As a candid new documentary about her life hits cinemas, we look back to some of Houston’s greatest hits
“Nobody makes me do something I don’t wanna do, it’s my decision,” said Whitney Houston. “So the biggest devil is me, I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.” This statement would eventually prove correct, as the internationally acclaimed star navigated her career and life through mammoth successes and equally extreme lows. Houston was a source of fascination to many, with the public initially enthralled by her extraordinary vocal talent – which began in church, singing gospel songs with her mother, Cissy Houston – and later gripped by her tumultuous personal life, punctuated by her marriage to Bobby Brown and infamous drug use (“crack is wack” she candidly told Diane Sawyer in 2002).
Houston’s songs are some of the most enduring in music’s history, with her albums having sold hundreds of millions of copies in the 30 years since her debut was released. Her acting career afforded her even more success and fame when she starred in The Bodyguard in 1992, the soundtrack to which she dominated with hits like I Will Always Love You. While much has been produced about her life, a new documentary from Kevin MacDonald, Whitney, is unique in that it is endorsed by the singer’s family and friends, where other films have not been. In light of the revelatory documentary, we’re looking back over some of Houston’s most memorable music videos.
1. Greatest Love of All, 1985
There’s a poignant narrative to the video for Greatest Love of All, which was one of Houston’s first singles from her debut eponymous album. The love that Houston sings of is that of a mother and daughter, as she reminisces pre-performance in a New York theatre on her beginnings as a young girl singing in the same space. Cissy Houston – herself a successful gospel singer – stars in the video alongside her daughter, who takes to the stage first in a fringed leather jacket and then a glittering silver dress and constellation earrings. A cover version of George Benson’s 1977 hit, Houston’s version reached number one in three countries and solidified her status as a rising star.
2. Saving All My Love For You, 1985
“I could never see myself in that position. I wouldn’t just take whatever someone wants to give to me, especially if I am giving a lot to him but not getting that much back. I could never find myself in that situation, but someone else might. The video tells a story but it’s by no means my story,” said Houston in 1985 when the video for her second single, Saving All My Love For You, proved controversial. The story in question is that of an affair: Houston plays a singer who is involved with her producer, unbeknownst to his wife.
3. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me), 1987
I Wanna Dance with Somebody is of course one of Houston’s best known and most enduring singles. The 1987 video is a kaleidoscopic journey through the protagonist’s imagination: beginning with black and white clips of a forlorn Houston dreaming about having someone to dance with, we are quickly introduced to a bigger-permed version of the star singing and dancing joyously to camera (a trope that would become a mainstay in her music videos). Highlights of this video include: Houston’s gargantuan beaded earrings; her unbridled enjoyment at being able to pull a chain and drench a potential dance partner in water; and the fact that it was choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Arlene Phillips.
4. Run to You, 1993
Houston’s turn as singer and actress receiving threats against her life Rachel Marron in 1992’s The Bodyguard became one of the most significant periods of her music career. Following on from the success of mega-hits like I Will Always Love You and I Have Nothing that also featured on the The Bodyguard: The Original Soundtrack Album, Run to You was the fourth single released from the record (which has since gone on to become the fifth best-selling album of all time) and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. As its title suggests, the video for Run to You sees Houston make her slow-motion way towards the viewer, suspended in a clouded sky and wearing a wispy, barely-there swathe of white cloth – interspersed with scenes from The Bodyguard, as many of the videos from its soundtrack are. In a very meta moment about a third of the way through The Bodyguard, Kevin Costner as Frank Farmer watches this music video, mesmerised, naturally, by Houston (playing Marron).
5. It’s Not Right but It’s Okay, 1999
The tale of a woman moving on after her lover has been unfaithful, It’s Not Right but It’s Okay was seen by many as a thinly veiled response to Houston’s husband Bobby Brown’s rumoured infidelity on its release in 1999. The singer sits in a black room at an imposing glass table, ready to confront her man with receipts (literally: the lyrics go “because only two of you had dinner, I found your credit card receipt”). From Houston’s black leather dress, matching glove and choker to the line-up of wronged women who join her for each chorus, the message here is one of empowerment.
Whitney is in cinemas now.