Whitney Houston: Yes, We Have A Problem...

Whitney Houston: Yes, we have a problem

'I Will always Love You', she once sang, but the soul diva is finally to divorce Bobby Brown

By Andrew Mueller
Published: 17 September 2006

It is generally the case that the last people to realise how demented, destructive and bleakly hilarious a dysfunctional relationship has become are the two people in it. Even so, it is hard not to marvel at the indefatigable obtuseness displayed by the once-colossal soul diva Whitney Houston. Her announcement that she intends to divorce the once-mighty pop star Bobby Brown, her husband of 14 years, comes approximately 13.9 years after anybody else subjected to the depressing details of their marriage ceased regarding it as anything but a tawdry, if balefully entertaining, soap opera. Thanks to the prurient American media, we have been there at every minute to watch the slow-motion careening from the rails of a career that once looked fast-tracked for the Hall of Fame.

Houston was born on 9 August 1963 in New Jersey. Music was pretty much the family trade. Her mother, Cissy Houston, was a well-regarded soul singer, her cousin Dionne Warwick and her godmother Aretha Franklin even more so. Houston sang in church choirs and by the end of her teens had contributed backing vocals to records by Chaka Khan, Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson. After a stint as a model, she was signed to Arista by her career-long mentor Clive Davis in 1983.

When Whitney Houston married Bobby Brown in July 1992, she was a phenomenon. In the mid-to-late Eighties, her proficient, glossy take on soul, her guileless beauty, her impressive - if unsubtle - voice and her impeccable pedigree created a storm of marketability. She was an unimprovable advertisement for the budding MTV and the emergent CD format. Her debut record, Whitney Houston, was the best-selling first album by a female artist. Her second, the equally imaginatively titled 1987 outing Whitney, was the first album by a woman to debut at the top of the US charts. The two albums produced a record-breaking run of seven consecutive Number One singles in America. She had sung "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl. She was months away from film stardom opposite Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard and from global airplay ubiquity with the bestselling single from the soundtrack, an overwrought rendition of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You". She was just 28.

After 14 years of marriage to Brown, she could lay claim to almost as many "Houston, We Have A Problem" headlines as she could platinum records. Her last record was released three years ago, and that was a phoned-in Christmas album, notable largely for a please-God-make-it-stop version of "Little Drummer Boy" in which she duetted with her and Brown's daughter, Bobbie Kristina, and accomplished the unimaginable feat of inspiring nostalgia for the David Bowie/Bing Crosby version.

Her last album of new material, 2002's Just Whitney, was dull and desperate. Where she once had an audience, she now had horrified onlookers.

On the agonisingly self-indulgent "Whatchulookinat?", she shrieked: "I don't understand/ Why you keep peepin' me/ When you don't even like me/ You're after me and my man/ Don't think you're stressing me/ Cos your lies don't excite me." Later in the same song, she railed at the "Same spotlight that once gave me fame/ Trying to dirty up Whitney's name".

Even leaving aside the maladroit metaphor (how can a spotlight make something dirty?) reference to oneself in the third person is rarely symptomatic of a calm, ordered mind. To her question "Whatchulookinat?", there was, alack, no short answer. A partial list of the unedifying spectacles conjured by Houston in the last few years includes: a narrow escape of drugs charges after marijuana was found in her luggage by Hawaiian airport staff in 2000; dismissal from the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony after a bizarre rehearsal during which she animatedly played a piano invisible to everyone in the arena but her; an unconvincing 2002 denial of addiction to crack ("Crack is wack", Houston told veteran pain-feeling interviewer Diane Sawyer, adding that she made too much money to consume such a ghetto narcotic); being sued by her own father's entertainment management company for $100m (53m) over a contract dispute (John Houston died in January 2003, his daughter did not attend his funeral); at least two stretches in rehab (2004 and 2005); and, earlier this year, a National Enquirer story for which Bobby Brown's delightful sister Tina provided photos of one of the bathrooms in Brown and Houston's Atlanta residence: it appeared to have been converted into a museum of crack paraphernalia.

Whitney's sister-in-law further entranced a world that would have wished to know less with revelations of Houston's increasing paranoia, deteriorating personal hygiene and drug-induced incontinence.

It would be erroneous to suggest that while this had been going on, Houston's husband had passed the time unobtrusively. Brown, six years Houston's junior, first become famous as an Eighties teen idol with New Edition. His solo career prospered for a while despite, rather than because of his best efforts, which included arrests for assault and for drink and drug related offences, several motoring misadventures, stretches in gaol and rehab, and rumoured violence towards his wife.

If there was ever any doubt that Houston's immediate circle lacked someone willing to take care of her interests, this was dispelled in 2005, when, for reasons surpassing understanding, she agreed to star with her husband in a reality show. Being Bobby Brown was, even by the standards of these things, such an overt exercise in schadenfreude that only the genuinely sadistic could have derived amusement from it. Among the programme's high spots were Houston rebutting her husband's self-pitying ramblings with a crockery-rattling screech of "Kiss my ass!", countless examples of Brown's rarefied romantic badinage ("Boobs! Boobs!"), and his whimsical reminiscence of an occasion when he was forced to manually assist Houston in overcoming constipation.

As for the question of what Houston will do next, there are rumours that she is working on a new album: it would seem reasonable to bet that this will be heavily leavened with "I Will Survive" style ballads.

While it's probably a bit soon for the poor woman to think about dating again, Houston can take some comfort from the fact that she has options. Kola Boof, a Sudanese-American author who claims to have been a concubine of Osama bin Laden's in Morocco in the mid-Nineties, has written that the al-Qa'ida mastermind was obsessed with Houston and spoke at length of making her one of his wives.

Bin Laden, scrutinising reports of recent developments from his elusive hideway, is probably thinking that if Houston was willing to give 14 years to a boorish, violent, erratic, drug-addicted buffoon, then a sinister, cave-dwelling maniac, albeit a sober and disciplined one, is probably in with a shout.


NEWSFILE: 17 SEPTEMBER 2006
 

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