Billboard Magazine's Melinda Newman Interviewed Whitney Houston in this article published 23 October 1998.

Houston Finds A New Groove With Arista Set

[This Article Has Been Updated 31 October 1998 to include the complete news story which features in the 31 October 1998 Billboard Magazine]

LOS ANGELES -- When it came time to make her first non-soundtrack-based album in eight years, Whitney Houston knew she needed songs that reflected where she is now.
"I wasn't into the syrupy kind of vibe," she says. "I just didn't feel like singing about 'I Will Always Love You.' I'm a working mother, I'm a wife, I'm an artist. There are so many things that go into that, and it's not always like 'everything is beautiful in its own way.' "

Indeed, "My Love Is Your Love," coming Nov. 17 worldwide on Arista, features many tracks that reflect the downside of love, being hurt, and, ultimately, seeing the light on the other side. While there are positive love songs on the album, including the reggae-tinged title track, written and produced by Wyclef Jean, none are dewy-eyed.

When asked if she could have made such a street-smart, but not disillusioned, album five years ago, Houston, emphatically answers no. "I was much younger. I'm a lot more learned and a lot wiser about things. Being a wife and a mother kind of teaches you a little more about life and what you can endure -- things you didn't think you could. I mean I've endured a lot, in relationships and just in life in the last 10 years. I know more today than I did yesterday, so I can sing about it."

The album was also a chance for Houston to express her own thoughts, as opposed to those that fit the moods dictated by her movie work on "The Bodyguard," "Waiting To Exhale," and "The Preacher's Wife." In the past 10 years, those albums and her earlier solo work have sold a combined total of 100 million units worldwide, according to Arista.

"There just seems to be this tremendous hunger for her first studio album in eight years - people are driving us crazy screaming for advances, " says Arista president Clive Davis, "There's an eagerness to see Whitney in a non-movie, contemporary setting."


Davis expects the album to surprise anyone "lulled into thinking" movie music was all Houston could do. "She certainly shows here that she can work at hip-hop and cutting edge music. She can sing with Faith Evans and Kelly Price [on the midtempo "Heartbreak Hotel"] and cut it.

"If anyone has underestimated the magnitude, the breadth of her incredible talent, they're going to be surprised," he continues. "You find when you get to the superstar level, the knives are always out, whether it's Madonna, Prince, or Michael Jackson. They have to prove themselves, and they have to do it each time out. And Whitney's done that."

The set reunites Houston with producers Babyface and David Foster, with whom she worked on some of her past projects. In addition, the set pairs her for the first time with such hitmakers as Rodney Jerkins, Missy Elliott, and Soulshock and Karlin. (A number of hot artist/producers, including Jermaine Dupri, Lauryn Hill, and Puff Daddy, expressed interest in working on the project, but their schedules didn't allow them to meet the tight deadlines.)


For the singer, an up-to-date sound was mandatory. "You have to keep up with the times, no matter how you feel about your own music and what you used to do or did," she says. "You have to keep it with what the [current] groove is, and I can do that. Ain't no biggie, ain't no biggie at all. "Today's music is basically youth-oriented. It's lots of beats and rhythm. Sometimes in today's music, the lyric doesn't really play a major part," continues Houston. "There are some great lyrics in these songs I've selected to do. That alone, I think, is going to be a surprise, just to hear the groove with somebody saying something, a story line. That's very important to me."

While she says she can sing only songs that "I've experienced, I feel, I've gone through, I understand, I know, I can relate to, and I can interpret," she hastens to add that it would be a mistake to take all the album's lyrics literally or assume they're autobiographical.

The one exception is the sassy "In My Business," written by Elliott after a long conversation with Houston about living in the spotlight. "It's not a secret that people are always trying to be up in my business," says Houston. "I don't know what they think I am or what my husband and I do, they just want to know. They feel it's their right, but it's not. Missy and I talked about it, and Missy understood."

Houston entered the studio not knowing whether the project would be a greatest-hits collection with a few new tracks or an all-new project. But as the songs came together, the answer became apparent. "[Arista president Clive Davis] and I talked about this, and being that I haven't done a new album in over eight years, we felt it was time for a whole new album. And it was time, Clive said, for [everyone] to hear that [I] can do whatever [today's crop of hot female R&B singers] can do."

The first single will be Houston's duet with Mariah Carey, "When You Believe," from the soundtrack to DreamWorks SKG's animated feature "The Prince Of Egypt."


