I was almost 11 when Tiffany's eponymous debut album hit the charts in 1987, and I am not embarrassed to say it was one of the first records I ever bought.
I had only seriously gotten into pop music the year before, when I ordered a Whitney Houston album to redeem points I earned from selling magazines at school, and my obsession with the Top 40 grew so quickly that I remember my father calling me a 9-year-old teenager.
My father was a serious listener of jazz, so he often made fun of my choices in a good-natured manner. "All of that's just bubblegum pop. You like it now, but you'll grow out of it," he would tell me.
I would argue back, defending my choices, convinced in my belief that Tiffany and her erstwhile rival Debbie Gibson were not manufactured pop stars but were talented musicians in their own right, destined for long careers.
Last week, while listening to that same Tiffany LP, it struck me that we both were right. I stand by my pre-teen assertion that Tiffany's cover of Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now" is better than the original. But that cover of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There"? Not in the least.
My father was right that the description of "bubblegum" was coined for pop music like that. But he was wrong about Tiffany. Because in case you haven't kept up with the singer's career—well, there is one.
Tiffany Darwish will turn 40 later this year. She has a teenage son and is happily married to a second husband and seems to live a very down-to-earth existence in Nashville. At least, she sounds incredibly down-to-earth on the phone.
"When people meet me, they're like, ‘You're very real'," Tiffany says, and I believe her, not the least because you can still hear her California Valley Girl inflections when she gets excited.
It's true the teenage diva may never have had the chart-topping success in the United States that she did in the 1980s, when she was the youngest female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard charts. But over the past decade Tiffany has had a number of dance music hits, which have only cemented her popularity with her gay fanbase.
This year Tiffany has taken her talents in a new direction—country. While it may seem like a stretch from dance music, she says it's actually a return to her roots. As a child, she wanted to become a country star, not a pop one, and then in the early 1990s, she tried to break into Nashville a second time.
"To be honest, I felt like I didn't really make the grade," she says. "Because I don't play instruments, and I felt like I struggled. But I got up and did it again—I didn't let that hold me back. This is something I really envisioned for myself."
Three years ago Tiffany moved her family to Nashville and started again—going to songwriting showcases, listening to musicians. Just watching, she says. Watching and learning.
"I think that's the one thing amazing about having a long-term career," she says. "The artists I've really looked up to—" artists like Bono, Robert Plant, Stevie Nicks, and Emmylou Harris, she says "—just when you think they're settling in… they turn around and they learn something new or they take on something different or they collaborate with someone that you never would have expected, and so they're constantly growing as an artist."
Tiffany's growth has resulted in Rose Tattoo, an album of what she calls "danceable country" and "good heartbreak love songs like ‘Could've Been.'" But unlike "Could've Been," her second-biggest hit, Tiffany wrote or co-wrote almost all of the songs on her new album. She says her patience and persistence in Nashville finally paid off with her getting taken seriously as a songwriter.
"The stage where I'm at now, as an adult, I feel like I have more to say," Tiffany says. "I've really grown as a person, you know. I've done a bunch of different things and tried a bunch of different things, and not everything has been successful."
Tiffany is playing this weekend's Knoxville PrideFest before heading out on tour later this summer with none other than Debbie Gibson (with whom she also starred in January's made-for-ScyFy movie Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid). So now that she's grown up, are she and Gibson friends?
"We were never rivals! That was all made up!" she says with a long giggle. "That was really kind of frustrating.… But it's great now that we've really become friends and we really do know each other."