Debbie Gibson Is Back: The Former Teen Idol Spills The Tea On ‘The Body Remembers’ — Her First Album In Two Decades

Debbie GibsonPhoto Credit: Nick Spanos

Debbie Gibson is back! For the first time in two decades, the former teen pop idol has released a long-awaited 10th studio album, ‘The Body Remembers.’ This marks a new chapter in her life, as the album is released on her own label, Stargirl Records. She enlisted a dream team of collaborators including Grammy Award-winning DJ / Producer Tracy Young, multi-platinum recording artist DJ Ashba, 20-year old musical prodigy Sean Thomas, Emmy winner, composer/arranger, metal band Cinderella drummer Fred Coury, Broadway power couple Orfeh and Andy Karl.

Each song off the album represents a visceral account of Gibson’s life in the past decade and shows off the quintessential aspect of her legacy. Ranging from themes of the fantasy of the “perfect relationship” (“Red Carpet Ready”), being stuck in the prison of one’s mind or life and needing to break free (“Freedom”, “Girls Night Out”), perspective on past loves (“Strings”), daily self motivation and living an aspirational life (“Runway”), nostalgic summer love (“The Body Remembers”), the current world landscape (“Tell Me Love”,“Legendary”), unrequited love, romantic love, self worth, etc. Her summer disco bop, “One Step Closer,” is an ode to pushing through the negatives in life knowing what awaits is a greener pasture.

She recently teamed up with Peloton for a Debbie Gibson-themed ride which premiered the exclusive DJ John Michael and DJ Skribble remix of her single “One Step Closer” – the first time Peloton has premiered an exclusive remix within a class. Earlier, she partnered with former New Kids on the Block tourmate Joey McIntyre and dropped their new video for the brilliant rerecording of Gibson’s classic no. 1 hit “Lost In Your Eyes.” The video showcases the timeless elegance and universality of the song as well as the musical chemistry between Debbie and Joey. The original, which Gibson wrote and produced herself, was just spotlighted as part of Stereogum’s “The Number Ones” series. Gibson and McIntyre also headlined a limited engagement at The Sands Showroom in The Venetian Resort Las Vegas this August and September.

We chatted with Gibson, now 51, about her latest album, musical freedom and independence and why she decided that living in Las Vegas was good for her soul and even better for her sound.

Debbie GibsonPhoto Credit: Nick Spanos

You just had some shows with Joey McIntyre. Are the concerts through?

We’re done. We did eight. We’re done for now, I should say. I don’t know when we’re doing them again but I’m sure we will be. We’ll figure it out. These were kind of like, let’s get the ball rolling, see how we work together. Clearly we had an amazing time if you’ve seen any of the clips. I’m going through Joe show withdrawal right now.

As you would, right?

I mean come on. It was so magical. And when he asked me to do it here, it was like down the street from me. I was like, ‘You’re asking to do shows in my current home town?’ Twist my arm.

I mean you’re in Las Vegas! That’s my ride or die. That’s my favorite place to live.

How cool. I’ve been here a decade. Which I can’t believe. In the last three years, I was in a relationship and I felt like I was doing Vegas more his way. And I almost left when the relationship ended [but…] it creatively feeds me. My home studio is here. But you know, you’re twenty minutes from the Strip and the glitz and glamour and restaurants, and 20 minutes the other way is Red Rock canyon and nature. It’s got the best of everything.

Debbie GibsonPhoto Credit: Nick Spanos

You were talking about Joey right now. Why Joey? From all the guys I know you’ve toured with, why him?

