She had an unparalleled voice, and although near the end she was starting to sound like the equally unparalleled Dionne, her voice will always be remembered. The non-fans will often only remember her 1993 hit “I will always love you” — and neglect her (pretty much) entire career when she rose to stardom in the 80s. They will also have some vague recollection of what took place between her and Bobby Brown, and probably pin her as a drug addict. To me, she’ll always be the Whitney she was in the 80s. Young. Vibrant. Wearing bright colours. A superstar. Hit after hit of 80s dance music.
Although her remake of Chaka Khan’s ‘I’m every woman’ makes her seem like a feminist, many of her songs actually succumb to the Diana Rossesque type of crooning about lost love and being ‘the other woman’. Not exactly empowering or making any advancements in the world of women. Where do broken hearts go? Can they find their way home? She asks. Well, what she’s left us with is a broken heart. And there is no way home. No matter how demeaning or seemingly desperate her lyrics, we will always hold her songs dear. But, we also have some points to ponder with regard to how her lyrics may affect the world of women. Are they a proponent of a strong, independent, intelligent woman? Not…exactly. When I use the term “she” or “her” here, I’m not referring to Whitney Houston, herself, but the woman she paints a picture of in her songs. Here are some themes that come across in her music:
An emotional wreck.
There’s a hint of ’emotionality’ in all of her songs. Not sarcastically depicting women as out of control, emotionally. No better example of this than So Emotional. She talks about how emotional she gets every time I look at you. She goes on to admit that she’s been waiting for the phone to ring all night. Sort of draws the picture of a crazed, desperate woman sitting at home and high strung.
Weak, lonely, needy, and desperate.
In All The Man That I Need, she is basically portraying women as in need of a man. I mean, I won’t even go much further with this; it’s all in the title. She was desperate before he came and finally feels fulfilled that he is now rock[ing] her slow like a baby. All the man that she needs seems to be chauvinistic, chivalrous…stereotypically macho man. Or, at least, she sees him as a savior. I used to cry myself to sleep at night she says. A cry baby. Now she’s found a man and feels relief of those lonely and sad feelings.
She tries to take a stand in I Have Nothing, but I think that defeats the purpose of the song. I have nothing, nothing, nothing, if I don’t have you, she says. She’s an empty person without her man. She has nothing.
Vulnerability embodied is what Run To You depicts. She’s running to him. She, once again, needs to be [held] in [his] arms and [kept] safe from harm. She has no way of protecting herself. She’s a girl who’s scared sometimes, who isn’t always strong.
In All At Once it has basically ‘hit’ her that the guy is leaving her for someone else. Yet, she insists on begging him to come back. She admits to how lonely she is. With no qualms about doing so, despite the fact that he is the one that ran off with someone else. All at once, I’m drifting on a lonely sea, wishing you’d come back to me.
No better example of this than How Will I Know. She’s seeking a friend’s advice on whether the school-girl ‘crush’ she has in her 20s likes her or doesn’t like her back. A song version of “he loves me/he loves me not”. You can’t peg her as anything but insecure, ditzy, and giggly. I try to phone, but I’m too shy, can’t speak. She sounds 12. Don’t trust your feelings she says. Well, with that kind of attitude, I doubt that those ‘feelings’ are worthy of trust.
So, she’s now boarded the train of ‘other womanhood’. Saving All My Love For You is her ballad about the married man whom she’s in love with. She starts the song off with a few stolen moments is all that we share, you’ve got your family and they need you there. And make no mistake, she’s ‘tried’ to resist being last on [his] list but for some odd reason, he’s the only one she has feelings for. She alludes to his broken promises: you used to tell me we’d run away together. Yet, she’s still in love with him. She has no sense of self-worth.
From the moment I saw you, I went outta my mind, she says in I’m Your Baby Tonight. Ooh I lose control, can’t seem to get enough she says in How Will I Know.
And yet…well adjusted.
So she somehow compensates for all of the lack of self-esteem and the emotional instability by singing One Moment in Time, Greatest Love Of All, and I’m Every Woman. These songs are all about loving oneself, being the best you can be, etc. They’re part of the Whitney Houston legacy. Of course, in most of the news coverage you’ll hear Greatest Love because it most likely has some of the most inspiring lyrics. I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside. Well, that’s not an original Houston song, but her version is probably the most popularized one.
Conclusion? I’ve probably just been reading too many Ryan Gosling ‘feminist’ Hey Girls. The real reason is this: since her passing I’ve been listening to nothing but Whitney Houston. And after listening to her songs one after another, over and over again, I’ve discovered the underlying theme: a woman who is not really in control of her love life, or even her entire life. Great music, but not exactly the message to send to young women, without preparing them to consume such media while thinking critically about it. It greatly contrasts with today’s Valentine’s Day Google Doodle:
Which according to a PCWorld article published today, is speaking out about women’s rights and marriage equality.
I’m probably as sad about Whitney as I was about Michael. Both of them pieces of my childhood who were taken away at way too young an age. I’ll leave you with Chromeo’s remix of “How Will I Know” — and, I guess, take the lyrics with a grain of salt!