Nick Spanos / Courtesy of Shore Fire Media – Debbie Gibson
Debbie Gibson has been ensconced in Las Vegas for the last 10 or so years, most recently with her three dachsunds and seemingly not much else to do with a pandemic raging. But according to her manager, Heather Moore, the last year and a half may have been the most creative period of her long and versatile career.
Gibson wrote songs for a new album, her first in 20 years, The Body Remembers
, which was released Aug. 20. She put together a new Las Vegas show with old friend and New Kids On The Block
stalwart Joey McIntyre
. And she made a cameo on the Netflix pandemic hit “Lucifer,” in a musical episode called “Bloody Celestial Karaoke Jam” that was so popular it spun off its own soundtrack, among other things.
“From March, when the world shut down and as disorienting as all of that was, her plan had already been to take time to write music, and she did,” explains Moore, who worked with Gibson for many years before becoming her manager. “There’s nothing more satisfying to me as a manager than waking up in the morning and getting a text with a brand new song that she’s written.
“I was waking up on a daily basis going, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is incredible.’ It was a tremendous time for creativity, and I think that’s what we’re seeing now. The Body Remembers was born out of that.”
The album title comes with layers of meaning. Gibson’s limited Vegas engagement at the Sands Showroom at the Venetian Resort, Aug. 26-29 and Sept. 16-19, marks her first live performances since July 14, 2019, the conclusion of her last tour in support of NKOTB. She acknowledges there’s some rust to shake off.
“It’s so funny because one of my dancer/choreographers, who’s been dancing with me since I’m 16 and he’s 17, is 52 now and he said, as he was getting ready for this trip to Vegas to do these upcoming shows with me, that he felt like he was dusting himself off a little bit and he was like, ‘Oh, wait, the body remembers.’
“It’s like muscle memory for people who are working out or singing, but also just that visceral feeling you get when you hear a song and it takes you back to a time and a place,” Gibson tells Pollstar. “You know, it really can mean anything. But it’s also the love of nostalgic music and how you can be transported to a time and a place at any time.”
Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images – Debbie Gibson
LOST IN THE MUSIC: Debbie Gibson (below) performs during Point Honors Los Angeles 2019, Benefitting Point Foundation at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 12, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California
Those who’ve followed Gibson’s long career arc, from her early days playing teen, dance and gay clubs ahead of her 1987 debut single, “Only In My Dreams,” and album, Out of the Blue, both released when she was 16 years old, know that covers a lot of time and places.
At 17, Gibson became the youngest artist to write, record and produce a single to reach No. 1 on Billboard
’s charts with “Foolish Beat” in 1987 and within a year Out of the Blue
would produce four Top 5 singles on Billboard’
s Hot 100 chart, reach triple platinum RIAA status, and send Gibson from performing in nightclubs to stadiums. Electric Youth
followed in 1989, along with more No. 1 hits. Gibson was ubiquitous, and even shared ASCAP Songwriter of the Year honors that year with Bruce Springsteen
It’s fair to say that she paved the way for a succession of teenage pop stars, including artists like Tiffany and Martika, and followed a decade later by the likes of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson; girl groups and boy bands like Backstreet Boys, Dream, 98 Degrees, New Kids On The Block, *NSYNC and so many more.
But what sets Gibson apart from many of of those who followed is that when the megahits stopped flowing, she followed her own muse and refused to be typecast as a teen pop queen. Over the decades, she’s flourished while some of her contemporaries have struggled.
Beginning with a 1992 theatrical production of “Les Miserables” and the role of Sandy in “Grease” in London, Gibson has taken on musical theater in a big way. Starring roles in “Funny Girl,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Gypsy” and more followed, as did TV and film appearances. Touring remained in the mix, with headline gigs in between outings with *NSYNC and New Kids On The Block, as well as radio shows.
Especially successful was her most recent, a 55-date arena run with NKOTB in 2019 that sold out all but a few shows in major and secondary markets, including two-night sellouts at Boston’s TD Garden, which moved 27,089 tickets and Allstate Arena near Chicago with 24,068 sold.
“I think so much of it is the team that surrounds me allows me the freedom to naturally grow, evolve, and make transitions,” Gibson says of her multifaceted career. “Some are not always seamless, but I feel the safety of my team and in particular, my manager, Heather, who has seen me through all kinds of crazy things and career twists and turns. I talk to artists who don’t have the right team and the right manager in particular, which is such a personal thing.
“It’s like a perfect marriage and it allows me the creative freedom and the space to evolve. Going back 35 years, I’m remaining versatile, remaining hungry, wanting to do different genres of music, wanting to do different genres of entertainment from Broadway to movies to TV movies.”
Moore calls herself a “manager of expectations.” She’s been in Gibson’s inner circle since they were both in their early 20s, and took over management duties as Gibson’s mother transitioned out of the role about a decade ago. Few professionals know Gibson as well.
Paul Natkin / Contributor /Getty Images – Debbie Gibson
POP’S (DEBBIE) GIBSON GIRL: At the height of her 1980s heyday, Debbie Gibson performs at Poplar Creek Music Theater, Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Aug. 23, 1988.
But these are complicated times for managing expectations, with the fallout from an unprecedented pandemic continuing to create uncertainty in the entertainment world.
“One of my jobs is to listen,” Moore says of her management role. “It’s my job to listen to not only my artists, but what the audience is saying. The Body Remembers is kind of a nostalgic look at life. When you hear the songs, you remember where you were. Those songs are the soundtrack to people’s lives, and many of them are Debbie’s earlier hits.”
She noticed in the buildup to the album release that Gibson’s fans were exhibiting the kind of excitement that hearkened back to the 1980s, in the Before Times.
“In anticipation, people felt like they were 14 again and that they were waiting for Electric Youth to come out. They talked about that a lot, like, where were you when you first stood in line at the Tower Records when the album was coming out? There was that same giddy anticipation from some fans like they had when they were in their teens, which was kind of cool. It is nice to have people excited about an album.”
Stephen J. Cohen / Getty Images – Debbie Gibson, Joey McIntyre
BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME: Debbie Gibson and Joey McIntyre of New Kids On The Block perform at U.S. Bank Arena on May 2, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Gibson and McIntyre are preparing for a limited Las Vegas run Aug. 26-28 and Sept. 16-19, on the heels of her first album release in 20 years, The Body Remembers.
And that nostalgic anticipation has played out in demand for tickets for Gibson’s upcoming Vegas shows with McIntyre. What was initially expected to be a short, three-night engagement was expanded to eight and despite other commitments in TV and film in the coming year, Gibson anticipates mounting a headline tour in support of The Body Remembers
“I look at people like [Barbra] Streisand and great women who have gone before me, no matter how much success, who have always – like Streisand – seem wide-eyed and hungry for more and wanting to top herself. I’ve been inspired by that over the years. It’s like hitting pop bullseyes, which was never why I got into this business, because that’s like a party trick unto itself and I’m not that strategic. I just love to create and I love to be inspired.
“I’m sitting here tackling the song all the way on the piano to accompany Joey McIntyre and our upcoming shows. He threw that off yesterday. And I love that feeling because suddenly I’m the piano student again. Suddenly I’m wanting to do something at an elevated level because I want it to be great for him. Like, I love versatility. And I think versatility can really help you keep flowing and transitioning into new phases of your life and your career.”
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