By 1998, the late Whitney Houston was a good 15 years into her colossally successful music career— and yet, by this point, she'd only ever released three studio albums. But as the millennium approached, the legendary diva finally decided to follow up her two eponymous 1980s efforts and 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight. And the wait proved to be worth it.
My Love Is Your Love may have only peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 (it had the misfortune to be released alongside nine other major new releases on a retail battlefield coined Super Tuesday). But the record-buying public gradually recognized that Houston was no longer just the power ballad expert; she had finally embraced the kind of innovative R&B sound they'd always wanted, and known she was capable of. And after several years away from the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, she suddenly scored three consecutive top five hits, guiding the slow-burner to platinum status four times over – and proving that Whitney Houston was back in full force.
With the contemporary R&B classic now celebrating its 25th anniversary on Nov. 17, here's a look at how Houston reasserted her status as a superstar with one of the greatest comebacks of the decade.
She Tapped The Era's Hottest Producer
Rodney Jerkins ruled the R&B scene at the turn of the century, producing monster hits for the likes of Destiny's Child ("Say My Name"), Jennifer Lopez ("If You Had My Love"), and Toni Braxton ("He Wasn't Man Enough for Me"), to name a few. But Houston was one of the first artists to recognize that his trademark staccato beats and alluring harpsichords equaled musical gold.<em></em>
Shortly after Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" put him on the map in 1998, Jerkins was tapped to work his magic on three My Love Is Your Love tracks: "Get It Back," "If I Told You That" (which also received a 2000 remix with another 1980s favorite, George Michael), and, perhaps most notably, "It's Not Right But It's Okay." Houston's work with Jenkins both helped her move away from mainstream pop and show that she still had her finger on the pulse.
She Rediscovered Her Soulfulness
Houston had famously been accused of abandoning her gospel and soul roots in favor of chasing a white pop crowd during her first imperial phase, even memorably getting booed at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1989. No one could label her a sellout with My Love Is Your Love, though.
Not only did Houston put her own spin on an all-time Motown classic, Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her," she also roped in R&B talents both established (Babyface, Lauryn Hill) and emerging (Missy Elliott, Kelly Price) to help hone a fresh, forward-thinking sound that was far removed from the adult contemporary ballads she'd made her name with. It was a move validated when the same ceremony she'd been heckled at handed her two nominations and an Artist of the Decade Award.
She Didn't Forget Her Beloved Original Sound
Houston didn't entirely eschew the blockbuster ballads that established her place alongside Celine Dion and Mariah Carey in the holy trinity of powerhouse divas. In fact, she and the latter essentially engage in a sing-off on The Prince of Egypt Oscar-winning theme "When You Believe" (which served as the lead single for the film's soundtrack, My Love Is Your Love and Carey's compilation album #1's).
Elsewhere, songwriting maestro Diane Warren delivers not just one, but two epic love songs in the shape of "I Learned from the Best," and "You'll Never Stand Alone." And Faith Evans and Kelly Price collab "Heartbreak Hotel" (despite its title, not an Elvis Presley cover) proved Houston could still out-warble those who were still in school when "Greatest Love of All" and "Saving All My Love for You" topped the Hot 100. It was a move that helped to perfectly bridge the gap between the old and the new.
She Won Her First R&B Grammy
Although Houston had previously been nominated six times in the R&B GRAMMY categories, she'd never converted any of them into wins: three of her five awards had been for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, while The Bodyguard's success helped her scoop both the Record and Album Of The Year categories of 1993. That all changed with My Love Is Your Love.
The star picked up three R&B nods, and while Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals went to TLC, Houston did take home her sixth and final GRAMMY when "It's Not Right But It's Okay" was crowned Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
She Snagged Two Fugees At The Top Of Their Game
Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill might now be better known for controversial presidential campaigns and a staggering aversion to punctuality. But back in the late '90s, they were very much R&B royalty. Both had made the transitions from chart-topping trio Fugees to solo success look effortless, particularly Hill who, a year later, would clean up at the GRAMMYs with her debut LP, The Miseducation of... And so, they proved to be an astute choice of collaborators from an artist whose street cred had long been questioned.
Wyclef gave Houston the best Bob Marley-esque jam of his career with My Love Is Your Love's title track, while his former bandmate produced the gorgeous, and hidden, closing number "I Was Made to Love Him."
She Delivered Her Most Iconic Video
From the patriotic jumpsuit she sported while belting out the National Anthem at the Super Bowl to that "accidental" fashion clash with Carey at the MTV VMAs, Houston constantly delivered as a fashion icon. But it was the video for My Love Is Your Love's third single that spawned her most iconic look.
Directed by regular cohort Kevin Bray, the "It's Not Right But It's Okay" promo sees Houston hold court in a black skin-tight corset complete with matching choker and razor-sharp bob. It was a style she replicated for one of her finest stage performances – her show-stealing display at the 1999 BRITs – and one that was also faithfully recreated in both Glee and the recent biopic I Wanna Dance with Somebody.
She Became A Club Favorite
Back in the '90s, you weren't a bona fide diva unless you got the thumping dance mix treatment: see Frankie Knuckles' take on Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart," for example, or David Morales' reworking of Carey's "My All." My Love Is Your Love undoubtedly spawned Houston's biggest club banger. In fact, for many, Thunderpuss' epic nine-minute retooling of "It's Not Right But It's Okay" is the definitive version.
But there was plenty more where that came from, with remixes from the likes of Hex Hector ("Heartbreak Hotel") and Junior Vasquez ("I Learned from the Best") giving Houston four No. 1s on the US Dance Club Songs chart within the space of just 13 months.
She Reminded Everyone Of Her Ultimate Talent
For a good six years, the only singles Houston released were movie tie-ins, a clear sign that she was focusing more on her acting career than her recording during most of the 1990s. And while she acquitted herself well in Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher's Wife, and, of course, the phenomenon that was The Bodyguard, she never quite reached the same heights on the big screen as she previously had in the studio. And My Love Is Your Love reminded everyone that her voice could still blow everyone away.
On the Missy Elliott-penned "In My Business," she's the fearsome R&B diva, warning those skeptical about her bad boy lover to mind their own. On "I Learned from the Best," she's the powerhouse balladeer, drawing upon her trademark melisma while pleading with the one who got away. And on the spiritual title track, she has a new trick up her sleeve: subtlety. This is Houston at her most expressive and most versatile — and arguably, her best.
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