Whitney Houston is next in line to try recapture the glory of her 1984 to 1994 run of hits. Her new album “I Look To You” hits stores September 1.
This week in New York I had the privilege of being invited to a star-packed Allen Room at the Time Warner Center to hear the new album in advance, and have her legendary collaborator Clive Davis provide a song-by-song commentary.
Going into the evening, there was obvious skepticism. Was Whitney clean of the drugs she had been rumored to be involved in? Was she clear of the bad-girl image she had gained through her failed marriage to Bobby Brown? Was Whitney ready for the new music sound of 2009?
Musically, the album is very, very good. Collaborations with Alicia Keys, Akon, and R. Kelly have given the songs a decidedly progressive sound without losing the essence of her signature sound. They’ve also managed to avoid over-hipping Whitney Houston and trying to turn her into something she genuinely isn’t. That would have been a fatal mistake.
But the success of Whitney’s comeback isn’t entirely about the music. It rests in the story. Having great product is vital, but without a great story the great product could easily go unnoticed.
The songs on this album each share part of her story. Her fall from grace. Her failed marriage. Her struggles with drugs. Her faith. Her family. With each song she admits her mistakes, takes accountability for them, asks for forgiveness, and moves on confidently.
That’s how you rebuild a brand.
That’s how Hugh Grant overcame his scandalous rendezvous with a prostitute. He went on The Tonight Show and owned up, apologized, and moved on.
That’s how Tylenol recaptured its lead in the pain-reliever market after the 1981 poisoning of the products. They addressed it head on, voluntarily pulled all of their products, developed new tamper-proof packaging, and moved on.
I can’t say with certainty whether Whitney Houston will succeed with her comeback, but I can say that her odds are much better thanks to some very smart brand rebuilding moves.