Goodbye to Whitney Houston, who died today at age 48.
For kids like me who were in elementary school when Whitney Houston got big, she wasn’t so much a singer as a touch point for the times. She was everywhere. She had a million great videos, with more youthful smiles and a broader color palette than Nicki Minaj (and quite often bra-less, my 12-year-old self wants to mention). She performed live on VH1 and MTV all the time, with a voice so powerful that it could kow-tow the Warrants and Whitesnakes that surrounded her. She broke records set by the Beatles, and was very much the template for the female R&B pop stars that grew to control the charts today–she controlled them too, but she did it single-handed, and she did it first (well, second, but Michael Jackson wasn’t a woman, and he’s proved far less influential 25 years later than Houston). And even if Mariah Carey did come shortly afterwards to kind of wipe away Houston’s gains by doing the same thing bigger and better, heck, she never got to cover Dolly Parton or get carried offstage by Kevin Costner while wearing Egyptian/Metropolis/ Blade Runner gear.
And of course, Mariah Carey never got embroiled in a purposeful copyright infringement acid house club track by an early version of the KLF!
I know there are dozens of things to make fun of about Whitney Houston, even discounting the past decade’s debauched reality shows and cocaine quotations. And there are many horrific things about the music industry that Houston either perpetuated or created in her own image, and I would have been a much happier teenager if the world had embraced, say, Dinosaur Jr. or Public Enemy with the fervor it gave to her brand of soulful-sounding but often vapid pop. But perhaps it’s a better world for her having been in it. I’ll always associate the age of my own innocence with the sound of her voice, and the way she looked on the small screen. Whitney, you will be missed.