NEWSWEEK INTERVIEW - Whitney on the Record

The diva reflects and rages on rumors and her music.

Whitney Houston is a little wound up. Sitting in an elegant suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, she's got the wear and tear of recording an album, as well as keeping up with her 5- year-old daughter and the rest of her family, written across her face. Houston has been busy promoting her fourth album, "My Love Is Your Love," her first non-soundtrack CD in eight years. The singer rounded up the brightest stars of R&B and hip-hop to write, sing and produce, and the result is all the "flava" a fan could want.

Houston's voice is a treasure and is only highlighted by mellow tracks like "Heartbreak Hotel," which couples her with Faith Evans and Kelly Price. Rapper-producer Missy Elliot offers up two saucy tunes, "In My Business" and "Oh Yes." And Lauryn Hill and Wyclef give the album a funky, multicultural vibe. But Houston's at her best when in the loving care of her longtime collaborators Babyface and songwriter Diane Warren. She sat down with NEWSWEEK's Allison Samuels to talk.

NEWSWEEK: Some people describe "My Love Is Your Love" as a hip-hop album because you have Wyclef, Faith and Lauryn Hill.
HOUSTON: Well, I've gone from singing too white to R&B diva, and now I'm hip-hop. I guess it's flattering to know that I can sing it all. My mother always said if you can sing you can sing. Having a church background has allowed me to be able to sing every note, every lyric. I'm not a hip-hop buyer. But I love Mary J. Blige--I love the best of hip-hop. To me, Wyclef is not hip-hop--Faith is not hip-hop. Music is a wide range. My husband can rap, sing and dance. He can do it all, and that's what I think of all these artists--they can do it all.

Is this album more about your life than the last three soundtracks ["The Bodyguard," "Waiting to Exhale" and "The Preacher's Wife"]?
All those songs were me. I've turned down thousands of songs because they aren't me. All the characters in the films I've done were, in a sense, really me. "Preacher's Wife" was definitely me. I have to feel songs, or I won't sing them. "Why Does It Hurt So Bad" ["Waiting to Exhale"] was a song that Babyface wrote years ago, and I didn't sing it because I hadn't hurt that bad. But "Face" just held on to it, and then of course one day I hurt so bad and it was time to sing that song.

This is your daughter Bobbi Kristina's first year in school.
Yes, she's growing up so fast. And she has such a vast vocabulary. When she was young I always talked normal to her, never down to her, and I made sure that others did as well. So she's very together and she's like her father, so all the kids love her. She's a people person. I was there every day doing the car pools and going on field trips to the apple orchards. If I can't make the parent-teacher meetings, my mother will fill in. But I try to make all the school events. After December I'm going to take a break and chill out and maybe try for another child. I'd like a boy, because boys are so fierce and loyal to their mothers. But I'll take anything God sends me.

With the constant scrutiny and rumors about your life, do you ever wonder if it's worth it?
I was talking to Joe Pesci the other night--we're both from New Jersey, and we were talking about being a regular person years ago and how we wanted the fame and fortune. But then we got it--we lost our lives. He wondered if we'd made the right choice. I think it's fair to say it's been more than I bargained for--I didn't ask anybody to be up in my world or in my business. It's not fair that our brothers and sisters-in-law get calls offering $100,000 for information about us. But we are beginning to get a little more respect after six years of marriage. [The media] sees it's not a game; they see that some people get married for real and for love. We have our ups and downs like anybody else. But it's about staying together. I'm Mrs. Bobby Brown and not the other way around. That's not going to change.

Your next film is "Anything for Love," with Will Smith. What's it about? Who will direct?
I'd like for my friend Penny Marshall to direct it, because she's brilliant. "Anything for Love" is a story about a man and a woman who divorce because he hasn't gotten all the play out of him yet, and he realizes that he really loves her and needs her back. It's very cute and funny, and I hope that both Will and I will have our mates involved in every way. I want Bobby on the soundtrack and Will on the soundtrack and Jada in the movie--it should be fun.

We talked about rumors before, and one that seems to be getting stronger is the one about you and drugs. Why?
I think because with people, it gotta be one thing or another. If we're not fighting or screwing around, then we're on drugs. I'm not going to tell you that Bobby and I are angels, because we're not. But we don't go out in the street and make our stuff public knowledge. No, I'm not a drug addict, and neither is my husband. If that were so, you'd get less work out of me. It would show in the performances and in the work. A lot of what we go through is stress. When I'm stressed I don't eat, and I guess that makes people think I'm on drugs. Some people eat; I don't. But there is no problem, no reason for me to, like, check in. My mother is very up on it, and my mother isn't having that. If there were a problem, she'd take control and do something.

Those rumors sort of started when you canceled on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show."
I was very ill around that time, and my father was very sick. [There was] a lot of stress coming down on me at that point in time. The morning I was supposed to do "Rosie" I wasn't fit to do "Rosie," and I figured that if I'm not presentable and if I'm not feeling it from here [points to her heart], than I'm going to do worse damage to myself by appearing. Rosie and I had a conversation about it, 'cause Rosie was mouthing off about a lot of stuff that we straightened out. But I don't hang with Rosie, and Rosie doesn't hang with me. I haven't been to her house for dinner, and she hasn't been to my house for dinner. Rosie knows nothing about me, and I don't know nothing about Rosie. So nobody can talk anything about me that ain't in my house. I was sick--it happens--forget what you heard. We've straightened it out fine now.

Newsweek, November 23, 1998



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