Tiffany delivers bubblegum and blasphemy

Pubescent girls squeal as parent chaperons grimace

Published: July 4, 1988

They came. They saw. They screamed.

And although they failed to fill even half of Mountain View's Shoreline Amphitheater on Friday night, it sounded as if every pubescent mall dolly this side of Tanforan had come to pay homage to Tiffany, the reigning queen of bubble-gum pop.

The red-haired 16-year-old diva delivered what no other performer -- with the possible exception of Pee-wee Herman -- could: a show that set several thousand teen and pre-teen females into an unbridled shrieking frenzy that lasted more than an hour. And she did it with a package of material that was virtually devoid of substance, artistic merit or originality.

But many of the 5- to 15-year-old girls who turned out, with parents in tow, for the 13-song set didn't seem preoccupied with little details like those -- fashions were a far more pressing concern.

This was probably the only concert where one could see a pair of tiny tarts not a day over 12 teetering up the aisle in 6-inch black heels and leather mini-skirts. The overall effect of the Little Shirley Temple-meets-Linda Lovelace look was more than a little bit unnerving. Surprisingly, few male mall rats were there to appreciate the throngs of immaculately coiffed, overly made-up girls. Apparently, Tiffany is a strictly female phenomenon.

At nine sharp, Tiffany appeared onstage wearing a black blouse, stone-washed jeans and short black boots. She deftly made her way through the dry-ice fog as her band, composed of six long-haired rock veterans, swung into a mid-tempo number.

Three songs into the set, as she did "Johnny's Got the Inside Moves," it became apparent that her voice couldn't stand up without the backing of the band. The group created a wall of sound -- as dense as anything Phil Spector could have assembled -- to cover for the inadequacies of her vocal skills. She has a sexy, pleasant voice that's malleable enough to adapt to many styles, but none of the true grit and emotion of a great pop singer.

Although much of the rapt audience was made up of young girls who had yet to go on a date, let alone get their hearts broken, they all sang along to the slow, schmaltzy heartbreaker "Could've Been." The three pre-teen sisters behind me -- I'll call them the Smurfette Sirens -- wailed loud and long without the slightest provocation. As the littlest Smurfette pitched in on the quiet part, her older sister snapped "Shut up, Tanya." Tanya shut up for about five seconds.

''Mom! Sherry told me to shut up."

''Don't yell at your sister or you'll have to come over here and stand by me." All three then broke into song. They were having a wonderful time, and their contribution wasn't the least bit inferior to the sound being produced onstage.

Tiffany left the stage while the band padded out the slim set with a fine rockin' version of Bob Seger's "Shakedown." She returned as the familiar opening bass figure to "Stand By Me" boomed through the amphitheater. For the many parents who had grown up with Ben E. King's wonderful tenor, it must have been a terrible shock to hear Tiffany warble without a shred of soul through one of the most moving pop songs ever penned. It was like hearing a beloved 33 rpm record played at 45.

It was downhill from there, as she ran through a perfunctory medley that desecrated some of rock 'n' roll's most sacred songs: Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" gave way to Elvis's "Don't Be Cruel," which ran into Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day." One parent down the aisle winced as his offspring danced on their seats.

The medley continued with the Coasters' "Yakety Yak," a timeless tale about parents and kids. By the time she mumbled through "La Bamba," it seemed certain that she could commit no further blasphemy without being struck down by a bolt of lightning from rock 'n' roll heaven. She could have stopped right there. But no. She did "Twist and Shout." The man next to me looked ready to uproot his plastic chair and hurl it at the stage: "Noooooo. Not that song; not that song."

The sordid little medley only went to prove that the rock classics from the '50s and '60s were so well-crafted as to be virtually indestructible.

After an uninspired rendition of "Should've Been Me," she kicked the show into overdrive with an excellent version of her dance-floor hit "I Saw Him Standing There." It was there that she really hit her stride, whipping out mechanical, razor-sharp moves that seemed to be inspired by a cheerleading routine. The hopped-up Beatles song sent the Sirens into a new shrieking frenzy. There's one point in the song where Tiffany punctuates the lyrics with a little scream. That little scream was amplified by several thousand howling half-pint banshees.

Tiffany's encore began with a languid version of "Promises Made," a lush piece better suited for a more mature vocalist. She wrapped up the show with a saccharine teen lament called "Kid on a Corner" that left some of the more sensitive pre-teens swooning. On that note, the Supreme Smurfette took her final leave of the stage, smiling regally and waving at her young admirers. For what must have been the hundredth time that night, the admirers stood up and waved back.

This Cinderella story about the mall rat who traded her hard-luck life in Norwalk for the fame and fortune of the concert stage isn't finished yet. Friday night's dismal attendance and Tiffany's disturbing reliance on recycled songs made it all too clear: This Year's Girl had better come through with lot more hits of her own if she's to keep her magic coach from turning back into a pumpkin.

Next article
Rock 'n' roll
Main index