Before Britney, and pre-Lindsay, there was Debbie. Now '80s teen icon Deborah Gibson is back, and the Electric Youth singer is showing everything she's got with a spread in the March issue of Playboy – coinciding with the release of her single "Naked." At 34, "you realize that you're allowed to break the rules," says Gibson, who spent the past decade on Broadway. PEOPLE recently caught up with pop's newest rule breaker for a quick chat.
How are people reacting to seeing little Debbie Gibson naked?
People see me as this all-American girl from Long Island, but to own up to who you are is to live up to all of your experiences. I lived in London for a year, and it was eye-opening. And I have played roles on the stage that are very far from Sandy in Grease.
How did your family react?
My dad was raised by nuns, so he doesn't know the difference between Playboy and Hustler. To him, nude is nude. But he's supportive. ... My aunt called the other day and goes, "I have to tell you – nice buns!" My family is pretty cool and has a great sense of humor. My mom loves the pictures.
Well, you look amazing. How do you stay in such great shape?
Thank you! I'm always wired, and I'm a morning person so I love to get up and hit the gym early. I'll do spinning one day, and a mat Pilates class the next, and then weights, or my own cardio workout.
So is this a comeback attempt?
No. It's not like I've been sitting around for 10 years waiting for Playboy to call. This was the moment in my life that I wanted to do something that was a little more daring. It's my equivalent of jumping out of an airplane.
You know, your old songs still get airplay. What's it like to hear them?
I'm like a little kid every time. I'm never nonchalant about it. I'm always like, "How cool is it that I wrote my song in my bedroom when I was a teenager and millions of people are hearing it right at this very moment?"
They seem to have a timeless appeal.
I moved (houses) the other day, and I was sitting at my piano, and the movers said, "Can you play 'Lost in Your Eyes' for us?" These guys know "Lost in Your Eyes," which is so cool – and they literally are standing there welling up with tears! I've played it thousands of times and it always feels new.
And now you're back with "Naked". What kind of vibe are you going for?
A little more pop-rock – like the new Kelly Clarkson album is incredible. It's edgy, but for me I don't want to try to be Alanis, but at the same time I have more in common with Sheryl Crow than people know. There's a side of me that loves to sit at the piano late at night, when my voice is a little raspy, and play and sing.
So Deborah Gibson's not fading away anytime soon?
You know the Whac-a-Mole game, where you hit the mole on the head and he has to come up another hole? That's me. That's my career.