You can't grow up as a child of the 80s without hearing Whitney Houston (or Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Madonna, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Culture Club, Lionel Ritchie, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Pet Shop Boys ok Manu we get the picture, save those for another blog post).
I was reminded of this song while out to dinner the other night with colleagues in Christchurch at the Town Ball (great venue for rugby mad fans). Funnily enough, it was only that night that I saw for the first time, the music video. Maybe I had seen it but couldn't really remember it, I'm not really sure. The video follows Whitney preparing for her great moment in the spotlight on stage, juxtaposed and superimposed with "young Whitney". Having her mother side-stage or in the wings also shows that she had someone who believed in her while she embarked on her journey as a singer.
The first verse of the song is something that I've thought about often in my teaching career; when I've thought about the quiet students in my Social Studies, English or Music classes who seemed shy, scared or disengaged, especially during the lines "show them all the beauty they possess inside, give them a sense of pride to make it easier". As adults we sometimes forget how hard it is sometimes to be kids (and probably why teachers become teachers, as they enjoy working with children and are "student whisperers" and really understand where kids are coming from).
The next verse however shows that Whitney growing up couldn't find a role model to look up to and had to rely on herself, to live up to her own expectations. Is this because people thought she wouldn't amount to anything and nobody nurtured her talent or recognised that she had a gift? Did she not have any friends or peers around her that she could find common interests with? I keep thinking, man if she was a Pacific Islander, she would've had quite a few cousins and she would've never have felt lonely (extended families abound).
The pre-chorus (the first four lines of the chorus technically) seems to be the turning point - the realisation that the pathway to success is to be yourself and lead your life with dignity. When she sings "I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow", you start to hear the confidence building. In the repeat of this section. the variation during the second "I" of "If I fail, if I succeed" confirms that the rising confidence is now self-assured. Enter the chorus with the broadening of "the gr--ea---te---st" - shifting the music into an almost anthem-like feel before it returns to normal speed at "love of all". Musically this is clever, because it suggests that even though at some points in your life you may feel lonely, but once you find love, it can set your life back into motion, a tempo and become the one constant in one's life.
Whitney sings about love happening to her, coming from inside of her and that loving herself is the greatest love of all. This could've been the message that her mother whispered to her in the wings while watching her performance or a promise that Whitney made to herself before she took the stage or something that she would've said when she people doubted that she would succeed. I guess if people around you don't make you feel loved, as long as you love who you are and truly be yourself- that's the greatest love of all. Whatever the case may be - wherever and whatever way love comes, trust in the love and the worth that you place on yourself. If you can teach that to kids, then they will be well prepared for their futures.