It seems like an eternity ago, but at one point in our popular culture history, Whitney Houston could do no wrong. At the height of career, she was one of the world’s most beloved pop stars, topping the charts, winning all the awards, selling out movie theaters and concert arenas. She was the girl next door with the golden voice and everyone loved her. But, that was, as far as her formerly adoring public is concerned, an eternity ago.
That was Clive Davis’ Whitney. That was pre-marriage to Bobby Brown Whitney. That was long before she ever uttered the words “crack is wack” Whitney. Today, she would be unrecognizable to most, as the now 47 year old singer/actress has all but lost the luster, the looks, and the voice that captured her fans hearts when she burst on the scene in the mid-1980s. The years of hard partying and lacing marijuana with rock cocaine, as she described in an interview with Oprah, have taken a huge toll.
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Even still, there was a glimmer of hope that, though she would never fully return, shades of our beloved Whitney would make themselves known. In 2009, she made a triumphant return to music with the album I Look to You and the hit single “Million Dollar Bill.” It was the first time Houston sat atop of the Billboard charts since 1992, with the release of The Bodyguard soundtrack. She still wasn’t particularly impressive in her live shows, but at the very least she appeared sober and making quality music was a priority. Our Whitney was coming back.
Then yesterday the news broke that Houston had entered an out-patient rehab program for drug and alcohol abuse. The announcement came on the heels of the recent revelation from Golden Globe winning actress Angela Bassett that a sequel to the 1995 hit film Waiting to Exhale was in the works with the entire original principal cast, of which Houston was a part. Just as her career appears to be experiencing a revival, Whitney is relapsing.
The reactions to the news varied. Some weren’t very surprised, but for the most part people have been genuinely concerned. After all she has given us and all that she’s been through, those touched by her body of work wanted Whitney to win, at least one more time. They were rooting for the fairy tale ending. That’s why we, the public at large, still pay attention have an emotional reaction to Whitney’s trials and tribulations. We need to believe in fairy tales. It’s the reason we woke up at 4 a.m. to tune into the royal wedding in record numbers and why we fell in love with Slumdog Millionaire a few years back. As much morbid satisfaction we get out of witnessing a train wreck, deep down what we actually yearn for is happily ever after. And Whitney is our princess.
Whitney has been a princess since she entered the public consciousness. It was an image carefully crafted by legendary record executive Clive Davis and his team. She was presented to the world with a mixture of girl-next-door charm and regal beauty, flirtatious sensibilities yet detached enough to feel unattainable, soul-drenched power vocals over infectious pop tracks and power ballads, and the purity and innocence that only princesses possess. Whether dancing around in the colorful videos for “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, or being rescued on film in The Bodyguard, she fed the public appetite for a damsel worthy of praise and adoration.
Then she married R&B bad boy Bobby Brown. It may be unfair to place all the blame in his lap, but there’s no doubt that public perception of Houston started to change when the two wed. Their life together was chronicled in part in the 2004 reality series Being Bobby Brown, and their dysfunction was on full display. They divorced in 2007, and it’s at this point Whitney started to get her life back on track.
There have been very few singers as successful as Whitney Houston. Worldwide, she’s sold over 170 million records, won and been nominated for a plethora of awards, including Grammys, Emmys, Billboard Music, American Music, and People’s Choice Awards, as well as garnering respect and recognition for having one of the greatest voices in the history of recorded music. Her songs have become the soundtrack to many people’s lives. And frankly, how many times has a black woman ever occupied the position of America’s sweetheart? Whitney is one of the few.
For all these reasons, no matter what type of trouble she finds herself in, we will always want the best for Whitney Houston. Our princess needs her fairy tale return.