Hit Parade

I’m Your Whitney Tonight Edition

Whitney Houston’s chart history helps explain why she was so unprecedented—and remains so controversial.

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About the Show

Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia, and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts, and shaped your memories forever.

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  • Chris Molanphy is a feature writer and critic who writes widely about music and the pop charts.

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Episode Notes

Eight years after her passing—and 35 years after the release of her debut album—Whitney Houston is about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Predictably, some rock fans have carped that Houston doesn’t belong in the Hall. But they are not the only ones who, historically, have complained about Houston’s bona fides. In the ’80s, at the apex of her success, black fans complained that Houston was courting white pop fans too eagerly, and forgetting her roots in gospel and R&B.

On the charts, by contrast, Whitney Houston’s achievements are indisputable. But they also might be underrated. Houston’s chart records offer a window into exactly how she crossed over…and whether she deserved the backlash. In this episode, Chris Molanphy walks step-by-step through Whitney’s storied chart records—including a couple that have gone unheralded—that help explain why she was a seminal, singular figure among black female crossover stars, from Aretha and Diana to Beyoncé.

Podcast production by Justin D. Wright.