In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
As the “Lost In Your Eyes” video opens, Debbie Gibson plays piano. The ornate little flourish that she’s playing isn’t actually part of “Lost In Your Eyes,” Gibson’s second and final #1 hit. Instead, that little piece of showmanship functions a bit like the tap-dancing intro of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” video. It serves as an announcement, or maybe a reminder, that this person is talented.
For Debbie Gibson, this was a subtle bit of positioning. When Gibson first rose to fame in 1987, she was part of a mini-wave of teenage dance-pop stars. But unlike virtually all of her contemporaries, Gibson wrote her own songs, without help. When Gibson’s ballad “Foolish Beat” reached #1 in the summer of 1988, she became the youngest person ever to write, produce, and perform a chart-topping hit. Compared to that, playing piano is small potatoes.
In showing Gibson playing that piano, “Lost In Your Eyes” video director Jim Yukich, who had already made a bunch of Phil Collins videos and who would later direct the 1994 Double Dragon movie, sent a message that Debbie Gibson was not like these other pop kids. The song itself said something similar. Every teenage pop star sang ballads, but few of them worked quite as hard as Gibson to make something that sounded smooth and professional and adult.
When she recorded her 1989 sophomore album Electric Youth, Debbie Gibson presumably knew what she was up against. Gibson was a transcendent dance-pop singer, but dance-pop singers in the ’80s did not typically enjoy long careers. Like so many other club-music stars, Debbie Gibson had her biggest hits with ballads. “Lost In Your Eyes” is total adult-contempo mush, and I always get bummed out when singers who excel at fun, energetic music turn towards that stuff. But Debbie Gibson was pretty good at adult-contempo mush, too.
Gibson wrote “Lost In Your Eyes” while she was still touring behind her debut album Out Of The Blue. Before Gibson recorded the song, she sang it at her shows, and it got good responses. She’s said that she didn’t have anyone really in mind when she sang it, and I think you can hear that in the song. “Lost In Your Eyes” is a textbook love song, and I don’t detect a whole lot of lived experience in it. The lyrics are light on specifics.
Gibson spends the song mooning over someone, repeatedly comparing this other person’s eyes to heaven: “If I can’t find my way/ If salvation is worlds away/ Oh, I’ll be found when I am lost in your eyes.” This all seems to be new for Gibson’s narrator. In the most affecting parts of “Lost In Your Eyes,” Gibson seems a little confused about what’s going on: “Is it love that I am in?… Isn’t this what’s called romance?” (Both of those questions are structured in truly strange ways. Debbie Gibson’s lyrics sometimes come off like she speaks English as a second language. I find it pretty charming.)
In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of No. 1 Hits, Gibson talks a bit about how she envisioned the song: “I just really wanted the piano to be the main focus because I think if you have a strong song, you should let it speak for itself and not overproduce it.” If that’s what she was going for, she didn’t quite get there. “Lost In Your Eyes” is overproduced in the same way that pretty much every late-’80s hit ballad is overproduced.
Debbie Gibson produced “Lost In Your Eyes,” but I don’t really think it’s her fault that the song sounds canned and overdone. She was working within the context of the time, and 1989 was a time that demanded big gated drums and saccharine synth-strings and watery keyboard sounds and hair-metal guitar-diddles. “Lost In Your Eyes” has all those things, and they don’t do a whole lot to serve the song. But gloopy lyrics notwithstanding, “Lost In Your Eyes” is, in fact, a pretty strong song. Gibson’s voice is the best thing about it. She sings with a guileless sort of vulnerability. On the big notes, Gibson harmonizes with the backup vocals in ways that remind me of country music. (I’m pretty sure those backup vocals are Gibson herself, multitracked.)
To me, “Lost In Your Eyes” sounds less like a pop song and more like a swoony Disney ballad. Given a slightly different arrangement, “Lost In Your Eyes” could’ve fit just fine on the Little Mermaid soundtrack, which would come out later in 1989 and which would sell millions upon millions of copies. Gibson brings a very Disney-princess form of dreamy little-kid romanticism to the song, which goes a long way towards selling it. Years later, Debbie Gibson would join the Disney-princess industrial complex herself, playing Belle in a Broadway version of Beauty And The Beast.
