Tiffany on “I Think We’re Alone Now,” being the queen of the mall, and dubstep
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In Set List, we talk to veteran musicians about some of their most famous songs, learning about their lives and careers, and maybe hearing a good backstage anecdote or two in the process.
The artist: After bursting onto the pop-music scene with a peppy cover of Tommy James And The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” off her eponymous debut record, Tiffany became the musical darling of the late ’80s. With the success of “The Beautiful You: Celebrating The Good Life Shopping Mall Tour ’87,” Tiffany’s music was delivered straight to the masses, and the red-haired 16-year-old quickly became the queen of mall-bound suburban teens everywhere. Though her later albums didn’t find as much success, Tiffany has managed to stay active in the music world by releasing country and dance records, and has even acted in movies like SyFy’s Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid, which co-starred fellow ’80s teen idol Debbie Gibson.
“I Think We’re Alone Now” (from 1987’s Tiffany)
Tiffany: That was it for me. I actually didn’t want to record that song. When I was 14, I met my producer by chance in a studio when I was doing country music. I was thinking I was cool and kind of bridging the gap a little bit. I was putting things in my set—it sounds really funny, but even at 14, I was kind of jammin’ with local bands. [Laughs.] I wasn’t allowed into bars, but I would go in and do my thing, and then I’d have to leave. I started adding a little bit more Rosanne Cash and people I thought were more edgy country, and then I also added a lot of Fleetwood Mac and Heart. I love Fleetwood Mac, I love Stevie Nicks, so for me, that was kind of a “little bit of rock ’n’ roll, little bit of country,” and that’s really the sound I had hoped to become at some point.
Then I was doing demos at a studio in Burbank, California, and the producer came down and he took me in a totally different direction. I mean, we started in that direction, and the next thing I know, he’s bringing in this track for “I Think We’re Alone Now.” He played me the original song [by] Tommy James And The Shondells, and I was really kind of taken aback. Obviously, it didn’t sound modern to me at the time. I had never heard the song before, which is so funny, because now I think it’s really cool and funky when I hear it on the radio. [Laughs.] I was like, “Really?” and he was like, “No, no, no, the track will be different.” Then he brought in this dance track, and I was a little heartbroken, because for some reason, I was like, “Look, I like this music, but I’m not sure I want to be a dance artist.” He was like, “Just trust me. Just record the song.” I was just very humble and very thankful to be living my dream, to be in a studio; every day I went there, I was like, “Woo hoo!” So of course I did it.
I took the song home that afternoon and played it for my friends—they always came over at the end of the day, and they’d want to know what was going on. There were only a few friends that knew I was recording or that I even sang. They loved the song. Right away, they were, like, dancing to it and jumping around and “Oh, this is a cool song!” And I was like, “Okay, well I want to be cool!” [Laughs.]
It really took me a while. I would say I got into it more and more as I performed it in the malls, and I saw the connection that people had with that song in different age groups. Moms would walk over and be interested because they knew that song. Then they would kind of go, “Oh, my daughter would like you! Let me go get her. “ And then the kids liked it, so I think that’s what has kept me—not interested in the song, but loving the song. I never get tired of singing it. It really is the way it makes people feel; there’s just something about it, that it bridges all of those age gaps.
It’s so funny, because I still go to England and other places and they tell me all the time, “Oh, your song’s still really popular! They still play it in clubs!” And I’m thinking, “You don’t have to say those things to me.” I’ll sneak into clubs, I’ll put my hair in a ponytail or something and just go in because I love to dance and be part of the atmosphere… and sure enough, people will play my song, and I’m thinking, “Okay, did somebody spot me?” I really do believe people play my stuff still, and it’s very cool, because there’s a whole other younger generation—which is a bitter pill to swallow, but that part is really cool, that there’s all these 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds rediscovering “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Tiffany. So I’m very thankful for that.
AVC: Do you remember the genesis of the mall tour?
T: Well, it was kind of out of desperation. When I got signed to MCA and the single came out, I was on the East Coast—I’m from the West Coast, but they put me in the East Coast for some reason, maybe because there’s a bigger club scene there, especially for dance music at that time. Again, I was 15 going into these clubs, singing my songs, and they loved the music, but I was 15. I couldn’t really hang out, I wasn’t really their age, so the association just wasn’t working out. Even now, it’s all about the fans, and it’s about people wanting to get to know you and building that rapport and building that audience.
