FROM THE ARCHIVE: Whitney Houston's 2000 Out Interview
By Out.com Editors
In May 2000, Out magazine published this cover story on Whitney Houston with cover and interior photography by David LaChapelle. In the story, writer Barry Walters asks Houston about the lesbian rumors that had persisted throughout her career and includes the quote: “I suppose it comes from knowing people…who are. I don’t care who you sleep with. If I’m your friend, I’m your friend. I have friends who are in the community. And I’m sure that in my days of bein’ out, hanging with my friends, having nothing but females around me, something’s gotta be wrong with that.”
“I ain’t ‘ho’-in,” says Whitney Houston, the world’s No. 1 Pop R&B goddess/potty mouth. “I ain’t suckin’ no dick. I ain’t gettin’ on my knees. Something must be wrong: I can’t just really sing. I can’t just be a really talented, gifted person. She’s gotta be gay.”
Houston’s way of addressing The Question—the one that’s been hovering over her all these years despite her marriage to Bobby Brown, despite motherhood, despite her multiplatinum, All-American, church-goin’, Kevin Costner-co-starrin’, crossed-over-to-and-from-every-which-way image—says so much more about her than her answer. An answer we’re not gonna give away right now.
Yeah, this is Girlfriend’s first big G-A-Y interview, something queer guys and gals from Kentucky to Kalamazoo have been craving since we first found Cissy Houston’s daughter, the cousin of Dionne Warwick, calling to us across the airwaves in the mid ‘80s, singing about savin’ all her love—for somebody. There’s so much more to Houston’s connection to gay culture than her much speculated upon sexual orientation, and with the release of her double-disc Greatest Hits comes an occasion to reappraise the omnipresent sister we’ve watched break records and survive trends since she became a near-instant superstar at age 21. “From ‘How Will I Know’ to ‘Love Will Save the Day,’ that girl’s gone,” says the 36-year-old singer as she sits in the lounge of Beverly Hills’ Le Meridian hotel, surveying the collection’s proposed list of tracks. “From ‘I Will Always Love You’ on, that’s a woman.”
That woman is in town for two special performances: One will take place at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammys bash, an annual dinner party thrown by her music-biz father figure, the soon-to-be-departed head of Arista, Houston’s record label. (Although Arista won’t confirm Davis’ departure, music-industry observers consider it a done deal.) The other is for the Grammy Award ceremony itself, where, it turns out, she’ll collect a Female R&B Vocal Performance statue for “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay.” Relaxing after rehearsals and costume fittings, the pop singer once knocked for being too white is decked out neck to toe in rapper-wear: an oversize designer-logo T-shirt, dark running pants, a drab, smocklike jacket. But covering her head is a checkered-cloth hat that reaches around her neck and hides her hair: It’s what old-school queens would call a “snood.” She’s also sporting a wedding ring with a diamond so huge it looks fake, as if it rolled out of a gum-ball machine. This unlikely combination of street and stage gives Houston a look that’s somewhere between Compton and Sunset Boulevard.
But it suits Houston’s Pam Grier-meets-Gloria Swanson personality perfectly. Miss Thing is intense. Her expansive, emphatic gestures suggest both boys in the hood throwing gang signs and a preacher determined to save the souls of her flock. Her facial expressions flash and pierce with the power of a woman who can charm and do battle. Remind her of a distasteful tabloid inquiry and her eyes will zero in on yours as if you, personally, dreamed up the headline and put it on the printing press yourself. Bring her back to a happy memory and she’ll share her joy with the generous familiarity of a bosom buddy. She’s sweet and not a little scary, reminiscent of the drag queens with monikers like Pepper Labeija who light up the vogue-ball documentary Paris Is Burning.
Although Houston is known for this eccentric celebrity shtick, the release of The Greatest Hits may allow her to inhabit a role that blockbuster films like 1992’s The Bodyguard and her platinum records haven’t: She may finally become hip. The second disc of The Greatest Hits features disco-tized dance mixes of her smash singles, courtesy of such dance-floor dons as David Morales, Hex Hector, Thunderpuss, Tony Moran, and Junior Vasquez.
This major foray into dance music is part of an ongoing transformation: Faced with the impossibility of matching the astronomical 36 million copies sold internationally of The Bodyguard soundtrack, Houston has since focused on narrowing the chasm between her popularity-driven past and the hip-hop-defined present, between her goody-goody marketing profile and her actual life. The pastel-clad Whitney who twirled through that wonderfully tacky “How Will I Know” video would never have allowed herself to be caught at a Hawaii airport with pot in her pocketbook, would never have collaborated with street-bred artists like Missy Elliot, Wyclef Jean, Faith Evans, and Rodney Jerkins (as she did on 1998’s comparatively gritty My Love Is Your Love), and would never have turned the party out at last year’s New York City lesbian and gay Pride celebration.
Some might view Houston’s career as a struggle to stay relevant, but Davis sees a natural artistic evolution. “You don’t unravel yourself at the beginning,” he says. “It takes years to do that. For eight years she was doing songs that fit her movie roles. She’s still unraveling and showing there’s no material—whether it be hip-hop, up-tempo, or ballad—that she cannot do.”
Whatever the reason for her latest image overhaul, the new Whitney is clicking first and foremost with a gay audience. Top 40 radio halfheartedly accepted the jerky neo-R&B of “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” (from My Love Is Your Love), but when Arista started pushing an up-tempo, circuit-ready version of the song by the tribal-house/Hi-NRG remix duo Thunderpuss, the revamped jam exploded; on MTV and VH1, the video set to the Thunderpuss version went into heavy rotation. Although Davis insists that Houston’s “always been queen of the dance floor,” she’s never had a club record this huge or this homo. “The last time that a remix was more popular than the original version was Everything But the Girl’s ‘Missing,’” notes Thunderpuss’ Barry Harris proudly. “We scrapped everything but the vocal, put her ad-libs in the forefront, and rethought the entire song.”
This latest hit, urgent and urbane, finds Houston a long way, both musically and emotionally, from her naïve if focused beginnings. “I was singing, makin’ money—an independent woman,” Houston recalls of the explosive success of her 1985 debut, Whitney Houston, which held the record for the best-selling solo female debut until Alanis Morisette came along. “I had come out of an all-girls academy, signed a contract, traveled the world—I didn’t know about pressure. I just knew what I had to do. [Snaps her fingers.] What I wanted from it. [Snap!] Now there’s pressure. Now I got a kid. I gotta try to keep her head together. I gotta nurture this soul.” Houston’s referring to Bobbi Kristina, her seven-year-old daughter with husband Bobby Brown, ex-New Edition singer and solo bad-boy who’s shared many a tabloid headline with his wife.