music news

Feb 14, 2012

The death of Whitney Houston: so emotional | music news

Was anyone really shocked when they heard Whitney Houston had died? Sadly, news organisations all over the world already had her obituary written and duly published screeds of ‘we will always love you’ tributes. All they had to do was fill in the blanks. Even the details of those blanks were predictable.

Houston’s far too early death at the age of 48 is terribly sad for her family and friends. It’s been more surprising to witness the overblown media reaction coupled with hitherto unknown Whitney Houston fans – who’ve never uttered a peep about her for 20 years or so – publicly declaring how bereft they feel.

As Whitney Houston’s greatest hits album surged to the top of Apple’s iTunes charts and was dug out of bargain bins by the few remaining so-called record stores *ahem* everywhere you had to wonder: if those buying were such big Whitney Houston fans before her death wouldn’t they have these songs already?

(Interestingly, Apple was slightly more restrained in promoting Houston’s music to buy via iTunes compared to the comparatively indecent haste they rushed to flog Amy Winehouse’s back catalogue when she died last year. At least, this time, Apple waited until Houston’s body had left the premises where it’d been found.)

The press coverage of Houston’s death has been fascinating though. Not the actual content of course, but its sheer vast scale.

Whitney Houston was an astoundingly talented singer. Nobody can deny that. However, for better or for worse – mostly for worse – she pioneered an era of mainstream pop music whereby the singer not the song took precedence. But it’s churlish to blame her for the likes of Mariah Carey. Three of Whitney’s songs were actually bearable.

There’s two main reasons for the extensive coverage and ongoing scramble to cover Whitney’s death. Houston didn’t die away from the eyes, if not ears, of the showbiz in-crowd. She didn’t expire in a suburb of Dullsville, USA somewhere but in Los Angeles as the US music industry gathered to stage the 2012 Grammy Awards. What better setting for an outpouring of public mourning and tributes from music industry heavyweights?


But perhaps more importantly, Houston became a famous singer at a time – the 1980s particularly – when music still dominated mainstream entertainment and listening choices were still somewhat restricted. There was no escaping Whitney Houston. Now, we can all easily listen to what we want when we want. This is a good thing.

Something – not just Whitney Houston – has been lost though.

Even non-Whitney Houston fans can feel pangs of nostalgia this week. After the other 1960s/70s/80s megastars that dominated the airwaves (how quaint) are all gone will the wider public care at all?

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7 thoughts on “The death of Whitney Houston: so emotional | music news

  1. dirt armature

    Sorry Jim, calling someone a snob because they’re critical of someone’s art is not an argument. Tony Bennet’s a gentlemen. I’m sure I could find him praising a singer we’d all agree was mediocre.
    Whitney’s voice is wonderful in the same way that the British Royal family are sometimes wonderful: a regal spectacle that makes a lot of money but has a limited range of uses. Or awesomely powerful but never moving. A good musician works on their technique and the tonal control of their instrument. Whitney had great technique, but I feel her tone lacks emotional range. Surely, a wonderful singer needs both these attributes? Or am I just being an elitist snob to expect this?

  2. JimDocker

    Billie Holiday is my favourite singer. Pure soul. I love Ella, Aretha, Sarah Vaughan, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield etc…. but you guys have to be elitist snobs of the highest order not to acknowledge how magnificent Whitney Houston’s voice was at her best.

    Unfortunately, her best was probably only her first album of really pure singing before the diva sound of vocal gymnastics and screaming began to compete with the other vocal gymnasts.

    Tony Bennet is one of the guys that says she had the best voice of all time. Probably too much emotion in that statement, but he knows a bit about singing and has sung with the best of them.

  3. Johnfromplanetearth

    Her whole career is based on her debut album in 1985 and follow up in 1987, then came the Bodyguard movie in 1991, it was all downhill from there. She was just another substance abuser and the cocktail killed her in the end. Whatever talent she had long since deserted her, as was evident with her recent Australian tour in 2010. It’s sad, but it happens in the entertainment industry all the time as the hangers on do nothing. They sit idly by and watch their meal ticket kill themselves too afraid to step in and do anything to save them in fear of being cut out of the loop, being branded a trouble maker or interfering in the ‘stars’ life. Whitney Houston was a train wreck about to crash for the past 20 years and just like Amy Winehouse before her last year the accolades and love come far too late.

  4. GLJ

    Music business is not necessarily about music. Its mostly about business. There are many many wonderful songs and musicians who are not MEDIA MEGASTARS ETC. who produce & perform without the STAR TRAPPINGS of these music business bunnies.

    Whitney Houston was a wonderful singer …but… & there is a lot of agreement here…. the songs were trite. They were songs designed to sell… Its the business baby…Its soul destroying …. for the listener & can you imagine for the performer??

    Its very easy to think that music is that which comes out of the TV / Radio. But there is a world of music below the radar. Whitney was on the radar , bigger than real life, better than the real thing.

    It must be hard to be that BIG.


    This is the music business.

  5. dirt armature

    I agree with marilyn. Whitney had very good technique and this was put to, largely, histrionic effect. Her timbre, when you compare it to the tones the singers on marilyn’s list produced, lacked soul.

  6. Peter Ormonde

    Sometimes a dignified failure looks infinitely preferable to gushing success.

  7. shepherdmarilyn

    I can’t think of one song that was bearable, that “I will always love you” is the most nauseating concoction ever and she sounded like a cat on heat singing it.

    I am sick to death of clowns claiming she had the greatest voice ever, that cancels out the late and greats – Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Odetta, Dusty, Mary Travers – you know, women who could really, really sing.

    And it is an insult to her great and astounding cousin Dione Warwick, the amazing Ms Nina Simone, the astonishing Bettye Lavette and Betty Wright, Diana Ross in her day, Barbra, Joan Baez, Cher and hundreds of others who never did their lives in with drugs, booze and lunacy.

    I forgot Tina T.

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