Friday, February 21, 2003

The 31-year-old Tiffany's gone glamourous since we last saw her.

Girl singer
grows up

Tiffany unveils her adult sound

By John Berger

Imagine it's the year 2019 and there's a flier you see around town that screams out "YOU'VE SEEN HER AS A TEEN STAR! YOU'VE SEEN HER IN PLAYBOY!! NOW SEE BRITNEY SPEARS LIVE AT GUSSIE L'AMOUR'S!!!"


Where: Gussie L'Amour's, 3251 N. Nimitz Highway
When: 8:30 p.m. tomorrow through Monday
Tickets: $15 advance sale for Saturday, $20 at the door (good for return visits Sunday and Monday); $12 advance sale tickets for Sunday and/or Monday, $15 at the door (good for return visit Monday). 21 and over only.
Call: 836-7883

A comedown for the one-time teen sexpot, you may ask? Not if Miss "Oops, I Did It Again" was coming to Honolulu with as much going for her in 2019 as Tiffany does this weekend.

Remember Tiffany? She was a few days short of 16 when her self-titled debut album topped the charts and launched her as one of the teenage mega-stars of the late 1980s. The album sold more than 4 million copies on the strength of pop remakes of "I Think We're Alone Now" and "I Saw Him Standing There."

Her second album, "Hold an Old Friend's Hand," was certified platinum.

More recently, like several other female pop stars of yore -- Nancy Sinatra, Jody Watley and Belinda Carlise -- Tiffany has gone the tried-and-true route of the celebrity nude layout for Playboy magazine.

When asked about it during a phone interview this week, Tiffany, now 31, said it was in part a business decision that resulted in positive public relations.

"When I released "The Color of Silence" in 2001, they still saw me as Tiffany at 15, and there was a credibility factor that was really frustrating. I was doing crowds of 14,000 people ... but I was getting no radio support and no live coverage," she explained.

Her relatively discreet Playboy pictorial in 2002 changed that. And anyone who took time to read the accompanying article discovered that Tiffany was married and had a son, had repaired her relationship with her mother and set aside any old-time competitiveness that may have existed between her and Debbie Gibson back when they were the dueling teenage queens of pop.

Suddenly, everybody wanted to talk to Tiffany.

"They'd say, 'You don't mind doing Playboy and selling your record?' and I was, like, 'No.' I'd been working (to promote) the record for eight months, and no one would have me on TV. All of a sudden, I do Playboy and here I am!

"But I really did my homework (before agreeing to pose). I knew that the pictures would be stunning ... and I think it's an incredible confidence booster to do Playboy. It's a great ego boost and it did work (as a business decision). It definitely broke that 15-year-old mall-girl image."

Unfortunately, her latest album is unavailable due to problems with her record label, but she'll be doing many of the songs from it this weekend.

"I'll definitely do 'I Think We're Alone Now' and 'Could've Been,' and I do 'I Saw Him Standing There' and a couple of cover tunes ... that I just love, but the rest is all new stuff. I think it's important for people to see the transition, even if they can't go out right now and buy that product. I'm really proud of the new music that I've created."

AMERICA discovered Tiffany as a performer after she embarked on a ambitious shopping mall concert tour back before malls were considered a venue for live entertainment. Malls were the perfect place for a artist of her age to connect with other teens, and Tiffany connected in a big way. Few fans -- even those who appreciated her strength with ballads such as "Could've Been" and "All This Time" -- knew that her musical roots were as much in country music as pop.

"I had been touring and doing work as a country singer from the time I was 9. I did my first tour without a label or a record at 10. I had opened for bigger artists like Mickey Gilley and Waylon Jennings, but I always wanted to be more on the rock side of things.

"There was a big transition from country music to a more Pat Benatar style of rock, and people were loving my voice when I sent my demo in, but when they'd find out that I was 12, they'd tell me to come back when I was 18."

In time she found a producer willing to take a chance on working with a teenager. She recorded "I Think We're Alone Now" only because some of her friends "really liked" the arrangement, and when MCA Records was ready to shelve the finished album ("they had no clue how to (promote) me"), the executive overseeing the project came up with the mall tour as a way of saving it.

"I thought it was a great idea because, being a teenager, that was the only place I hung out ... and so it wasn't really that hard for me to fly out every weekend, go to a mall and do my 20-minute thing. The hardest thing was that at the first couple of malls, the people just really didn't want hear it. They didn't have a clue who I was."

Then radio stations began playing her remake of the 1967 Tommy James and the Shondells hit, and people began associating the song on the radio with the girl singing in the mall. "I Think We're Alone Now" and its follow-up, "Could've Been," each topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks.

"After I started hearing the song on the radio -- which is thrilling -- and seeing people come out to see me, it was a dream come true."

But the dream turned out to be a trade-off. The sound that her producer-manager, George E. Tobin, created has held up well as light commercial pop -- her other songs like "Radio Romance" and "Walk Away While You Can" are still appealing -- but it wasn't really where she wanted to go as an artist.

And, talent and creative control aside, teenage pop stars have a relatively short shelf life. Just ask Annette Funicello, Fabian, Donny Osmond, Leif Garrett, the Jets, Debbie Gibson or the New Kids on the Block.

Tiffany, as well, found that chapter of her career over within a few years, but says that she never completely left music. She spent several years in Nashville to develop her talents as a songwriter, and continued to record and tour.

"I think I've really taken my time to find placement in the American market because there was a lot of transition -- grunge and hip-hop was not what I was doing. Over the years, I've had people come to me and suggest that I release a ballad album or a hip-hop album or a dance album, (but) I've always wanted to get back on track to what got me wanting to be a singer, and that was pop-rock.

"I knew that I had more to give than what I even showed in my earlier recordings, and I knew that there were people out there who wanted to discredit (me) -- 'one-hit wonder, she didn't write anything' -- and I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a songwriter."

And so she held out, developing her writing skills and assembling material that expressed the feelings of the woman she is now.

"I could have come back at any time with another album, but if it's not great stuff, then I didn't even want to poke my head out."

Finally, she had material she believed in, and the timing felt right. "The Color of Silence" included seven songs she had written or co-written. But problems with the record label subsequently caused Tiffany to pull the album off the market.

"I went with a smaller label ... and thank God I still own the rights to the album. I feel bad because a lot of my fans couldn't get ahold of it, so I'm going to re-release the album probably around the end of May and then probably quickly after that, release a new album.

"I think I've been really lucky that I have a really broad fan base and that they have stuck with me over the years. That's really been my passion and what pushes me and drives me a little bit other than my love of music."

So maybe Tiffany's contemporary counterpart, Ms. Spears, will have as much going for her when she comes to town to play Gussie's in 2019!

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