Whitney Houston's Legacy: Will she be remembered for her Voice or her Vice?

Whitney Houston's Legacy: Will she be remembered for her Voice or her Vice?

On February 11, 2012 Whitney Houston was pronounced dead. Her cause of death is currently unclear, but despite recent reports that Whitney had been clean for some time now and was planning a comeback, the Twittersphere has been bubbling with heated debates about whether or not Whitney's death was drug related. After all, it is reasonable to wonder if Whitney's well-known battle with drug addiction might have finally taken a toll, right? We are all well aware that it has been going on for years, which is probably the reason why I keep seeing Facebook statuses that say things like "I'm sad, but I'm not surprised." One fellow even replied to my Tweets about respecting Whitney's memory with a dirty comment about her throwing crack parties. (My reply to him contained excessive amounts of profane language so I can't repeat it here, but I'll just say that it was quite harsh. If you're offended by sensitive language then it's a bad idea to say something dumb to me on Twitter.)

We are all well aware of Whitney Houston's battle with her addictions because numerous media outlets have been dogmatic about documenting it. For every member of the media who celebrated Whitney's talent and applauded her musical legacy, there were just as many who were eager to label her a "troubled singer," exposing the intimate details of the addiction that may very well have been her downfall. For some reason, we were all encouraged to care more about her troubles than we did her talent. Why? Is it because entertainers are supposed to be great role models who are clean, sober, upstanding citizens? NO, we hate those people. Yet, less than 24 hours after her death people feel it is important to emphasize the toll her addictions had on the legacy she left. Over the next few days I can only imagine I'll be seeing more Facebook posts that say stuff like "We can all learn from her mistakes and triumphs, when it's all said and done, she was a tremendous talent that soared to the highest levels of stardom and fell just as hard."

As an up & coming entertainer, I have to be honest. I don't need Whitney Houston as an example of how drugs can ruin my future legacy. I damn sure DO need her as an example of a flawless, almost effortless vocal technique, most of the singers these days don't come close to her level of ability. I DO need her as an example of how to make my mark in history. Let's not forget, she OWNED The Star Spangled Banner, her performance of it has gone down in American history as the most beautiful execution of our national anthem to date. I DO need her as an example of what is possible for young black female recording artists. Whitney Houston was the first female artist to debut a song at #1 on Billboard, she's currently the only artist in Pop history to chart 7 consecutive number ones on Billboard Hot 100, and she is the only artist who owns a Grammy, Emmy, MTV Video Music Award, MTV Movie Award, People’s Choice Award, and Billboard Music Award. With all of that being the case, DID WHITNEY HOUSTON ACTUALLY FALL FROM GLORY?  Has she been stripped of her awards? Did all evidence of her music career disappear? Last time I checked, Whitney dropping an album warranted her getting an appearance on Oprah's show. Last time I checked she was selling out venues. I think what has happened somehow is we have made "fallen from glory" and "fallen into disfavor with the media" mean the same thing. The way I see it, substance abuse is a disease, which makes Whitney Houston's addictions her personal business. She never flaunted drug use the way sooooooo many artists do, she never dropped a single that was about getting high or enjoying her druggy adventures. Whitney had her demons and she battled them. That doesn't make her terrible, it makes her human.

This whole thing has really got me thinking... What do people want from entertainers anyway? Perfection? Lack of humanity? Because it wasn't Whitney that handed us her weaknesses on a silver platter, it was the media. The same media that makes you bitch about how they're not covering politics appropriately... the same media that makes you complain about them exploiting women... the same media you accuse of showing blacks stereotypically or making white people seem elitist... when you're a public figure, this is the media that dictates what legacy you get to leave behind.