The “Lost In Your Eyes” video handles that whole romance thing pretty clumsily. When Debbie Gibson isn’t playing piano, she’s enjoying moments of teenage-love bliss with a bland young-Hasselhoff type. There’s also a bit where they play basketball and where Gibson nails a shot despite this joker flagrantly fouling her. It’s lucky for these chumps that Debbie Gibson discovered teenage pop stardom. Otherwise, she’d be out on the court, making them look stupid.
“Lost In Your Eyes” came out in January of 1989, when Gibson was still 18. The song climbed to #1 faster than “Foolish Beat” had done, and it stayed there for longer. A week after “Lost In Your Eyes” hit #1, Gibson’s notably smoothed-out Electric Youth album landed at #1 on the Billboard 200, knocking off Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel, and it stayed there for five weeks, eventually going double platinum. Industry plaudits followed. Later in 1989, ASCAP gave Gibson its Songwriter Of The Year award, which she shared with Bruce Springsteen. (Springsteen’s highest-charting single, 1984’s “Dancing In The Dark,” peaked at #2. It’s an 8.)
“Lost In Your Eyes” would turn out to be Debbie Gibson’s last top-10 hit. She followed that single with “Electric Youth,” which peaked at #11. “No More Rhyme,” the next one, only made it to #17. A year later, Gibson came out with her album Anything Is Possible, and she used a co-writer for the first time: Lamont Dozier, who’d co-written countless Motown classics and who’d just worked with Phil Collins on “Two Hearts.” The album’s title-track lead single, one of the songs that Gibson wrote with Dozier, peaked at #26. By the time she released 1993’s Body Mind Soul, Gibson had gone full adult-contempo. That album’s single “Losin’ Myself” peaked at #86, and Gibson hasn’t been on the Hot 100 since.
By that time, though, Gibson’s focus had shifted elsewhere. In 1992, Gibson made her Broadway debut, playing Eponine in Les Misérables. After that, Gibson starred in West End and Broadway revivals of Grease, and she’s done a ton of stage-musical stuff since then, both on Broadway and in various regional productions. This just makes sense. There was always a whole lot of theater kid in her voice. The pivot was a smart one, too, since she later admitted that she’d been using a lot of Xanax to deal with anxiety. The pop-star life is not a terribly safe or healthy one. I don’t know too much about stage actors, but the seem like a more well-adjusted bunch.
Gibson has done other stuff, too. She’s starred in two different installments of the low-budget made-for-cable Mega Shark series. I haven’t seen those, but the fact that she’s in two of them means that she managed to avoid getting eaten by the mega shark in at least one, which seems like an achievement. Gibson also co-starred in 2011’s similarly themed Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid with her former pop-chart contemporary Tiffany. (Unfortunately, Debbie Gibson and Tiffany did not play the mega python and the gatoroid.) Gibson has also done some reality TV — Celebrity Apprentice, Dancing With The Stars — and she’s lately been on the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia circuit, which drew big crowds before the pandemic and which will probably once again draw big crowds very soon. Later this summer, Gibson will play a Vegas residency, and she’ll also release The Body Remembers, her first album of new songs in a decade.
Debbie Gibson seems like a nice, fun lady. She definitely appears to be handling herself a whole lot better than just about every former teenage pop star. I like her.
BONUS BEATS: When they were touring together in 2019, Debbie Gibson and New Kid On The Block Joey McIntyre would sing “Lost In Your Eyes” as a duet. The part where they sang into the same mic while staring into each other’s eyes was pretty hot. Here’s a video:
Earlier this month, Gibson and McIntyre released a studio version of that duet. Here it is:
(New Kids On The Block will appear in this column soon. McIntyre’s highest-charting single as a solo artist, 1999’s “Stay The Same,” peaked at #10. It’s a 4.)