I was really at a loss of how we were going to do that, because of my age. I find this out later, of course, that my label was going to actually drop me. [Laughs.] It was my manager and producer who just kind of said, “We’re going full steam ahead with this. You cannot drop her.”
Larry Solters, who was in charge of the project at MCA, was shopping in the mall one day with his daughter and thought, “What about doing a mall tour?” You see all these little kiosks that they set up with hair stuff and hair shows and applications of makeup and makeovers. He probably was walking by one of those and thought, “Well, what about somebody singing in the mall? This is where young girls hang out.” When they presented it to me, I thought it was great, because that’s exactly where I did hang out. My girlfriends and I, that was the safe place to be. Obviously we couldn’t go to clubs, and just hanging out on the street wasn’t acceptable, so everybody got dropped off at the mall for various reasons: to look at cute guys and look at clothes that you hope to afford one day. And I spent a lot of my time in the record store, back then when they had all the cool vinyl. Just reading liner notes and looking at the pictures, you could spend two or three hours in there. So I thought, “That’s perfect!”
I wasn’t even shy to do it. I was all about it immediately. It was hard the first couple of malls we appeared at, because the kinks hadn’t really been worked out. There were a lot of times that we’d get there on a Friday afternoon—I’d fly out after school and go to some place like Ohio and set up this little stage. We had, like, a little upgraded boombox, basically, a little system and a mic. I’d start singing, and a lot of the retail around us would just be in an uproar. They’d be like, “You’re too loud, I have a jewelry store…” So there were a couple times where I ended up crying, but being young and wanting to sing, I was very resilient. I was like, “Okay, let’s wipe off the tears. Thirty more minutes.” The more I started having a following and my age group liking it, the more I just loved the idea of doing the malls.
It was really hard to see that they had to come to an end. It was great to be that successful, but it was really hard to see that the intimacy that we once had at the malls, to be able to just go have a slice of pizza and get to know people—I really made a lot of friends, actually, on the mall tour, who are still my friends to this day. I was just a little girl; I wasn’t a celebrity. To be in another place and to have a pen pal and another girl to talk to about boys, about school, about parents… And then I’d be like, “Oh! I have to go sing real quick, I’ll be right back.” So it was really that simple. It gave me a great foundation, I think, as an artist, how to work a crowd, and also it gave me a lot of great friendships. It was a really good time in my life.
“New Inside” (From 1990’s New Inside)
AVC: This is a pretty dance-oriented track for someone who didn’t want to be a dance artist.
T: I think that you grow as an artist, and for me, I’m so inspired by a lot of different artists. I’m constantly trying to grow as a musician, so when I listen to different things, I’m like, “That’d be cool, to do something like that,” and I try to keep myself open-minded.
I think probably being a young artist, there were a lot of things I thought I knew and I wanted to do, and I was like, “Oh! That’s what I want to do.” And then it took me in a different direction with “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and then all of a sudden I was a pop star. But I loved it. My dreams had come true, but then there was also that side of, “You’re a young teen,” and there were so many people telling me, “You can’t do that now. You can’t wear lipstick. You can’t dress like this. You can’t change your hair color. You can’t date boys.” It was like all of a sudden the world was watching, but it was mainly the corporate world, the business side of it, and it was very frustrating, because my fans were changing; they were growing up. The girls were dressing more sexy; music was changing. Now I’m in a semi-pop dance world, and I’m singing a lot of ballads, which are beautiful, well-written songs, but that’s not why people buy tickets to come and see me, and that’s not how I came out of the box with people.
So that’s kind of where “New Inside” came from. I definitely wanted to write. I had changed management at that time, because I was saying, “It’s time to grow up. It’s time to be a little more edgy. It’s time to be a little bit more tuned-in. If we’re going to do dance music, then let’s really do dance music. I come from a dancer’s background. We’re not even tapping into a lot of this stuff that would be a lot of fun for me, and I’m surrounded by a lot of great, talented people. I’m very lucky with that; why don’t we use some of this and grow a little bit?” A lot of the people I was working with didn’t want to do that, so I found a whole new camp.
When New Kids On The Block started opening for me on the first round of the tour, I think that opened my eyes a lot, too, because I saw so much how they would nurture their ideas rather than squash them. Sometimes their ideas were outlandish and it was, “We will get there, but we’re not there now. But that’s a good idea a year from now.” A lot of people around me made me feel silly to be saying things, or just didn’t listen. So I kind of knew that wasn’t going to work in a long-term career.
