“I’m Every Woman” is my favorite Whitney Houston song, recorded when she was at the peak of her professional and personal success. As expected when such heights are reached, things were to slowly but swiftly decline afterward. It’s similar to how Mike Campbell answered the question in Sun Also Rises of how he went bankrupt: “Gradually and then suddenly.” Such is the price of fame.
The song’s infectious joy is also evident in its video, which features a visibly pregnant Houston (somewhat appropriate for a song celebrating all aspects of womanhood). She shares the stage with the past, present, and future of soul music: Cissy Houston (her mother), Chaka Khan, who first recorded the song in 1978, Valerie Simpson, who co-wrote it with her husband Nickolas Ashford, and then up-and-coming group TLC (Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died in a car accident in 2002).
Houston’s decision to cover “I’m Every Woman” was bold. Growing up in an R&B household, I knew that you just didn’t try to touch Chaka. However, Houston makes the song her own — her performance is youthful (she was not yet 30) but mature and confident.
Watching this video, it’s impossible to pity Whitney Houston — no matter how “gradually and then suddenly” things ended. Few people experience the happiness she feels in this video, and I don’t think she was just acting. I’ve seen The Bodyguard.