Was anyone really shocked when they heard Whitney Houston had died? Sadly, news organisations all over the world already had her obituary written and duly published screeds of ‘we will always love you’ tributes. All they had to do was fill in the blanks. Even the details of those blanks were predictable.

Houston’s far too early death at the age of 48 is terribly sad for her family and friends. It’s been more surprising to witness the overblown media reaction coupled with hitherto unknown Whitney Houston fans – who’ve never uttered a peep about her for 20 years or so – publicly declaring how bereft they feel.

As Whitney Houston’s greatest hits album surged to the top of Apple’s iTunes charts and was dug out of bargain bins by the few remaining so-called record stores *ahem* everywhere you had to wonder: if those buying were such big Whitney Houston fans before her death wouldn’t they have these songs already?

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(Interestingly, Apple was slightly more restrained in promoting Houston’s music to buy via iTunes compared to the comparatively indecent haste they rushed to flog Amy Winehouse’s back catalogue when she died last year. At least, this time, Apple waited until Houston’s body had left the premises where it’d been found.)

The press coverage of Houston’s death has been fascinating though. Not the actual content of course, but its sheer vast scale.

Whitney Houston was an astoundingly talented singer. Nobody can deny that. However, for better or for worse – mostly for worse – she pioneered an era of mainstream pop music whereby the singer not the song took precedence. But it’s churlish to blame her for the likes of Mariah Carey. Three of Whitney’s songs were actually bearable.

There’s two main reasons for the extensive coverage and ongoing scramble to cover Whitney’s death. Houston didn’t die away from the eyes, if not ears, of the showbiz in-crowd. She didn’t expire in a suburb of Dullsville, USA somewhere but in Los Angeles as the US music industry gathered to stage the 2012 Grammy Awards. What better setting for an outpouring of public mourning and tributes from music industry heavyweights?


But perhaps more importantly, Houston became a famous singer at a time – the 1980s particularly – when music still dominated mainstream entertainment and listening choices were still somewhat restricted. There was no escaping Whitney Houston. Now, we can all easily listen to what we want when we want. This is a good thing.

Something – not just Whitney Houston – has been lost though.

Even non-Whitney Houston fans can feel pangs of nostalgia this week. After the other 1960s/70s/80s megastars that dominated the airwaves (how quaint) are all gone will the wider public care at all?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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