- The True Voice of Whitney Houston: Commodification, Authenticity, and African American Superstardom
- Celebrity Studies
- Volume | Issue number
- 5 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
Taking its title from the 1994 AT&T commercial starring Whitney Houston, this article examines how Houston’s voice has functioned in the construction of her star persona from her 1985 debut album to her premature death on 11 February 2012, recognising three phases: the formative years (1985-1991); the commercial and artistic high point (1992); and the years of decline (1993-2012). Throughout her career, Houston has been reduced to her vocal instrument, defining both her success (when her voice was most powerful) and her decline (when her voice failed). Houston is similar to other female African American superstars, like Diana Ross and Beyoncé, in the way she has adopted a glamorous crossover pop image that transcends musical categories connoted as ‘black’ such as soul and R&B, often resulting in the criticism that she has ‘sold out’ or is ‘too white’. Yet Houston differs from Ross and Beyoncé in the way her voice is most dominant in the construction of her star persona. Rather than analysing her vocal performances, this article focuses on how her voice plays a pivotal role in Houston’s ‘star image’ and ‘metanarrative of stardom’ by analysing how her voice is emphasised on the production side (albums, music videos, film) as well as the reception side (critical review, tabloid press). Houston’s from-triumph-to-tragedy narrative reveals the tensions that exist between commodification and ‘authenticity’ in the construction of the star persona, which continues to be discussed in racial terms.
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