Squeaky clean, uncool and old before her years, the US singer blazed a trail for young women creating their own material. Having dealt with stalkers, addiction and illness, she’s back
Thirty-three years ago – in musical terms, an epoch – Debbie Gibson was the most famous American teen pop star on earth. At 17 she was as loved by teenagers as Billie Eilish was at 17, in polar opposite ways. Gibson, uncool and critically dismissed, was the wholesome, toothsome innocent who sang upbeat, unapologetically weedy songs about adolescent love. Eilish, peerlessly cool and critically sacred, remains a sad-eyed cynic singing unapologetically disturbing songs about death, sex and generational neuroses. If popular culture is unrecognisable from 1988, as it should be, one aspect remains identical: the constant judgment of female public figures over their physicality, as Eilish always is and Gibson still is, harangued on social media for being “too thin” since her 2013 Lyme disease diagnosis.
“I hope Billie is handling all the pressure as beautifully as she appears to be handling it,” ponders Gibson today. “She seems a wise old soul. Everyone changes, you lose weight, gain weight, dye your hair, change your aesthetic … life just happens. But with social media, there’s unsolicited feedback coming from everywhere. You need a backbone of steel, like the Kardashians. Young minds are not wired to process that. The price of fame these days is definitely high. Look, even I have a therapist on speed dial!”