Video Scrapped...

Whitney in Turmoil? Video Scrapped at Last Minute
Monday, August 12, 2002

By Roger Friedman

What you lookin' at? It's not a video for Whitney Houston's comeback single "Whatchulookinat," that's for sure.

Last Thursday, golden-throated Whitney decided at the last minute that everything intended for her first new video in two years was wrong -- particularly the script.

So even though makeup people and stylists, a full video crew and a director were all waiting on a video soundstage to start the proceedings, Houston simply said "No" and didn't show up.

As this column reported a month or so ago, "Whatchulookinat" was surreptitiously released to New York radio stations before it was supposed to see the light of day. The record, which has a pretty good groove and outstanding Houston vocals, nevertheless has difficult lyrics.

The lyrics blame the press and everyone else in the world for Whitney's constant battles with the tabloids (the National Enquirer in particular) over her alleged drug abuse and husband Bobby Brown's extracurricular activities.

When it came time to filming a version of this recording, suddenly the song's inherent problems became clear.

"They [Whitney and the director] didn't know what tone to take -- whether it should be a funny video. Or how it would be a funny video," says an insider. "So it was easier just not to do it."

Maybe Houston -- who turned 39 on Friday -- realized this was not the song to make a video for after all. Both Billboard and Entertainment Weekly panned it, the latter giving it a letter grade of F.

Radio stations, after the initial shock of receiving "Whatchulookinat," have turned a cold ear to it. According to the magazine Radio & Records, which monitors airplay, less than a handful of stations are playing the record.

Nevertheless, the cancelled shoot caused tens of thousands of dollars to fly out the window. Pfffft -- gone. That's not good since, according to one former employee, "They [Houston's office staff] do not pay their bills."

Meanwhile, there are discrepancies about whether or not Houston will make the delivery deadline on her new album, which Arista had set for a Sept. 17 launch -- in time for the Grammy Awards Oct. 1 eligibility cut-off.

Houston and Brown had been in Los Angeles, where they were supposed to be cutting tracks with Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds for the album. Some of those sessions may have been missed, I am told, causing the album to be pushed back.

"I could tell you about dozens of missed studio appointments," a former Houston associate told me -- and then did.

For Arista Records, the Houston album is incredibly important. Label head L.A. Reid, who inherited Houston, her remarkable voice and her personal problems from Clive Davis, helped OK an announced $100 million deal with the singer last year.

Even if the deal was for half that (let's say the other half was for headlines), $50 million is a lot of money. (Just ask Michael Jackson.)

Even though Arista is comfortably ensconced on the charts with Avril Lavigne, Usher and Pink, Houston is the label's franchise player. They can't afford an autumn of missed dates and bad press combined with rumors of Whitney's troubled life.

Only a couple of months ago, Houston and Brown pulled their luxury touring bus over in Fredericksburg, Va., so that Brown could be admitted to an emergency room. He was said to have been suffering from some sort of virus.

Houston and crew continued on home to New Jersey, leaving Brown to fend for himself. It was the latest of several recent mysterious hospitalizations for the 33-year-old singer.

But let's not be so quick to jump all over Brown, whom a lot of people point to as the key to Houston's problems. One source tells me the opposite: "Bobby's a great guy. He's fun to be with. He is not the trouble in Whitney's life."

But Bobby -- who found the producers for "Whatchulookinat" and has a good ear for a catchy hook -- may wind up causing problems for Houston that no one has thought of yet. According to two sources, Brown has become enamored of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

"Bobby's sister has joined Farrakhan and she's pushed for Whitney and Bobby to join up too," says one source familiar with the situation.

The word is that the couple's new bodyguard, a man named Curtis Mohammed, comes from Farrakhan's security detail.

Even on a bad day, Whitney Houston has the best voice of her generation, an instrument that has only been fractionally used so far. The lyrics for "Whatchulookinat" may not be the most ingratiating, but one listen makes it obvious she has still the chops.

As for Brown, he has incentive from Arista Records to make Whitney's album come in on time and in line with budgets. If he can do it, I've heard that Reid has promised him his own deal.

Personally, I'm rooting for both of them to pull this off. No one would be happier to let Whitney Houston sing the words "I told you so" than me.



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