If you spent any time in a mall in late 1980s, then you were fully aware of Tiffany, the redheaded teen pop singer. Her face was on posters and her fast-selling debut album was in record stores. Her hit single, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” (a cover of a Tommy James song) was blasting out of the speakers at the food court and your Sony Walkman headset.
Tiffany was the “Queen of the Mall.” And if you were really lucky, you may have even seen her performing live there between the Orange Julius and Fashion Bug stores. Those shows in malls across America triggered a hysteria on par with Beatlemania.
But that was then. Now Tiffany is a woman whose musical style and sensibilities have matured as she has. Through it all, her passion for music and her fans has remained.
I caught up with Tiffany backstage at a stop on her recent tour to discuss growing up in public, her move to Nashville and that longtime “feud” with Debbie Gibson.
Question: How the tour going?
Answer: It’s been going really, really good. The turnouts have been great and the musicians are playing stellar. It’s a lot of fun. It really is like a big party. I throw out shakers and tambourines, and they get to keep them as souvenirs. It’s just fun.
I started this show kind of on the premise of recreating what I do for hosting my parties in Nashville, where I live. Forty to 200 friends show up. We all play music and have a good time. A lot of my friends are like, “I’m not a musician. I don’t sing.” I say, “You get a cocktail and a shaker.” So I thought why not do that on tour?
Small intimate venues [provide] a chance for me to share my personality as well. Because I’ve grown up a bit. (Laughs)
Q: Because you started as a pop singer, is it still a struggle to get people to take you seriously doing other styles of music?
A: Oh, definitely. Any genre, really. Even this show, people say, “What is she gonna sing for 90 minutes? Doesn’t she just do ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’?”
Once they see the show, they are like, “Oh my gosh, I remembered more songs than I thought. And these new songs. I like them because they hold my attention. Because they’re well written songs.”
I think the new songs are hits. But in a weird way, I think the Tiffany name is not the avenue to get them there.
Q: Are there too many preconceptions that you are just “the girl from the mall”?
A: Yeah. I have a lot of validating to do. I think I’ve done that for the last 10 to 15 years. But I’m resilient; I’m used to it. I am true musician — a songwriter and producer. I’m not going anywhere.
Again, being around musicians, a big family of really well known musicians who give a praise and a nod to me as an artist doesn’t hurt. It’s nice to be one of them rather than just a pop artist.
Q: Was posing for Playboy an attempt to shed the “Tiffany brand” and show you had grown up?
A: Definitely. Playboy was really about showing the adult side of me. I was also going through a separation which became a divorce. It was a frustrating time. My album “The Color of Silence” got great reviews, but nothing happened because it was “Tiffany.” And it makes you feel bad. I shouldn’t have to feel bad about the success I had. My dreams came true, and the industry said, “No, you’re Tiffany.” I did Playboy and the phone starts ringing.
Q: Was the rivalry between you and Debbie Gibson real?
A: No. Well, we weren’t friends back in the day. We didn’t really know each other. Management and labels wanted that competition. A lot of that was created by them. We didn’t have five minutes to talk to each other. Now we are friends and quick to defend each other.
Q: What can people expect at your live shows today?
A: We start off with the new stuff because it has great energy. Then we go into the ballads. Then into the acoustic, organic stuff with shakers. We end it in the 1980s. Real high energy. We do “Talk Dirty to Me” by Poison. People love it.
We go from that into “I Saw Him Standing There” and “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and that is the end of our show. The show isn’t as retro because we are not using the original tracks. I still do some retro shows and some track shows, but I find those are a lot of work. I prefer to work off musicians.
Q: Because you spent so much time playing in malls as a teenager, do you avoid them now?
A: I’m a shopaholic. (Laughs) So I still love going to malls. But I don’t sing in malls anymore! (Laughs)
Q: How has moving to Nashville changed you as an artist?
A: I’m encouraged all the time, and I grow every day. Music is accessible to me 24/7. Which is great because I’m that kind of that artist. I write two to three times a week. There are songs that I need to get out of my head because they will drive me nuts. Some of those I write for other artists. Right now is a great time for Nashville. I’m having a field day as a writer and a performer.
Q: When you look back at the beginning of your career, do you feel like you missed out on childhood?
A: I don’t think I missed anything. As I look back, there are things I do better now as a defined artist. It worked out. I still love what I do, and I’m grateful to be doing it 30 years later.
Tiffany will perform at The Rainbow Warehouse in Northeast June 9. Tickets are available at SeeTickets.com.