My Whitney Dilemma

I’m always amazed at how much people still care about Whitney Houston.  It goes beyond the fact that I’ve never really been into her music.  It’s the fact that I’m not sure anyone’s really that into her music.  Her voice?  Yes.  Her music?  Not quite.
I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter that I don’t think Whitney’s music has endured.  Someone asked what “endured” meant, which was something I had to think about.  For one, I may not be the best judge of that; after all, I never liked her that much in the first place.  Second, what measures do we have for the longevity of music?  Playlists on the old folks’ stations?  The opinions of music critics (like me, kinda sorta)?  How do you measure that?
Good question.  Not sure if I can.  I can, however, say what I meant.
There is no definitive Whitney Houston album.  There isn’t even one I’ve heard someone refer to as a classic.  I’ve never been around cats making beats and heard them break out the Whitney looking for samples, vocal or instrumental.  Even her biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You,” got mighty stale the second it went off the charts.
When’s the last time you went to someone’s house and heard someone just playing Whitney Houston while they vacuumed?  Who just wants to hear “So Emotional” right now?
Yet, when Whitney’s on Oprah, the world tunes in.
The truth is that Whitney’s an icon of an era, not so much of music.  Whitney’s sales numbers indicated how far reaching her appeal was.  Again, I don’t purport to understand it.  Stellar as her voice was, there’s somebody at every church that can say the same thing.  Maybe this is the genius of Clive Davis, even though Clive’s real gift was finding geniuses like Carlos Santana and Sly Stone, not interpreters like Whitney.
I really don’t know.  But the truth is that Whitney is far more interesting in 2009 talking about getting high than she is as a musician.  Don’t believe me?  Would you rather listen to her debut record or hear more stories about her and Bobby?
No, her music hasn’t endured.  At least not as far as I can tell.
What’s interesting, though, is the personal attachment people clearly have with Whitney.  It throws me off because people normally get that way because they feel a heartfelt connection to an artist, a connection they found in his or her music.
I can’t see how that’s the case with Whitney.  Or am I missing something?
Her music hasn’t endured.  I was born in 1980, so her heyday isn’t really mine.  Maybe she’s not for me to get.  However, Al Green’s heyday wasn’t mine, but I know I’m Still in Love With You track-for-track.
But you all feel something toward Whitney.  Guess she’s a part of your childhoods.  It’s really not for me to judge, and I don’t care enough to really dissect it.  I just don’t think it’s because of music.  She’s an icon of her time, and that’s fine.
But compare her to another icon of his time and tell me this — has her music held up as well as Frank Sinatra’s?
She’s great.  Her voice is incredible.  But your kids probably don’t know a Whitney song, making it so interesting that so many of you love her so much.

15 thoughts on “My Whitney Dilemma”

  1. DJ WILDMAN (JeromeStancil)

    Whitneys voice has not endured, her music is great music. Question to you who out does whitney, will beyonce or ashanti have endured? Stephanie Mills great singer, Angela Winbush great singer and our beloved Whitney great singer. American Idol Sings Whitney! The best Star Spangle banner Whitney! and what any artist needs a drama filled (re)cover(y) story who got that Whitney!!!

  2. I think Whitney’s cultural relevance is that she was the “pretty girl” in the 80s, a companion to Oprah’s mammy role. You’re right in that she represents a generation. She represents those that made inroads through complete assimilation (and lost themselves in the process).

  3. Don’t forget her movie career, which fueled more hype than her music ever could for a young black male like myself. Nobody I know cared for the music either, but we knew she was big time because she was doing “The Bodyguard,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” etc. The films are what carried her across cultural lines of age, musical taste and even race. It’s made her endure when the music stopped playing and the Bobby does crack jokes stopped coming.

  4. I believe you are forgetting the Mix 101.5 crowd. Speaking from experience, if you were to put 20 random 35-45 year old white ladies into a room and asked that they come up with a setlist for a party mixtape, it would be at least 20% Whitney. Hell, I had to burn a CD once for a Red Hat fundraiser (imagine music for old ladies to model in), and I think Whitney actually bumped Bob Seger off the list, and that’s blasphemy.

  5. I once casually stated that I never was a fan of Houston and this Black woman I barely knew started railing on me, saying I was not an authentic Black woman, etc. etc. I have nothing against her (I tried to explain); She is just not my cup of tea.
    I love comeback stories, so for that reason I am rooting for her. But I cannot see any scenario that would have me downloading a Whitney song from iTunes. And I am definitely still a Black woman, so…

  6. “There is no definitive Whitney Houston album. There isn’t even one I’ve heard someone refer to as a classic. I’ve never been around cats making beats and heard them break out the Whitney looking for samples, vocal or instrumental.”
    You’re not the only one who feels this way. I know mad folks that never effed with Whitney Houston. Her albums were corny as hell and they do not hold up at all. They were not soulful.
    Speaking of 80’s relics, I also feel the Cosby Show didn’t hold up either. Have you tried to watch reruns of that show? The first two years were cool but after that it was wackness.

  7. Born too late, but do I have more than a few ‘classic’ Whitney songs on my mp3 😉
    But still, I wasn’t panting for her comeback. She had her time. She had a long-for-a-pop-star career, there was no what-ifs. But Whitney has a problem that a lot of stars and athletes have – not being able to walk away when their at their career’s zenith (due to ego and bills).
    She should’ve taken a lesson from the Cosbys!

  8. Fully agree w/the Cosby show statement! That soured after 2 yrs! However, compared to the crap that is ‘now TV’ & almost if allowed, being shoved down our throats nightly, Cosby re-runs don’t look so bad.

  9. Whitney! I too love a comeback & I too have no doubt that Whitney had among the best vocal ranges of my time. I’ve always believed she was straight up ghetto & her union with Bobby Brown confirmed my belief. But again, she had a marvelous voice & I truly support her comeback.
    Oh by the way, I still listen to Whitney while lazing & that would hold true if I had to be the one vacuuming! Her voice is actually timeless.

  10. What made Whitney cross over, guys, wasn’t the movies–it was her music in the 1980’s like “So Emotional,” “Miracle” and “Saving All My Love.” Those weren’t pure R&B. Songs like “You Give Good Love?” Entirely different story. She tore that song up, and for my money, THAT’S her best R&B song. Heck, I like “Run to You” and “I Have Nothing” off the “The Bodyguard” soundtrack, but the structure of “I Have Nothing” was too much like Jennifer Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You” while the lyrics for “I Have Nothing” were eerily reminiscent of Angie Bofill’s “(Tonight) I Give In.”
    Whitney Houston was Clive Davis’ greatest creation. She had the chops. She had the look. But much of her soul, rooted in gospel and the R&B tradition through her mother, was stripped away to cross those songs over.
    I’ve heard her new releases and the two that have hit the radio don’t sound as good as she used to.

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