The Babyface-produced ballad appears on Houston's album, as well as Carey's greatest hits, and one of the movie's three soundtracks, all of which come out Nov. 17.
"[DreamWorks principal] Jeffrey Katzenberg made a suggestion that he'd like to see me and Mariah do a song together," says Houston. "I thought, 'Wow, what an incredible idea.' I love inspirational songs that mean something . . . and I don't think they could have chosen two better people, two better voices, to come together and do it." Houston says recording with Carey "worked out beautifully. I was taught to stand flat foot and sing. I'm a church girl; it doesn't matter who's there singing with me, I'm going to sing. But singing with a voice like Mariah's, it can only be complementary, 'cause the girl can go. There ain't no lie about that."
"I really enjoyed working with her, and we had a great relationship," Houston adds. "I'd love to work with her in the future. We talked a lot of crap, a lot about what we can do together as two forces in the music industry, and being women, it makes it even more potent."

There will be no commercial single for the tune, which goes to top 40, crossover, hot AC, AC, R&B, and modern adult radio Oct. 28. The track will be worked primarily by Dreamworks' promotion team, although Arista will be alongside for support.

There's a whole audience that wants to hear this kind of inspirational song," says Arista senior VP of promotion Richard Palmese. "And I think with the holidays coming up, "When You Believe" is just perfect."

Arista will begin pushing a second single at the beginning of 1999. While the song has yet to be selected, Arista execs expect it to be one of the more R&B-oriented cuts, such as the title track or "It's Not Right But It's Okay," a feisty, beat-laden track produced and written by Jerkins.

"R&B radio is going to jump all over this album", says Lionel Ridenour, Arista's senior VP of black music. "What Whitney did is knock down the doors for the Monicas, Faith Evanses, and Aaliyahs of the world, even Toni Braxton. None of these ladies could have had the success they had without Whitney knocking the doors down. Now she's coming back and saying "Everyone else has had their fun. Now it's Whitney's turn.'"

Hector Hannibal, PD of R&B outlet WHUR Washington, D.C., thinks a revitalized Houston will go far. "I find that a lot of the [older] Whitney stuff burns, and I haven't been able to play a lot of it because of the high fatigue factor," he says. "But I think some fresh music will be a great, great addition to what's happening in music now. The people she's working with are awesome and can only further her appeal. I think radio will embrace the album."

With Houston working on the album until the last possible minute and unavailable for much pre-release promotion, Arista senior VP of marketing Jay Krugman says, "We have massive plans utilizing Whitney in the marketplace to more than make up for those things that can't be done due to her involvement finishing the record."


Promotional efforts for the album will kick off with a Nov. 5 worldwide satellite press conference conducted by Houston from New York beamed to press, retailers, and radio globally.

In addition to the November 5 worldwide satellite press conference, Houston will host a "Breakfast with Whitney" satellite media junket for six regions of Asia. Houston will preside over the event from New York.

Houston is also planning a promo trip to the U.K. and Europe in early January. Although her itinerary has yet to be confirmed, the singer is expected to perform on such major TV programs as "Top Of The Pops" and "The Lottery Show."

Cathy O'Brien, VP of international at Arista, says there's "tremendous anticipation" for the project worldwide, citing sales outside the US of roughly 55 Million units.

During the week of release, Houston will make her first in-store appearance, according to Krugman, at a New York retailer still being determined.

Although no details are available, there are also plans for a network special in December. Appearances on such talk shows as "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" are also being secured.

Such opportunities for the public to view Houston are vital to the project's success, says John Artale, buyer for carnegie, Pa.-based National Record Mart. "She needs to make her presence known. She has to let people know that she's still viable and out there. Her appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards was a good idea; it showed she's not above it all."

Touring plans are limited, with Houston set to appear at Atlantic City, N.J.'s Taj Mahal on Nov. 13-14, and the elite Cipriani concert series in New York on Nov. 18. As for more extensive tour plans, Houston says she doesn't know when she'll hit the road, committing only to "sometime."
"Listen, I've toured my tail off, man," she says. "Every year I've done an album, I've been on the road. It's not something I fancy; it's a hard-knock life just going from city to city, bus to bus, living out of your suitcase. I'd like to do it [somehow] with just not as much traveling and running around."

Billboard Magazine, 23 October 1998 & 31 October 1998



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