He approached me when he knew I was doing the mixtape. Donnie said, ‘Hey can I give Joe your number?’ I think he’s gonna ask about a duet or something. I had no idea it was going to be a duet of ‘Lost in Your Eyes’ [one of her hit songs]. And he joked. He was bold enough to say, ‘Hey can you share your biggest hit with me?’ I was like, ‘Yes please.’ I instantly understood the magic of that. Although I couldn’t predict grown women weeping. He would come out and start his verse, which is now his verse. I said to him, ‘Oh my God I’m about to go do shows without you and I’m gonna feel so weird singing “I get weak in a glance” because that’s now his to me.’ But he would come out and literally the emotion in the audience was so palpable. The thing we heard the most was, ‘It’s my idol and my crush together.’ And that’s so powerful when you think about that. He and I are so similar in work ethic and personalities. We both have done Broadway, we’re both always looking to up our game and try new things. We are both very grounded, normal people, we just connect on so many levels. One of my favorite things about performing with him was, it was set up front by both of us, neither one of us liked planned banter. There was not a scripted word in the show. Anything anybody wanted to say on stage; nothing was off limits. There were nights we went off the rails. And I’m in the moment that way. I love that. We both have other commitments we both have to do, but we’re figuring out how to keep the partnership going in whatever ways we can. In my opinion, over the rest of my life.

Is there one that just connects you with the moment in your time, where you’re like, ‘OK, every time I hear it, it’s my song and it brings me back to something?’

There’s many but I’ll have to go with ‘Only in My Dreams,’ especially when I’m performing it live because I performed that song in clubs across the country. A lot of people don’t realize that before people started hearing my name, I used to do a teen club, a straight club and a gay club four nights a week. I went to school for three days, exhausted, falling asleep. And I was on the road Thursday to Monday. I just have such a connection to doing that song in so many situations. Especially doing that song in clubs where people are drinking. People are picking people up. They did not want to hear this little suburban white girl singing. And I used to start the song with this acapella intro as long as I could so everyone stopped what they were doing. That song is so reminiscent of the work I put in. I was in the trenches at this point. I was only 16. I couldn’t go in the front door at this point; I could only go in the back door. My mom was managing me at the time and collecting the money upfront from these club owners. It was all gritty. It was the start of everything. That song ended up being the number 1 dance song of the year. It was from performing it live for 100 people at a time. It wasn’t like boom — 1 million people have access to it when you post it on the internet. That signifies all the work that went into the beginning of my career and all the joy. When I sing it now I feel the connection to those people and that time.

Debbie GibsonPhoto Credit: Nick Spanos

What do you think it would be like now, your career in the 80’s. Translate that now to the Tik Tok era.

I look and I go, I probably would have had 50 million followers because that was the moment I was in. I don’t know if my nervous system could have handled 50 million followers on social media as a teenager. I think that young artists in that position now, they came into this world with super human DNA. It’s such an art to be living your life, reporting on it, getting unsolicited feedback, having to look a certain way. I aesthetically did not look like a social media star back then. I very much looked like a little girl eating burgers and drinking milkshakes. The world moves, for young girls, very fast now. Maybe faster than they’re ready to take on. I’m thankful I came up when I did. Now I love social media for connecting. I want to know who my audience is. I can round up 20 fans’ names right now and tell you what line of work they’re in, if they have pets, if they have kids, I’m a people person. I enjoy that feeling of community and I can handle that now. I control my own schedule because my music is on my own label. No one is handing me my life on an itinerary and saying ‘You need to be here, here, here’, or we’re dropping you from the label. That was always a threat. You had to keep up and now I’m doing things on my own terms and being able to digest everything in real time. Is such a luxury and so good for my well-being. Everything is congruent and I like things on my own terms. Whereas back then, if I was that age in this world now,I feel like my health and sanity would be in trouble. Back then it wasn’t the greatest. I finally caught up with it now. I finally unraveled all of the crazies that comes with being a teen star. Which is not me whining about it, because I chose it. There’s a natural order to life for a reason. Kids go to college, then they go off on their own and then they get a job. I did it all out of order and now I’m finally all caught up.

You were a kid though. What do you know at 16? Would you say during that time period you weren’t doing exactly what you wanted?