Do you know what you teach folks like me when you make it so that people like Whitney Houston are remembered for drug use instead of their accomplishments? You don't teach us that avoiding trouble & being upstanding citizens will earn us respect and have our legacy be untarnished. What you teach people like me is that no matter what we do, people are going to judge us harshly anyway. And that is precisely why my generation has a stank attitude that inspires older people to accuse us of not caring about anything. It's not that we lack an ability to care, we just know that the result is gonna be the same whether we care or not, so we choose not to care. It's not MY generation that started dogging Whitney Houston in tabloids in the 90's, we were kids when the media turned on her. We've grown accustomed to seeing tabloids and gossip blogs build entertainers up and then tear them down. They hold a magnifying glass up to your flaws and invite people to come look. So we don't expect artists to be perfect anymore. We accept singers who can barely sing, rappers who are openly alcoholics, and anything else that feels the least bit relatable and real. I'm sorry, but flawless, perfect pop stars ARE NOT REAL. That's what people wanted Whitney Houston to be, she tried for years and she got dogged in the end anyway.

Whitney Houston battled drug addiction. So what? Do I need to factor that into my memory of her to somehow make her death more acceptable? No, I'm not that shallow. I don't need to attach judgement to her life in order to feel closure. I did not know Whitney personally, and more than likely neither did any of you who are reading this blog right now. All we know for certain is what she shared with the world. A person's death isn't the time to start taking account of how they messed up, I think it is actually quite the opposite. I hope in your final moments nobody remembers you for what college you dropped out of or who's husband you stole or which baby's momma you didn't marry or what job you got fired from or how many abortions you had or how badly you cheated on your taxes or how much you disappointed your mom. I hope you are remembered for what you contributed to the world. That is your legacy. At the end of the day, everything else is bullshit anyway.

All I'm saying is I respect Whitney Houston's true legacy. I invite you to do the same.


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  • judging by what I've seen on facebook it pretty spilt between her voice and her vice.

  • In reply to Evan Moore:

    That's why FB pisses me off.

  • Very well, said Nikki - very well said!

    You pretty much nailed it about the media and the effect it has had on your generation. It's not apathy - it's more a conscious choice to think for yourself and recognize value where you choose to see it. You don't require another party to tell you what to think.

    It's a shame that we live in a time where people are so overloaded with information that they choose to accept stereotypes, as George Clooney's character said in Up In The Air, "because it's faster." Once the "troubled singer" meme was put out there, many quickly forgot about her selling 55 million albums (and all the other accolades) and wrote her off. The media wrote the narrative and this was the ending that was foreshadowed.

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you said about passing judgment upon someone's death. None of us want to be remembered for our screw-ups and certainly hope that some of our own poor choices don't lead to a premature exit. We should show others that same respect. Besides, last I checked, passing judgment is above our pay grades...

    Keep on telling it like it is! Best of luck on your career, as well.

  • In reply to Brent Cohrs:

    Thanx for making the time to comment. I have such a weird view of the media...on one hand if it weren't for the press I get from journalists/bloggers who take an interest in me then nobody would know I was alive. On the other hand, there are these tabloids and people in muckrakers who can sully your reputation and impact the way you are perceived across the entire media. It seems unavoidable. So I just don't care. I know that if I become as successful as I wanna be I am going to have to deal with it, too. So there is no point in censoring myself or not doing what I wanna do because no matter what, if they wanna sling mud my way they are gonna do it. It creates a lack of regard for the credibility of media, both for the people being written about and the people reading it. It is unfortunate, but ya know...that's how it is. I just wish in the case of Whitney Houston it would have happened different.

  • Agreed on all points, especially about addiction being a disease and a battle. Of course, the media never really highlighted the times she won that battle. And, you're absolutely right, she never tried to capitalize on or glamorize her addiction the way some other icons do (although women aren't really given the rein to do it to the extent that men are).

    The thing that gets me choked up about it all is how much harder that media magnifying glass must have made it for her to fight her addictions. How could anyone be expected to succeed if anytime they made a mistake it was literally international news and no one noticed the days they triumphed? We made it impossible for her. It was inhumane.

  • Also, that picture makes me tear up. Her death is a complete loss for everyone.

  • In reply to hechanova:

    Yeah, that picture of her messed me up when I found it, too. She was suuuuuuch a beautiful woman. And you know what else blows? Her mom is still alive, so she has to bury her only daughter. Sucks so much.

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