When I finally started working on the New Inside project and “New Inside” itself, that’s exactly what the song is about. Of course, we made it about a love relationship, but the song is really more about busting down those walls, changing things, being open-minded, pushing yourself a little bit and being a little “new inside.”
Of course, I come in with dark hair and lipstick and all these different things representing that album to my label, and they were horrified. [Laughs.] They were scared to death.
I was really thrilled that Donnie [Wahlberg] became a part of that project, and I worked with some great people. Phillip Damien was awesome. I think he vocally took me to a whole different level. A lot of my fans at first were like, “Oh, I don’t know if I like that tone of your voice, and you’re hitting notes that I’m not used to, and it sounds a little screechy,” but as a vocalist, for me that was such an experience, because I tapped into things I didn’t know I could do. Now, I’ve finessed them more, but just to be able to go, “Let’s push it a little bit,” unfortunately, you’re always exposing yourself in front of the masses.
Now, I think if we were to do that project, it’d be totally different. I definitely think that I’d probably even sound better on those songs, but I loved it. It was great. I was 18 in New York City recording an album; I thought I was really cool! [Laughs.]
“Be With U Tonite” (from 2005’s Dust Off and Dance)
T: Dust Off And Dance, the album, was really all about me being in England. I had gotten a separation from my husband and went out on the road—because that’s always good, because then you have some separation for real. I went out there, and I just didn’t know what it was like to be single all of a sudden. I didn’t know what was really going to go on in my life. I think that’s when I even more attached to my music, and of course, as a songwriter, that’s my therapy. So I definitely have all these songs coming out of me during the darker times in my life.
I went to England. I took my best friend with me—she’s a hair-and-makeup person—and it was like, “Okay, I’m separated, so there’s a whole awkward dating thing. I’m Tiffany, so that’s weird. And also, I haven’t dated in a long time, and I’m really picky; there’s a lot to consider,” so we just had a good time. On days off, we would just go to clubs and dance, have a couple cocktails, and I soaked in the music so much that I was like, “You know, this music makes me feel alive. I’m loving the dance scene in England; I’m loving all this stuff. How could I do something like this? I think that, crazily enough, this is what I need to do.”
And then I ended up meeting a guy. I was like, “Nah, I don’t want any relationships,” this and that. But I married him; his name is Benn.
So there was all of that intrigue and excitement and how he was making me feel, and just all of those butterflies again, and all that girly stuff you go through. So I came back to America and got with a production company—a couple people I worked with before—and said, “I think I want to do this dance album. Tiffany busting out with a really aggressive dance album is probably not going to be taken seriously, so let’s do something I know the fans will love. Let’s start there, because the industry has always been a little ‘Hmm’ for me, so let’s just do something that makes me feel great. Let me write the songs, and also let me tap into that world again.” So that’s what a lot of those songs are about.
“Be With U Tonite” is about Benn, really. That whole album is about my husband, and just about a long-distance relationship and long nights out and dancing on the dance floor and dating, all of that stuff. Of course, a lot of that album still has a little bit of tongue-in-cheek, because I was a little jaded at the time. It’s like, “I love you, but let’s not get too carried away. Love is for saps, really.”
“Sandcastles In The Sand” (from a 2008 episode of How I Met Your Mother)
T: They crimped my hair, let’s start there. When I commit to something, I kind of just go, “Okay!” which can be good or bad, to be honest with you. A lot of times, people say, “Oh, you can’t do that! You’re Tiffany, and you’ve got that brand, and you’ve got to always protect that brand.” There’s a lot of times that I feel, when you’re hired for something, especially playing a role, you kind of have to go with it. If they envision you to be in a preppy sweater with crimped, dry hair, then that’s the way we’re going to go. We talked about it, and that’s kind of the look that they wanted—really ’80s-inspired, with the crimped and the bow, and that was so not me. I never had bows in my hair, and I really didn’t do too much of the crimped look, but I kind of went along with it. Then I saw it when it came out, and I was like, “Ooh, girl…” But it was fun to be a part of that show. I watch that show, so I’m a fan as well.
AVC: Robin Sparkles is a take on you, with “Let’s Go To The Mall” and all that.
