Over the last few days, the death of Whitney Houston has been a frequent topic of discussion.
The Grammy Awards included a tribute; clips from her videos have been shown on numerous TV shows; the usual tabloids and celebrity-oriented magazines have put her on their covers this week; and, perhaps most predictably, sales of her recordings have surged to the point where she has even been back at the top of the charts in some instances.
An oft-made assertion during all this is that everyone loved Whitney Houston.
Sorry, folks. Not everybody. Not me.
The first I ever heard of her was an appearance on a Jermaine Jackson album, on which one of the songs was noted as a “duet with Whitney Houston”. To which my first response was “Who is Whitney Houston?” (At the time, I thought it was a guy, actually.) I’m guessing that lots of other folks wondered the same thing. (I never listened to the song—I bought the album for the song on which Michael Jackson appeared—so I don’t know what it sounded like, or how good it was.)
One year later, I and everybody else found out who Whitney Houston was. Her debut album was a huge success, with hits such as “Saving All My Love for You”, “You Give Good Love”, the MTV staple “How Will I Know”, and her version of a song that had previously been done by George Benson, “The Greatest Love of All”.
I owned a copy of the album as well, having bought the CD edition. While not necessarily my usual taste, it fit squarely with the post-Motown revival musical landscape of the mid-’80s, at least the part in which Lionel Richie had become a superstar.
I liked the album. I liked “How Will I Know” from having seen the video, while “Saving All My Love for You” and “You Give Good Love” were great mellow love songs. It was a thoroughly decent debut.
And then came her performance at the 1986 Grammy Awards, where she sang “The Greatest Love of All”.
She received all sorts of accolades for her performance, but I thought it was horrible. She added all sorts of flourishes and vocal gymnastics that added nothing to the song; rather, she appeared to be just showing off for the sake of showing off.
Whitney Houston lost me as a fan that day. I was so disgusted by the grandstanding nature of her performance that I got rid of my copy of her album, changed the station whenever one of her songs came on the radio or TV, and refused to buy any more of her records. When she started doing movies as well, I refused to see them.
I did watch some of the reality series she did with then-husband Bobby Brown, but that was mainly to witness what still sounded like an unlikely pairing, and the train-wreck-in-the-making that her life had seemingly become.
The only Whitney Houston in my record collection these days is her contribution (which I avoid listening to) to the first A Very Special Christmas compilation, and the sampled bits of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” that appear on the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (a/k/a The KLF) track “Whitney Joins The JAMS”.
To me, Whitney Houston was a very talented singer who wasted that talent by gratuitously showing off.
Even worse, her proclivity for vocal gymnastics influenced those who came after her (Christina Aguilera is a prime example), with the sad result being that too many up-and-coming singers now seem to believe that the only way to sing a song is to oversing it, rather than actually trying to genuinely convey the song’s emotional content.
That, I’m afraid, will be the lasting legacy of Whitney Houston.