Mind Soul has also started off slowly. Gibson admits there is a bit of pressure to make the sales of the new album take off more, but she can't let this worry her too much. After all, she says, what artist sells three or four million copies of every record? In the long run no one knows why certain albums work at different times.  It is better to let the suits worry about these things.

Gibson absolutely didn't think about sales while she was recording the album. She was just excited to be doing a new album, and wanted to make it as diverse and interesting as possible. For the most part, she has succeeded.   Body Mind Soul is probably her best album since her debut. Gibson has paid attention to musical changes in the recent years and was influenced by the things she has seen. "Love or Money" is a dance tune with a new jack feel to it, "Losin' Myself" is a sultry ballad from the "Justify My Love" mode and "Shock Your Mama" sports definite house overtones. Gibson has also left room for more traditional Debbie Gibson ballads, like "Goodbye."

"I hate listening to albums where every song sounds the same," she says. "That would be the ultimate failure in my mind -- if I ever made an album where I sat back and listened to it and could sing one song with the next. That's a sin, I think. You have the chance to show ten or eleven different sides of yourself. Why not use that chance? I think the production was pretty consistent, but I definitely wanted to show different sides of my personality. Hence the title, I guess."

Some people look at her music as insubstantial, Gibson says, but she feels that is unfair and wrong. "That's a big misconception, I would say, that my music is all one dimensional and bubble gummy. That's been pounded into people's heads. Of course, a song like 'Shake Your Love' was just that, but, hey, I wrote it when I was fourteen. It was a lot better than the songs I was writing when I was eleven. Those were about my dog and stuff."

In the long run, Gibson says that she does not want for people to worry about things like image. Gibson just hopes that Body Mind Soul will help people look at her music in another way. They should just hear her songs and decide for themselves. "Hopefully they won't try to categorize it, in a sense they can just listen to it and enjoy it. Maybe that's living in Fantasyland," Gibson laughs, "because people have to put you in a category. That would be the ideal thing for me. A good song is a good song, no matter what kind of music it is. I know people today care so much about perception and hype and what the media has led them to believe. It's like, 'I can't listen to Debbie Gibson because my ten-year-old niece listens to her.' People put those thoughts in their heads. It's such a shame, because the truth of the matter is I make music for people of all ages. An entertainer is an entertainer. Good entertainment is good entertainment. Hopefully they won't let the stereotypes get in the way of listening to my music."

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Photo credits:
#1 1994. Courtesy of Atlantic Records.
#2 1994. Courtesy of Atlantic Records.

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