Long before Hannah Montana and High School Musical, in the late 1980s, a 16-year-old aspiring pop star named Tiffany Darwish had a self-titled debut album on a major record label that was gathering dust on record store shelves around the country. What transformed Tiffany the album into a quadruple-Platinum smash hit and Tiffany the singer from a flop into a pop idol was a brilliant and highly unorthodox marketing strategy put into effect on this day in 1987, when young Ms. Darwish launched a career-making tour of America’s shopping malls with a live performance in Paramus Park Mall in Paramus, New Jersey.
With Tiffany’s debut album going nowhere on radio or in stores, MCA Records and Tiffany’s personal manager signed on to a radical proposal: having Tiffany join the “Beautiful You: Celebrating the Good Life Shopping Mall Tour ’87″—the kind of promotional tour of American shopping malls then associated only with consumer products like canned soup and hair coloring. It may seem obvious to say that recorded music is also a consumer product, and that therefore a wise place to connect with its consumers is at the point of purchase. But for most of its existence, the recorded music industry had taken a very different approach, relying on radio as the primary promotional vehicle. Though the advent of MTV in the early 1980s added music videos to the typical promotions mix, that, too, reflected a top-down approach to selling pop music. What Tiffany was trying to do in 1987 was save her own faltering career, but what she ended up doing was proving the validity of a bottom-up approach to achieving pop stardom.
Following her appearance in Paramus on June 23, 1987, Tiffany went on to perform in malls all around the United States over the course of that summer, drawing increasingly enthusiastic crowds of her fellow teenagers and, by early September, prompting many of those teenagers to begin calling in requests for her songs to their local radio stations. A cover of the Tommy James and the Shondells song “I Think We’re Alone Now” proved to be the breakthrough hit that the MCA promotions department had assured her was lacking from her debut album. Both it and “Could’ve Been” would reach #1 on the U.S. pop charts, and Tiffany would go on to sell upwards of 4 million copies worldwide.