If there is a heaven, I would not be surprised if Whitney Houston asked God to step outside its gates for a second to unleash her fury properly. I know Allan Raible meant well when invoking the late legendary vocalist in his glowing review of Adele’s new album, 25, but I so wish he hadn’t done so. Comparisons – no matter how cringe-worthy they can be at times – are employed to contextualize. That said, context is key, and in the case of comparing Adele to Whitney Houston, essential.
Writing for ABC News, Raible claimed: “It is Adele’s flawless execution that makes these winners. She is, after all, the closest successor we have to Whitney Houston, who could definitely sell a crowd-pleasing ballad while keeping things from getting too cheesy. Adele seems to have a similar universal appeal.”
I’m actually impressed by the varying levels of wrong crammed into just three sentences.
Adele is an extremely talented singer, but Whitney Houston is a once in a lifetime vocalist. There will never be another Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston, notably at her prime, was such a premiere talent that Whitney Houston herself struggled towards the end of her life living up to such a high standard of singing. Houston could literally do any type of singing and do so flawlessly.
And as much a fan as I am of Houston, some of her material was very much cheesy (some of the pop fluff from the early 1980s, certainly “Whatchulookinat”). She was not the singer-songwriter like Adele, but her voice was so powerful that it could make any song crafted better than what it actually was.
Of course, Raible was not necessarily arguing Adele’s voice rivals Houston’s, but he did speak of it enough to put in the same conversation. It’s just not the case. Anyone who likes Adele should never put that kind of a burden on her.
As far as Adele being a Houston-like figure in terms of appeal, only someone white would think to say this.
What bugged me about Rolling Stone comparing Justin Timberlake to Michael Jackson in 2003 and what grates me about Raible’s claim now is that there are certain factors at hand that makes it much easier for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Adele to have widespread appeal than Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston – no matter how successful the latter were in their respective careers.
Adele will never have to know what it’s like to be marketed as a mainstream balladeer and face resentment from those who look like her – something Houston initially struggled with in the late 1980s. Houston made it easier for the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna. If anything, I liken Adele to someone more like Celine Dion, and while I don’t want to strip her accomplishments away, Adele also benefits from our current climate of music. That is to say, one that offers a dearth of singers who can actually sing.
Houston, despite a once in a generation kind of talent, had much more difficulties enjoying the sort of widespread appeal that’s a given to a white woman who can sing. The same goes for many of the Black women now who sing just as well if not better than Adele, but could never command that level of pop culture capital she does. Whitney Houston is near and dear to the hearts of her most ardent fans for numerous reasons, but what she managed to accomplish in her career sits at the top for many of us.
Give Adele her due, but not at the expense of another.