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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Houston Tops Off Record Night With Show's Highlight

December 10, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whitney Houston might consider changing the title of her recent hit from "I'm Every Woman" to "I'm Every Winner," based on the number of trophies she took home from Wednesday night's Billboard Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre.

The number of statuettes added to Houston's mantle, 11, set a record for the 4-year-old ceremony. The sweep came as no surprise, since the Billboard Awards are based strictly on sales and radio airplay. It didn't take an abacus to figure Houston's recording of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You"--which broke a record for the number of weeks situated atop Billboard's pop chart--would clean out nearly every category besides rock, rap or country.

For her climactic performance at the ceremony, though--televised on Fox TV from the Amphitheatre--the singer instead chose "I Have Nothing," a disingenuous anthem of co-dependency she subsequently dedicated not to her husband, Bobby Brown, and their daughter (who received profuse love sonnets each trip to the podium) but the fans: "I'd like to thank everyone watching at home," she cooed, "because there would be no me without you."

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Brown--like his wife, dressed in bright red--leaped up and led the standing-O once she kicked into the song's key change. Houston's physically stationary, vocally mobile approach to the ballad--backlit behind the mike in a she-got-back-her-figure-flattering gown--effectively heightened the tune's diva dramaturgy, making it an easy highlight in a night otherwise short on compelling performances.

Two all-star medleys provided the greatest novelty: Country lights Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood and Suzy Bogguss combined for a pleasantly underwhelming tribute to the Eagles. Far better was the bottom-heavy medley of seven No. 1 R&B hits arranged by Teddy Riley and featuring lively, too-brief turns by SWV, Tag Team, Brian McKnight, H-Town, Wreckx 'N Effect, Robin S and Zhane.

As close as the show got to alternative rock was with 4 Non Blondes' "What's Going On," featuring a terrifically passionate performance by singer Linda Perry, even if her pedestrian lyric didn't deserve it. The same went for Michael Bolton's show-opening "Said I Loved You . . . But I Lied": a fine, much less-hyped than usual delivery, and as nonsensical as a lyric comes. Rod Stewart (who was presented a career achievement award by Sean Penn) did a plugged-in and standing "Having a Party," which turned out fairly anticlimactic.

Once again there was the indication that host Phil Collins might not be a bad monologuist if someone would write him some material instead of embarrassing random Leno rejects about Heidi Fleiss, John Wayne Bobbitt and the like. He did prove that having a No. 1 in Billboard doesn't necessarily make one a household name, as he stood in for much of watching middle America in stumbling through the name "Snoopy Dog Dogg" as the butt of a gag.

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