No I was, I was such a people-pleaser as a lot of little girls are. I just didn’t want to fall short. Because I was young, being young in the business was rare. There were only a handful of us. I mean there was New Kids on the Block,  there was me, there was Tiffany, Shanice, Tracy Spencer… I could name you under ten teen acts. There were not a lot of teen music stars. There was not really a community for us. Now, there are entire award shows centered around teens. It has really changed. Now labels know what to do with teens. Back then it was unknown. I felt like, ‘Oh my God I have to hang with the adults.’ When in fact a little girl should be allowed to throw up a white flag, and say, ‘Maybe this is too much.’ That happened to me. I was on Xanax, I was on Prozac, there was a three year period where I couldn’t handle my life. I realized that wasn’t my path. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I have to unravel the why. I had to get to the why. If I need to be on Xanax I’m just doing too much. Maybe I need a therapist, maybe I need yoga, maybe I need better nutrition.’ Eventually I found those things. To this day my health and well being is dependent upon managing my stress, managing my diet, and getting a ton of rest. When I’m not performing I’m in bed at 8 o’clock. I have to if I want to continue. Those are things you don’t know about yourself when you’re a teenager.

Or even in your twenties. Or in your thirties.

Yeah, you’re figuring it out. A label is putting a million dollars into you—you don’t have time to figure it out. You go, ‘Oh, I’ll figure out whichever way to keep up.’ That’s what gets a lot of artists in trouble. I am lucky because I have my mom. My mom managed me for 25 years and I still do some damage control. I remember my mom turned the limo around [once] because I was having a panic attack. I was just over tired. And we were heading to a radio station and they threaten ‘The station will drop the record.’ And it was like, ‘That program director is never going to be in my life to pick up the pieces. Why do we care so much about that one moment and that one chart position and that one radio ad?’ And it becomes like everything feels like life or death. When you get older and more evolved, and you pan out and you go, ‘Oh that’s not what life’s about. I’m all about self care now and balance and all of it.’

Debbie GibsonPhoto Credit: Nick Spanos

Is that why you wanted to wait so long to put out the next album? You wanted to do it on your terms at the right time when you were ready?

I didn’t think about it. It just happened. I think in the last year I’ve been in a place where I’ve been very in tune in the world. Just more connected. From that, the right things at the right time happened. The more you go inward and stop trying to strategize to fit in, it’s just gonna happen at the right time. Subconsciously I knew, if you’re putting out an album you do have to be ready to go and perform it in public and travel. I think I’ve been building to this point. And I’m still building. It’s not like I’m like ‘I’ve arrived.’ Every day I’m just trying to improve on the day before. It’s an exciting moment.

What is the concept of the album, how does it speak to where you’re at right now?

I allow myself to feel all the feels. Always. And this album has me one minute curled up in a corner on the floor in angst over whatever it is. In the course of the song I usually come out of the ball in the corner and figure it out.
That’s really the true line of the whole album — a song like ‘Strings’ where you find me in the process of thinking about how so many people, especially narcissists, we all know narcissists in our life, how people disguise being selfish as being selfless. So they’re coming to you and I’m like, ‘Wait, this is about you, you’re not even meeting me where I am. You have no idea where I am.’ I’m very psychologically and emotionally aware like that. In the course of that song I go from pondering that to ‘Now I am free.’ Now I talk about how I don’t have this freedom because there’s strings attached to all these relationships. And it goes to now I’m finally free.I’ve always loved that about country music. There’s always a twist. It’s like ‘Hey, here’s the reality of life and here’s how you get out of it.’ I find that inspirational. That’s my own coping mechanism that works for me. It’s great to hear it works for other people too when they hear the music. I think the theme is empowerment. Take everything you’ve been through.

One of my favorite words is grit. I’m part grit and part glamour. But I don’t buy people who are all glamor and one dimensional. I want to feel the grit underneath and I want to feel the life someone has lived. Life is not always perfect. One of my eight shows, my voice felt so bad, and I don’t know why it was a weird day. And I said to the audience, ‘This is it. I’m sounding husky tonight. Don’t know why.’ Lay your cards on the table. Be real with people. No one wakes up feeling perfect every day. And theres a lot of glossiness in the new album and there’s a lot of imperfection. I engineered all the vocals at home myself. And there were days I thought I was laying down a demo. And it became the lead vocal. And it’s a little distorted and not perfect but it captured the emotion. The emotions always have to come first because that’s the story teller in me and that’s what people connect to. Like they’ve all heard me, if you’re a long time fan of mine you’ve heard me hit notes on Broadway, you can find it on YouTube. That doesn’t impress me. I don’t find that impressive in other artists. I think the skill is great. Give me an artist who’s gonna crack on a high note because they’re so emotional.