Flashback Video: 'How Will I Know' by Whitney Houston

Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another. This issue we will cover "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston. "How Will I Know" was the third single released from her debut album in November of 1985 and it was her first hit that wasn't a ballad giving her exposure to a wider audience. It became her second single to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it spent two weeks at the top of the pop chart in February 1986. "How Will I Know" also became an international hit reaching the Top 5 in eight other countries. The music video and its exposure on MTV drove the song's popularity and the video went on to win Best Female Video at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. The "How Will I Know" music video was directed by Brian Grant and choreographed by Arlene Phillips. We definitely get to see a different side of Whitney Houston. Unlike her past videos which were ballads, Houston was given the opportunity to have a little more fun and even move/dance around compared to just staged performance settings. There are bright colors splashed all over and includes a much different look for Whitney herself. You may catch that Houston's labelmate and family friend Aretha Franklin even makes a quick cameo appearance towards the end ("because you know about these things"). Here is the music video for "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston...



As mentioned, the music video was directed by Brian Grant who was one of the most prolific music video directors of the decade. I had the privilege of an interview with Brian Grant and asked him about Whitney and "How Will I Know" and here is a portion of what he had to say: I was in Los Angeles at a music conference where I was on a panel with some other directors. Afterward, I was approached by Peter Baron from Arista Records who I had known from some previous work I did with Arista. He told me they had this brand new young artist on the label named Whitney Houston. He said this was her first album, she was just nineteen and asked me if I would be interested in making a video with her. By this time, I had gotten a reputation for shooting women, as a photographer and a director for making people look good. I think that helped. Anyway, I listened to the song and thought it was a great piece of pop music. So I said yes. The concept came from a play on the words, how will I know, which led me to the idea of a maze as a metaphor for relationships. The set was basically a lot of panels made of plastic and all of those bright colors are just printer's ink thrown on there by an art director. Whitney came over to London. Lovely Whitney that she was at just nineteen. Absolutely beautiful. Absolutely lovely to work with. Nothing bad had happened to her at this point. She had come from gospel and had been brought up well. She had great manners. She had no entourage, just one friend with her. I had a technique that I always used when I shot women. No matter what other ideas we had going on, I always would spend an hour and shoot what I called a master close up of them singing the song all the way through. I'd light it and operate the camera myself and it would almost be like a photographic session. It was very personal. I would always clear the studio and it would be just me and the artist. She'd sing the song to me, basically. I still remember the first time I was looking through the lens and Whitney looked into the camera and just smiled. My knees wobbled and I thought, my, that is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. When you stand that close to someone like that, it is quite astonishing. Her voice was absolutely amazing. It was the most incredible sound. Arlene Phillips choreographed all of the dancers. What we discovered, interestingly enough, was that Whitney really couldn't dance. She had good rhythm, but couldn't put one foot in front of the other. Arlene recognized that, so she surrounded her with other great dancers from England. Then we made sure that she felt comfortable and had as much fun as we could. We could hide her dancing in the edit, but what was important is that she looked great and had a good time. Which you can tell that she did and it was a hit.

The song and the music video really enabled Whitney Houston to fully crossover into a pop superstar. "How Will I Know" as well as her next non-ballad hit "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" were both written by the team of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam also known as Boy Meets Girl. I have also had the pleasure of an interview with that duo and I recommend checking that out so you can find out even more. Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!

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