1988 Countdown #70: Debbie Gibson, “Out of the Blue”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)


MTV runs a top-of-the-hour promo: this is the slot that was once occupied by the astronaut rocking out. Here it’s a gyroscopic M that rotated various bits of random footage into place. (It’ll come up many more times–I’ll describe it in more detail before we finish the countdown.)

Debbie Gibson sits on her bed, or maybe the bed of somebody with a more typical teenage life, the sort of person who doesn’t have gold records on the wall. In the background, we can see lace curtains and teddy bears. Gibson has her hair up in a ponytail knot; she’s wearing a baggy sweater and there’s a hole in the left knee of her jeans. (There’s a stripe just below that knee–birthmark? bruise? magic marker message? tattoo? barcode of Satan?) She’s cute, but not a bombshell–she looks like a hundred girls I went to high school with. That was exactly Gibson’s appeal, of course: the wholesome band-club geek girl who somehow ended up on the pop charts. In 1987-88, she played “good girl” to Tiffany’s “bad girl.” Later in life, they would both pretend to have “successful comebacks.”


Gibson, seventeen when this video was filmed, starts looking through a photo album, and the pictures come to life. A child actress plays Gibson sitting on a swinging bench in a sepia-toned clip labeled “Me 6 Years Old”; she is then joined by an equally young “Jeff,” who gives her a flower. (I’m not sure where Jeff got the flower in the dead of winter–maybe he saved up his allowance and hit the florist shop.) Apparently, the technology to embed multiple video images in a single shot had become more affordable and flexible this year; Belinda Carlisle’s video also made heavy use of it.


“Whoa-oh-ah-oh!” Gibson sings, and turns the page of the photo album, revealing more recent shots of her: plaid dress, denim jacket, big black hat. Gibson wore a lot of hats, even though they were never particularly flattering. Either she had a lot of bad hair days or a chapeau-happy stylist. Gibson lip-syncs and bops around to her song like an awkward baby goat. The plaid dress foreshadows Britney’s school uniform, a decade later. This was an era where teenage girls weren’t as relentlessly sexualized, but even in 1988, Gibson seemed innocent to the point of cluelessness.

New page: Gibson in the “studio.” With an oversized white shirt and her hair up, Gibson looks like Victoria Jackson’s kid sister. We see Gibson standing at a Roland keyboard, playing the song; we scroll quickly past some backup singers and musicians. Even though the song sounds pretty thoroughly drum-machined, there is a drummer, and he’s excellently out of place: heavy, sweaty, wearing a scoop-neck T-shirt. He looks like they dragged him in from a Loverboy cover band that was playing the Long Island bar circuit and splashed some water on him to wake him up just before the camera started rolling.


Gibson turns the page again, and we see her on the same swinging bench she sat on with Jeff. She’s wearing a super-cute ensemble: big white coat, a red scarf, and the same black hat. Maybe it was just her lucky hat? She wore it the day she met George Michael and tried to never take it off again? There’s a winter scene behind her: trees in the snow. On closer inspection, it appears to be a large photo on the wall of the studio where the video is being filmed.

Back to the band. Sometimes when this video shows a double-page spread of the album, Gibson’s hands are in the frame, on her bedspread. Charmingly, she’s always beating out a rhythm or playing air piano. But I can’t stop watching the drummer. I want him to get his own sitcom.


We hit the guitar solo, and a new page labeled “Kirk’s Birthday.” Lots of pictures of the band around a table, with cake, streamers, and balloons. Gibson gives “Kirk” a wrapped-up stand-up bass. Kirk is cute enough to appear on the cover of Lisa Simpson’s Non-Threatening Boys magazine; I don’t know if he was actually a member of Gibson’s band or called in from the casting agency.

Back on her bed, Gibson smiles and rolls her eyes at the birthday-party antics. The subtext is that she has no friends other than the musicians in her band: that could be sad, or flipped around, you could say that Gibson found friends through music. The lyrics of “Out of the Blue” sound less like a fantasy about a boy and more like a wish for a pop career: “It’s like a dream come true.” Famously, Gibson had never dated when she wrote the songs on her debut album–she just distilled the sentiments she heard on the radio into her own music. Sometimes the results were hilarious: the unknowing handjob metaphor of “Shake Your Love,” the youthful pledge in “Foolish Beat” that “I could never love again.” Overall, Gibson was more interested in pop-music “love” than actual love, which is why I liked her. (That, and her genuine songwriting ability–twenty years later, the bubbling synths on “Out of the Blue” sound dated, and it’s not as sublime as “Only in My Dreams,” but this is still a catchy, well-crafted tune.)

We revisit the red scarf outfit and the bedroom, and then see a different plaid outfit. Gibson’s hair is blowing around: did somebody put on a wind machine? Not a good decision–it’s frizzing out her hair. Maybe that’s why she wears the hat–wind machine protection! There’s a pillow fight with “Denise” and “Monica” (each of those names is written in the album with a little bubble dotting the lower-case i–they didn’t want to go all the way and use hearts?).

The video ends with Gibson sitting on the swing, suddenly joined by “Jeff,” who grew up into a teenage hunk. He gives Gibson a flower; we cut to Gibson in her bedroom, who looks up from the photo album and gives the camera the “OK” symbol. Her image freeze-frames and becomes another picture on the album page, as the video achieves the Meta Self-Referential Death Spiral Event Horizon.

“Out of the Blue” hit #3 on the pop charts. You can watch the video here. As discussed previously, Gibson had an even bigger hit in 1988, the ballad “Foolish Beat,” which hit #1 and was in heavy MTV rotation. I’m fairly certain from my first viewing of this countdown two decades ago that “Foolish Beat” was left off it, either deliberately or accidentally.

posted 15 May 2009 in 1988 and tagged , , , . 4 comments

4 Comments on 1988 Countdown #70: Debbie Gibson, “Out of the Blue”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Non-Threatening Boys for the win.

    The girl-with-hat look, refined to perfection by Molly Ringwald, was definitely an ’80s fashion trope — but wasn’t Gibson about three years too late with it here? There’s another way in which she was adorably out of date.

    The girl grew up on Lawn Guyland, but you’d think she was from Des Moines.

  2. Gavin Says:

    I believe we’ll be seeing a similar hat on George Michael’s head, whenever the video for “Monkey” rolls around on this countdown.

  3. Rhianna Says:

    FYI “Denise” is Debbie’s real life little sister and “Monica” is her cousin. ” Jeff is a boy Debbie met in kindergarten and went our with in 11th grade (she wrote the song about him) Kirk is in in Debbie’s band. This is indeed her real room- she loved teddy bears (hence the teddy bear on her “Out of the Blue” LP cover.

  4. Gavin Says:

    Thanks for the info, Rhianna!

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