T: Yeah, and that’s an honor. It was really cool that it’s a throwback to me. That’s always really a cool place to be, because it just reconfirms a lot of the fans watching it. They wouldn’t just pick somebody that people wouldn’t get. So it’s kind of awesome to be in that category, that even now people can pull stuff out and either make fun of you or celebrate you or whatever, but they’re doing it all because you obviously made a mark.
“Serpentine” (from 2011’s Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid)
T: Well, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to do any music for the film, because they kind of had hired somebody, and Deb [Gibson] and I were like, “Uh, excuse me?” So they were like, “Well, if you can turn in a song ASAP…”
My character, Terry, was a rancher and park ranger and was around the locals, who were very hillbilly, very fun people, very country kind of people, and that was her daily life. I did a country album and was living here in Nashville, and Deb’s character was handling snakes—I really wanted to do something that wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek kind of song, I wanted to do something that was still a cool song and a cool topic. So Chris Donohue, the co-writer on that song, he was like, “What about something about ‘serpentine’?” And I was like, “Ooh, yes.”
And of course, I had to play off of Deb and that whole character and what my character thought of her, but then also it was really cool that we have this supposed rivalry which never existed, but it would be really fun to kind of throw some of that in there, like, “You’re a she-devil, you’re this…” As we started to write more of this song, I was like, “This is becoming a cool, valid song that is in the spirit of, but is not limited to, the movie.” [Laughs.]
It was my first time really writing something for a movie and having to stay with this specific topic. Usually I just submit my songs, and if they fit, they fit, but it was an awesome experience, and I was very happy with the song. I play it in all my live shows.
The movie itself was such an experience. I’m glad Deb said yes to it, because I kind of threw her name in there when we were talking about it at SyFy, because I had done Mega Piranha and went in to say, “Thank you so much, I had a great time, and I’m a huge sci-fi buff…”
We started mulling over the next project, and somebody said something about, “You and Debbie should do one,” and I said, “If you can get her to do something, that would be great.” We started talking, and I think somebody said, “Mega Gator,” or something, and then they just took the storyline from there. By the time I came back to Nashville, they had her on the phone, and she was really open to it. I think we did a really good job, but it was just so funny—all those years, you’d think we would collaborate on music, but we ended up collaborating on this crazy SyFy movie, which was so much fun.
They wanted us to write a song together, and we are just so different when it comes to music; we’re just worlds apart. We love a lot of the same stuff, but what we choose to write about or how we see the world is so different, and we’ve learned to really embrace that about each other. The tour we went on, we had a really good time together, even though we are so different. It was kind of, “I’ll say something, she rolls her eyes,” and vice versa, but there’s a mutual respect there because we know what works for each other, and that’s just who we are. So I think we’re at a really good place in our friendship; we didn’t really have a friendship before, so all of this Mega Python and that kind of stuff really brought us together. I’ll always love that movie. [Laughs.]
“I Always Thought I’d See You Again” (from 1990’s Jetsons: The Movie)
“You And Me” (from 1990’s Jetsons: The Movie)
AVC: You also were in Jetsons: The Movie, and did songs for it. That was probably pretty daunting, to be Judy Jetson.
T: I was a little girl watching that cartoon, so to be the voice of Judy Jetson was very cool. It was a lot of pressure. I’m very childlike, more so now than I was when I was young, but back then, I don’t have that voice. I didn’t have the Judy Jetson voice, so it was very hard for me to get into that character. But I wanted to do it, of course. To work with [William] Hanna and [Joseph] Barbera and for everybody to be there and coach me was just an awesome experience. It was kind of nerve-wracking, because I had just gotten home from Southeast Asia; my voice was hoarse, so I was like, “Well, you’re going to get this. I don’t know what to say.”
It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and the songs were written for that movie. I wasn’t a songwriter on any of those songs, but I always loved “I Always Thought I’d See You Again.” It’s one of my favorite songs to sing; it’s just a beautiful ballad.
When the movie came out, I went to the drive-in to see that movie. [Laughs.] I took a bunch of us and we went into the car and watched it. I’m just weird like that.
I was very, very proud to be the voice of Judy Jetson. I think with everything in my career, I don’t really want to put boundaries on myself. I’m very thankful that I did some voiceover work. I’m considering doing more, which is great, and then we’ll see what else I can get into. All of these things are just continual experiences, and they keep my world someplace to be, let’s put it that way.
