What is the sound of broken expectations? Look to Whitney Houston and her fans and critics this week in Australia, where the diva has been trying to stage a comeback to less-than-stellar acclaim.
Over the weekend, Houston performed a concert at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Oz that was reportedly rife with high-note misfires, out-of-breath and exhausted stage exits and returns. The Australia Associated Press review claimed that the singer seemed disoriented and forgot the names of her backing players. From videos below, the most memorable lines and choruses were left to the backup vocalists or, even worse, to the crowd.
“The ease with which she once vocally hit the near impossible simply isn’t there any more, so melodies have been tinkered with and more attainable notes are struck instead. Occasionally she impressed with a vocal lick that showed her class but, with gravel in her register, the big choruses were largely left to the phalanx of backing singers,” read the Australian.
Certainly, low quality hand-cams unfit to handle high volumes won”t be the best indicators of what exactly happened half a world away from Houston”s native U.S. But what of those critics? And the fan reactions (from the CBS clip, also below)?
Cut it out with the negativity, says Houston”s Aussie concert promoter Andrew McManus in a statement.
“I am personally amazed at the few who are trying to derail the project and say if they expected to hear Whitney of 20 years ago, go buy a CD, but if they wanted to see a true professional artist give 100% and have a red hot go at songs that make the greatest vocalists shrink, well come along and enjoy the ride of an amazing talent, on stage, letting her heart and soul out for us all to enjoy… What happened to the Australian positive support of someone who has seen difficult times, and is now up on stage, warts and all, presenting herself like an open book for the world to see – and they want to ridicule Whitney?”
What McManus describes in his post is at least partly true: what isn”t working here are people”s expectations of the delivered, well, product. Fans paid somewhere between what would be $85 to $175 in U.S. dollars to witness what even Houston”s label has dubbed a comeback in a 13,500-capacity arena. Did they expect the hits? Some spontaneous show of fan appreciation? For the high notes and vocal rollercoasters? For some semblance of the melodies that drew them to Houston in the first place? A bit of nostalgia?
Probably a combination of all of the above, and they had been warned: through a series of public appearances that Houston had done previous, fans should have expected that her voice has been ravaged by addiction and illness and age. Maybe it has taken Houston this many months to finally go on an official tour because she”s needed this many months to get into fightin” form, as little fight as she may have had.
This is not the first time a major pop star has disappointed the Aussie masses recently. Fans also demanded their money back from Britney Spears shows, after her obvious use lip-synching rubbed the uninitiated the wrong way.
Spears” and Houston”s fan”s expectations are exponentially amped and ravaged by the price of the ticket and the size of the arena, a space that increasingly promises pop spectacle as more dollars are demanded.
But in the case of Houston, it”s more than just money at stake: it”s her legacy at stake, as she endures into a post-peak era of her career (see HitFix Melinda Newman”s review of “I Look to You” for further evidence). These concerts are undeniably “her,” but how much of “her” is left is what leaves us troubled.
It”d be of much more comfort to Houston”s followers if she was merely ill the night she performed, but the promoters are reportedly happy with the result. If everyone”s expectations and scale adjusted to a point where Houston can actually deliver, then maybe we could all be happy.