Before I get into scribbling out my thoughts of Whitney Houston, I would like you all to watch this video if you could. Just take about four minutes of your time, watch, and listen. I believe I can sum up this departed musical icon with just this video as a visual example.
That was “Saving All My Love for You”, performed August 28, 1985, just weeks after Whitney’s twenty-second birthday. The late Generation-Y crowd, who’re more prone to be saturated by the likes of Katy Perry, LMFAO, Ke$ha, and The Black Eyed Peas, may be a little off-put by those four minutes that they just witnessed. I would be more than honored to serve as medium, and translate that video for the iPod-and-skinny jean generation.
See, what Whitney is doing is called “singing”. If her voice sounds incredible, it’s because, well, it is. You may notice a natural resonance to her voice; a rather harmonious tone that rises and falls with the emotions in the song. See, before the concept of a little thing called ‘auto-tune’, you actually had to have a great voice to be a successful singer.
[adinserter block=”2″]Imagine, this woman had seven straight Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers, thirty Billboard music award, six Grammys, twenty-two American Music awards, and she had to do it without technology that could modify her voice to her record label’s liking. Instead, she expertly manipulated her naturally-golden pipes, they of mezzo-soprano vocal range, inflected the scores she sang with natural emotion and feeling, and confidently performed these songs in front of audiences the world over.
I imagine if auto-tune had never existed, there’d be a lot more record producers and industry hypemasters shedding tears upon Houston’s death Saturday night.
You may also have noticed her sleek black dress, which supplements the elegance of her voice. She’s smoothly singing a ballad about saving her love for a married man, and her dress projects kind of a coy innocence. She’s not throwing herself at the married man, but rather explaining why no other man will do (My friends try and tell me, find a man of my own / But each time I try, I just break down and cry / ‘Cause I’d rather be home feeling blue). She respects and acknowledges the man’s family (A few stolen moments is all that we share / You’ve got your family, and they need you there), but her need for love, THIS love, has driven her to this vocalized love letter.
And the dress? The onyx dress is dark, yet radiant. It’s revealing, but classy. Mixed emotions go into an affair (the ecstasy of sex, the agony of guilt), and the dress Whitney wears tells the story of “Saving” just as expertly as the words she sings.
Now THAT is a good example of how the image can fit the music. Whitney looks elegant in the dress, the heels, and the permed-out hair. There’s no need to dress like a trashier David Bowie (Ke$ha), or wear a dress randomly covered in foam dice or some needlessly accentuated bikini (Katy Perry),or wear a fright wig with tight, curve-enhancing spandex to go with clown-faced whore make-up (Nicki Minaj), or….I don’t even know what you would say to categorize all the pointless, yet colorful, drek that Lady GaGa straps on to make sure the ADD generation can’t avert their eyes.
What you may also notice in the video is that Whitney stands alone on stage. David Letterman is silhouetted out in the background, with Paul Shaffer’s orchestra equally distant from the spotlight. They provide the musical accompaniment, but the star is clearly Whitney. And why wouldn’t it be? After all, in the case of any solo artist, the singer is the star. When you have her talent and grace, you don’t NEED any side-enhancement outside of the instrumentation.
For instance, you’ll notice that Whitney has no backup dancers. There’s no troupe of faux-hawked males in matching outfits synced up like the Rockettes, sponsored by Abercrombie and Fitch, doing some kind of complicated flash mob routine. Nor are there a group of guys grinding up on Whitney while she sings, because such a song doesn’t require her ego to be ceremoniously stroked in front of a wide audience.
You’d only need back-up choreography if there’s little confidence in a star’s ability to shine on stage, completely in control of the moment. After all, Britney ain’t Whitney, and Christina isn’t either. The latter is especially true, because Whitney’s version of our National Anthem at the Super Bowl was good enough for release as a single, whereas Christina’s version twenty years later should remain trapped in the bottle with that genie forever.
Here’s my favorite part: she didn’t have to ‘surprise’ the audience with anything provocative to keep their attention or sell records. She didn’t have to flash her breast (Janet), or cuss out Letterman (Cher and Madonna), or wave her middle finger (MIA), or rudely interrupt another performer (Kanye). She didn’t even have to surprise the audience with another mainstream performer, the way the recent Super Bowl performers have done (Black Eyed Peas with Slash, Madonna with…..everyone), in order to keep everyone watching.
And while the song she performed is a cover of a Marilyn and Billy song from 1978, it’s an amazingly well done cover. She took the song, and she made it her own. She didn’t “sample the beat” like Rihanna did with “Tainted Love”, nor the way the Black Eyed Peas rip off other songs to make their own. She just did “Saving” better than the original artists. I like Metallica, but Whitney could do an acapella version of “Nothing Else Matters”, and blow James Hetfield out of the water.
There will be much discussion of a life cut short due to questionable judgment and the squandering of one’s potential. Forty-eight is too young to die for anyone, let alone the greatest diva of Generation X. But thanks to the advancement of technology in the following generation, namely social media and file sharing, she can live forever in digital downloads, video sites, and shared memories.
[adinserter block=”1″]This is how I will remember Whitney: confidence of a knight, charisma of a televangelist, soul of a poet, voice of an angel. But also, fans of Whitney know by merely watching this, that record labels can try to manufacture the next Whitney by gimmicking their performers’ voices, outfits, and behavior until they think they’ve found the silver bullet.
But Whitney Houston, who needed none of that, can rest easy, because she will never be replaced or surpassed, no matter how hard others try.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for WrestlingNewsSource.com and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.
Whitney Houston Music on Amazon.com