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'Lost In Your Eyes' Singer Debbie Gibson Releases First Album In 20 Years

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONLY IN MY DREAMS")

DEBBIE GIBSON: (Singing) No, only in my dreams...

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

That is the original pop princess herself, Debbie Gibson. Before Billie Eilish, before Ariana Grande and before Britney Spears, there was Gibson. Wholesome, especially by contemporary standards, she was the real deal. At 17, she was the youngest female to write, produce and perform a No. 1 single. She still holds that record. Debbie Gibson has never stopped working. She's performed on Broadway and collaborated with other singers, she's gone on tour, but she hasn't put out a studio album of original work for 20 years until now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE STEP CLOSER")

GIBSON: (Singing) You lit me up when, baby, you called me crazy. But, man, you saved me. Now I'm one step closer to love.

DAVIS: That's "One Step Closer", a track Rolling Stone aptly described as a disco banger off Gibson's new album, "The Body Remembers." It was released on Friday. And we're joined now by Miss Gibson herself. Welcome to the program.

GIBSON: Thank you. Great to be here.

DAVIS: So it's been 20 years since the last album. What took you so long?

GIBSON: I mean, it sounds insane when I hear that out loud, because I continue, as you said, to work and to make music, to do movies, TV movies. You know, I'm always writing, but this chapter of music just really spoke to me. And, you know, it's a big undertaking to put out an album, and especially because I choose to do it independently. I, you know, I loved the big machine when I was part of the big machine. But at this point, I don't want my life handed to me on an itinerary. I want to stay creatively and energetically in control of my own life.

And so if you're going to put something out, you better have something to say. I went through, you know, a chapter that was really challenging. My mom, who managed me for 25 years - first 25 years of my career - she and I parted ways in the management. I was in a 10-year relationship that was very much like a marriage. That came and went. I got diagnosed with Lyme disease. I got deathly ill for a time. And, you know, in coming out of all of that, that's where the really inspirational music to me lived. And it just felt like time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNWAY")

GIBSON: (Singing) You can pay your way, you can stay all day up on your yacht in Saint-Tropez, but it don't mean anything.

DAVIS: This is a dance album. It's filled with optimism, with joy. It's got bounce. It's got light. I mean, how did you - how did you find that vibe going through everything you were going through?

GIBSON: I mean, it's that very vibe that lifted me out of what I was going through. And my hope always is to be inspirational and aspirational to other people. And so I felt like, well, if this music is doing this for me, hopefully it will do it for other people. You know, I also feel like within the joy and the upbeat nature of this album, there's an intensity and there's a grit always lurking underneath it. And it's multilayered in that way, the way all of our lives are multilayered in that way. You know, you see mom smiling, picking up their kids from school. I can't imagine the day they just had.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BODY REMEMBERS")

GIBSON: (Singing) Last night I was driving in my car, and our song, it came on. I held tight...

DAVIS: The album is titled "The Body Remembers." It gets its name from this track. Let's listen to a little bit of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BODY REMEMBERS")

GIBSON: (Singing) I'd forgotten how to feel, but you took me. Boy, you took me right back, baby. We were young and a little crazy right here. Then something started to crack in my pretty little veneer. And the body remembers what the heart tries to forget. So young I hadn't met me yet. But I feel you now. The body remembers...

DAVIS: Talk about this track. What are you - what are you trying to express here?

GIBSON: First of all, I got so excited because that is the first time I've heard this on the radio - this particular song.

DAVIS: (Laughter) Congratulations.

GIBSON: Thank you. So you get to be the first forever to play this title track. And the thrill is never gone. The thrill is actually maybe even more so now because I understand everything it took to get this music out, you know? But this song really is about my love of nostalgia. I think we all have been nostalgic, especially lately. I think the more chaotic the world gets, the more people want to reconnect to a time that was pure and innocent. And I think the '80's were about that for people, which is why I think so many people are constantly going back to that music and that time. But this song really is about reconnecting to that nostalgic time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BODY REMEMBERS")

GIBSON: (Singing) Like the memories were the wheel. I'd forgotten how to feel. But you took me right back.

DAVIS: You said the word nostalgia, and there's a track on this album where you have a version of your 1989 hit, but you're doing it as a duet with Joey McIntyre, which, as any proper '80's kid will know, was a member of the boy band New Kids on the Block. Let's listen to a little bit of that song as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST IN YOUR EYES, THE DUET")

JOEY MCINTYRE: (Singing) I get weak in a glance. Isn't this what's called romance? And now I know 'cause when I'm lost I can let go.

JOEY MCINTYRE AND DEBBIE GIBSON: (Singing) I don't mind not knowing what I'm heading for.

GIBSON: I remember having New Kids posters on my wall, and I remember meeting him backstage at Westbury Music Fair with the guys of New Kids on the Block. And to be sharing this full-circle moment with someone like myself - we've both grown up in this business. We've both done Broadway. We both put being sane, decent human beings above and beyond everything. Like, we really connect on that level, and we have the same work ethic. So to have that partnership with somebody is so special.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST IN YOUR EYES, THE DUET")

MCINTYRE AND GIBSON: (Singing) And if I - and if I - can't find my way - can't find my way, if salvation seems worlds away.

DAVIS: You do have an image, I think, that I think it's fair to say is sexier now. I mean, you seem to sort of embrace that side of you. I wonder if it's easier to do that at 50 than it is as a teenager.

GIBSON: I mean, it's interesting. Like, yeah, you know, I was what's fondly referred to as a late bloomer. I was one of the kids who was not in a rush to grow up, oddly. I was like - it's like I had a crystal ball, and I thought, wait, you do only get to be young once. So I was milking it for all it was worth. I was like - well, I knew once I put on that first pair of heels, it was going to be demanded of me every time. Do you know what I mean? So I eventually transitioned into doing some sexier videos and whatever, but it was more like in my 20's. And a lot of teenagers were in a hurry to grow up. And especially now, you know, you have 14 going on 40 now.

DAVIS: If you had to give your best piece of advice to a young female who wanted to be in the pop music scene, what would you tell them?

GIBSON: Always return to why you're doing what you're doing. So, like, it's very easy to start putting fashion before music. It's very easy to start putting image before substance and the joy of it. And I think you just have to keep pulling yourself back to ground zero, to that - like, most female artists that are out there, at some point they were writing songs in their bedroom, or they were singing into a hairbrush, they were singing at street fairs. And I think if you can keep reminding yourself of that little girl with that dream, it just keeps everything in check. And the other key for me career-wise is versatility, because I think it's exhausting to have to keep up with pop trends and media demands and all of that. But if you have versatility, you have freedom.

DAVIS: That is singer Debbie Gibson. Her new album, "The Body Remembers," came out on Friday. Thanks so much for your time.

GIBSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEGENDARY")

GIBSON: (Singing) You got it, you got it. You got it, you got it. You got it, you got it. You got it, you got it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.