Tiffany on Her New Album, Commitment to Songwriting & How the '80s 'Still Puts a Smile on My Face'

Josh Romine/Rominephoto.com
Tiffany photographed in 2016.

The singer's new release "A Million Miles" has strengthened her connection with her fans, via its release on PledgeMusic.

Having famously kicked off her career by interacting up-close and personal with fans in shopping malls, Tiffany is again reaching out to her following in a very direct way.

And, just like in 1987, her fans are responding warmly.

Today (March 31) marks the release of Tiffany's first album in five years, A Million Miles, through the direct-to-fan platform PledgeMusic. The ballad-driven set shines a spotlight on her vocals, songwriting and producing skills, while showcasing her now-trademark tendencies for melodic pop choruses.

After being discovered at age 9 by country legend Hoyt Axton, Tiffany roared onto the Billboard Hot 100 with her dance-pop cover of Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now," which shot to No. 1 on Nov. 7, 1987. She followed with lost-love song "Could've Been," which reached the top on Feb. 6, 1988 (with each song leading for two weeks).

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Tiffany's self-titled debut album likewise crowned the Billboard 200 for two weeks and was certified 4-times Platinum by the RIAA. She added another top 20 set and two more Hot 100 top 10s in 1988-89.

In more recent years, as Tiffany continued to hone her musical passions, she segued to appearing on such TV shows as ABC's Celebrity Wife Swap and multiple Food Network programs. In 2011, she teamed with fellow late '80s chart conqueror (and now good friend) Debbie Gibson for the kitschy-fun SyFy film Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid.

Tiffany, 44, recently chatted with Billboard about her nearly 30 years in the musical spotlight and her new release.

Billboard: The last time I saw you in concert was in November at the "I Want My 80s Concert" at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. For people who know you as a pop singer, it might've been surprising that you opened the show by covering … Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Tiffany: A lot of people don't know I'm a rocker at heart (laughs). I love doing that, because it kind of freaks people out a little bit. It's a hard song to sing. The key is to not scream, just rock it out and have a good time with it, and give it a lot of emotion. It's more the energy of the song, putting your whole heart into it.

Well, we're still waiting for more details about the Guns N' Roses reunion. Does your cover put you in the running for new lead singer? We could break that news …

(Laughs) No, not gonna happen. Although, that would be cool …

Ok, doing a 180, A Million Miles shows a softer side of you, your singer-songwriter vibe, along with great, often intimate, vocals.

I wanted to show that. And, after 30 years, people are still saying, "You can really sing!" This album is really showing me as a vocalist, as a writer, and now as a co-producer, which I' m really proud of. It's sort of like I'm growing up again, that next step up. It's very much a musician's album. I had a lot of visions for it, like strings and cellos. Just layers of sounds … I wanted it to be big and beautiful.

And, the ballads are about my heartbreaks over the last five years, people that I've lost to cancer, or addiction. Just the truth about my life. It was sort of my therapy to write these songs.

This album is just another example of your musical versatility, after releases that have leaned pop, dance or country.

[2011's] Rose Tattoo showed my country side, my roots, and told the story of how I got started. I thought it was cool to show that backstory. Country was what I thought I was going to be, and what I ended up being was pop, and I'm grateful, don't get me wrong. Those roots also come out on A Million Miles. Plus, Nashville is my home.

For a while, I didn't want to do big ballads. It's kind of a lot of pressure. You've got to rest and be really disciplined. You can't stay out with the band all night! For the longest time, I just wanted to tour and have fun. But, on this album, I kind of realized I wanted to celebrate people saying, "You can really sing."

And write. One of your co-writers on the new album is Ellen Shipley, who wrote many hits in the '80s and '90s, including Belinda Carlisle's 1987 Hot 100 No. 1, "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" (with Rick Nowels).

It was a big honor. I love a lot of her songs. I came with "A Million Miles" in my head, but you never know with a writing session if you're going to use something that you have, or maybe the other writer has, or if something will come organically.

I was actually on the 40 driving to LA and my husband said something about, "We've driven a million miles." And I thought, that's a really cool title. I kept driving, he fell asleep, and I was thinking, I've been in this industry a long time, seen some great things. It feels like I've done a million things. But, at the same time, it feels like I have a million more things I want to do.

So, I started writing the [title] song. That's kind of how things work for me as a songwriter. I just start hearing a melody and start singing. When I saw Ellen, I said, "This is what I have." She loved the idea. She really got it. She just put the icing on the cake, working on the melody.

To have a finished song when we left, I was a happy girl (laughs).

This is your first album for PledgeMusic. There aren't many better ways to know that fans truly want to hear new music from you.

I was really on-board. I loved the social media aspect. And, it really put some fire under me. Plus, I loved how fans could see my recording process and have other levels involvement and access. And, I get feedback. This is probably the way I'm going to continue to make albums. It's been very positive and a lot of fun.

Since you started in the business so young, and have traveled a million miles, to borrow your analogy, what advice do you give younger artists just starting out?

I started at 9 years old, my parents weren't in the music industry and we didn't know what we were doing. Anyone who said, "She should sing," we said, "OK!," whether it was for five people, or 200 people. But, in every experience, I learned more about my voice, more about working a crowd, to be spontaneous, have a sense of humor.

So, I always encourage artists to be true to who they are. Obviously, if you get the opportunity to work with a label or a producer, listen. You don't know everything. Be open-minded. But if it's something that's not speaking to you, you have to be honest. There's no sense in doing something you're not overly happy about, especially since it's hard to reinvent yourself.

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What's maybe most important is that you seem to be a in a really good place emotionally, not a bad achievement for someone who began in the business so young. Your friend Debbie Gibson seems to be, too.

[Debbie and I] both love what we're doing. That's the whole point. And, we've been really lucky. There were times I stepped back and said, "Am I still supposed to be doing this?" But my heart is … this. And, I've become a mom and raised my son. But, I was surrounded by musicians and still learning.

For many pop acts that had hits in the late '80s and early '90s, rap and grunge put a bit of a pause on pop for a while. But, with American Idol and acts like Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and more, we've seen a resurgence of pop. Plus, Swift's first pop album is called … 1989. It's all come full circle.

I think people want to get back to some fun music. I'm very proud to be a part of the '80s. And I'm really proud to see many of those artists still out there, doing their thing. It puts a smile on my face.