Reflecting On Whitney Houston Past and Future

WWhitney Houston’s talent endeared her to the music industry, ranking her among its most treasured artists. Treasured but troubled, a combination frequently suffered, seldom combated; Houston is the latest in a long line of music artists to suffer at the hands of addiction.

It’s vital to pay tribute to her talents, to her person, but it’s also vital that the music industry tackle the temptations and vices presented to musicians.

Maintaining a degree of respect is also paramount but Sony seemingly breached protocol this weekend, increasing the price of Whitney Houston’s Ultimate Collection by £3 via the iTunes Store.

The London Guardian reported that “[i]t is understood that the change occurred after Sony Music reviewed Houston’s iTunes catalogue after the singer was pronounced dead”.

Forbes’ figures for 2011’s top fifteen dead celebrities, including Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and John Lennon, indicate musicians to retain commercial strength even in death, but that is almost as great an indictment on the music industry’s rampant opportunism as it is a mark of the average consumer’s nostalgia and love for music idols of old.

Accusatory as it sounds, ‘exploitation’ is, at times, the more appropriate term for this seemingly business first approach.

And it’s not just through album and memorabilia sales that fortunes are made.

Tickets for can cost as much as $270 when booking online – that’s just part of the $170 million the King of Pop’s Estate made last year. Proponents of the show claim that every effort is made to retain Michael’s essence -it’s probably a fantastic show – but it’s not Michael. It’s undeniably smart in a business sense, but is it exploitation or homage?

Even Whitney Houston herself will make an appearance on screen this summer, with the remake of 1976’s Sparkle. The film, a favourite of Houston’s, was arguably in line to reintroduce Houston as an actress; it now stands to propel the figures of the bank accounts of everyone involved. It’s not an easy truth, but that’s not to condemn the film. It deserves to see the light of day. It might yet serve Houston’s legacy in a positive manner. The danger is, of course, the temptation to excessively promote the film as Houston’s last. Although inevitable to some degree, but by no means unavoidably brash and cavalier, it’s paramount that the film be promoted respectfully. Respected for its soundtrack, which will feature her inimitable voice, and for the parallels the film draws with Whitney’s own life, Sparkle should perhaps be viewed with it in mind that Whitney’s portrayal of a mother who oversees her three daughters’ rise to music fame – and the perils of it – could be her most reflective role yet.

Sony’s apology for the price increase of Houston’s album was swift, disputably sincere, yet also unfairly treated. Is a simple business-oriented price hike really quite as exploitative as Cirque du Soleil’s on-going Michael Jackson imitation tour? A price hike is arguably unethical in the immediate aftermath of an artist’s death – and the instantaneous nature of mp3 downloads makes this all the more apparent – but surely it’s more welcome than the Michael Jackson package. This analysis doesn’t sit well with ticket sales, but Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson The Immortal Tour is promoted as an homage to the King of Pop – an album price hike cannot be afforded that interpretation.

Whatever the cause of death be, let us take a moment to remember Whitney Houston, a voice deserving of your attention, an artist demanding of respect.

Samuel Agini is the Editor of Andrew Apanov’s Dotted Music Blog. He can be contacted at