“Voices That Care” (from 1991’s Voices That Care)
AVC: You participated in “Voices That Care,” which was a song intended to boost the spirits of Gulf War troops. Do you remember the recording process for that?
T: Oh, you mean the video? Yeah, when I wore glasses and I had long black hair and nobody recognized me? Yes, that video. [Laughs.]
I mean, you’re in a room full of cool people, and nobody recognized me. [Laughs.] That was the funny thing. My PR girl was like, “Uh, what are you doing? They’re expecting Tiffany.” And I was like, “This is my new look.” She’s like, “No, not right now it’s not!” That was during the whole New Inside period, and a lot of people really weren’t aware—other than fans—of a lot of my changes. I think people really didn’t know who I was in the room unless I said, “Hi, I’m Tiffany.”
But it was a great experience to record that song. It was cool. We were all in a different room, but we could still see somebody in the vocal booth with people recording the actual vocals and the liners they were doing. So that was a great experience, and again, one of my nervous bits, because you’re in the company of a lot of different people, and of course you want to shine and be able to handle it. So I was a little nervous, but it was great.
I always find those things humbling. I don’t know how else to say it. I never take these things for granted, so to be part of it and to be doing it for a good cause… the video was really fun, I really enjoyed standing up there with everybody, and I made some great friendships. That’s a time that a lot of artists are there wholeheartedly and very present, so it’s awesome, because you can really get to know somebody. When you’re going backstage at a show or on set with them, sometimes you don’t get their full attention.
“Feel The Music” (from 2011’s Rose Tattoo)
AVC: Rose Tattoo is your country record.
T: I love Nashville. My son’s in college, so it was a “bigger picture” kind of thing. I write for TV and film and for other artists, and this is the place to be to do that. It just seemed like one thing after another. I always knew I wanted to do a country record, but I didn’t know I would be doing one last year, put it that way. It just fell into my lap. We were writing songs, and I would write something and go, “I think I want to keep this one for myself…” A lot of writers would be like, “Ooh, are we writing for your project?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, I just thought we’d kind of write.” It ended up that we’d write this great song, and they’d be like, “So what do you think? It’s something I can hear you singing, nobody else could sing it better.” I said, “Okay, that’s another one we’ll keep.” And then I ended up meeting a producer, Chris Roberts, and having a friendship with him, and just feeling that he got it, and that if I was going to do this, these were the people I would want to do it with.
I ended up funding the project myself, opening up my own label, because for that project, I really just wanted to break ground. I didn’t want to go submit it to a label, and then they say, “Yeah, this is great, but we want you to get with these big-time producers, and we want you to do this…” I didn’t want to get into debt. I also felt that the songs, for me, were representing what I wanted to do in country music. I felt that they were a good bridge between pop and country, because I’m taking my pop fan base to a new marketplace and they’re going to either think I’m crazy or they’re going to love it. I don’t want to be Reba; I can’t be that, as much as I love that. I can’t sing about being on a farm. It still has to be really cool stuff that’s right for my mindset and my life, and also for my fans. I think we accomplished that really, really well.
I’m really excited that that album made its mark in country [music]; my fans get it now. I’ve branched out and have a bigger audience, and people really do think I’m a songwriter. So it did a lot of breaking ground for me, but now I think it’s great that we can take some of the songs and have fun with them, and put them in other markets.
At the end of the year, I’m going to Singapore and doing an Asian tour out there, so that’s another reason we want some of these dance remixes and stuff, to service that marketplace. They haven’t seen me in a while, so probably to show up with a country hat and to try and do country, they’d think I was crazy for sure. [Laughs.]
That’s the one thing I have to say about my fans: They’re great; they allow me to wear all these different hats. Because life is too short, and vocally, I can do it. That can be perceived as, “Well, she’ll just do anything,” but for me, I am inspired by so many different musicians and so many different things, and the music industry has so many different, great collaborations going on right now—I think you’d be really silly just to stick with one thing, and say “Nope, I’m not going to work with any other artists or go out of my comfort zone.” It just limits you.
I really enjoy where I’m at now, and there’s a lot of stuff up and coming, so hold on to your seats. I’m still young, and I’m really into dubstep right now. I don’t think I’d do a dubstep album, but I’m totally all about it. [Laughs.]