No one ever understood why Whitney Houston married Bobby Brown. Houston was a cultured pop princess with a golden voice, a perfect smile and polished demeanor, spit-shined by a large marketing and public relations machine (the same one she would eventually rage against). When Houston and Brown married in June 1992, she arrived at their union with a track record of proven success: three multiplatinum albums; fresh off an epic rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- a million copies sold of a song every American knew or should have known by heart; and an upcoming movie role alongside Kevin Costner. Brown was then, and still is today, a "bad ass," a term that he called himself as recently as Feb 18. That was during a performance on the evening of his ex-wife's funeral, which he'd walked out on earlier that day. But in 1992 he was known as much for being kicked out of boy band New Edition because he was unable to adopt their clean-cut R&B image as he was for singing "My Prerogative," a track that still seems to sum up his consequences-be-damned approach to the world 24 years after its release.
The prying public didn't wait for the 20/20 clarity of hindsight to say that they "knew" Brown was all wrong for Houston. It became a common refrain as soon as people heard they were dating; and when the pair divorced 15 years later, it devolved into "Finally!" or "See, I told you so!"
Blaming Bobby Brown for Houston's every misstep has also been a familiar refrain, one that didn't start when Houston died in a hotel bathtub on Feb. 11 -- just reignited. For too many, it's easier to blame Brown for Houston's downfall than it is to accept that her perfect image was a product cleverly marketed by Clive Davis and consumed eagerly by the public.
Houston's marriage to Brown didn't jibe with the branding. It was jarring, that first time she didn't seem to be in lockstep with the reigning perception of her, and we keep going back to that moment because it was pivotal for us. We'd rather stay in denial about the myriad ways we were played by a machine than be mad at Houston, who pulled the plug on the fantasy the same way Toto pulled back the curtain in Oz, revealing the Wizard to be exactly who he was: bells and whistles and, above all, human.
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