How Will I Know is a song by Whitney Houston from her self-titled debut album. The song was written by George Merrill, Shannon Rubicam, and Narada Michael Walden (who also produced the song as well). The song is about the singer trying to figure out if a boy she likes will ever like her back.
The song received positive reviews and became Whitney's second number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the Canadian RPM Singles Chart for 2 weeks, becoming her first number-one song on the chart. It was also successful, reaching the Top 10 in Sweden, Norway, & the United Kingdom, and the Top 20 in the Netherlands, New Zealand, & Switzerland.
The music video for the song gave Whitney exposure to MTV and was nominated at the 1986 MTV Music Video Awards in the categories of "Best Female Video" and "Best New Artist in a Video" winning in the former category. The song was certified gold in the United States & Canada and silver in the United Kingdom.
Song Background & RecordingEdit
Songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam originally wrote the song's demo for Janet Jackson, but after hearing the song, Janet's management passed on it, feeling that it was too weak comparison to her other music material.
During this period, Brenda Andrews (from Almo-Irving Music, George & Shannon's publisher) played the song for Gerry Griffith, the director for R&B music at A&M and Arista Records and he felt the song perfectly matched Whitney's sound. He soon contacted Brenda, Shannon, and George & implored that they should relinquish the song to him for Whitney's debut album. In describing his discovery of the song and what he & Clive Davis thought about it, Gerry stated:
"We had a lot of R&B-based tunes, we had a few ballads, but we didn't have a pop crossover song. So when I heard 'How Will I Know,' I said this is absolutely perfect. I played it for Clive [and] he fell in love with it. I wasn't very familiar with her family background, I didn't realize that even at that time there was a pretty big industry buzz about her future."
After getting permission to use the song from George, Gerry quickly turned to Narada Michael Walden (who was producing "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" for Aretha Franklin's album, "Who's Zoomin' Who?" at the time). After getting in touch with him, Gerry frantically implored him to produce the song, describing how important the song would be for Whitney's future debut album.
After hearing the demo, Narada Michael Walden agreed to fly down to San Rafael, California to arrange the song. He wasn't impressed with the demo and when he requested permission to change some of the song's lyrics & chord progression, George & Shannon denied him the right to their song. After countless back & forth with Gerry, they reached a compromise and allowed Narada Michael Walden to deconstruct the song and change the key & tempo.
After the song was completed, Whitney came into the studio to record her vocals. Originally, Whitney's mother, Cissy was intended to perform the song's background vocals because Whitney wanted to introduce her mom's vocals on the track insisting on their inclusion. But after hearing the finished result, Clive felt that Whitney's voice itself fit the arrangement of the song and implored her to sing the backup vocals on her own. At first, Whitney was reluctant, but she eventually agreed and re-recorded the background vocals to the praise of both Gerry and Clive. Gerry explained:
"I asked Whitney to sing the background session. She was reluctant because she wanted to enjoy hearing her mother sing. I said, 'No, get out there and sing,' so she did. The background sounded incredible...Clive Davis heard the mix and immediately gave it a 10, which is outrageous for him, because he doesn't like anything!"
The music video was directed by Brian Grant and was filmed prior to the release of the single and album. Unlike Whitney's previous music videos, she was given the opportunity to move beyond the staged performance settings to demonstrate dance moves.
The video is set against a strikingly designed, vividly-colored setting of video screens and partitions. Whitney's hair is dyed a honey color and is held up by a dazzling colored bow, wearing a tight, sleeveless gray dress made of metal mesh, reaching almost to her knees and accessorized with matching arm bracelets. Whitney is seen interacting with animated dancers in black outfits & wearing French-style makeup.
The video also has a scene of splattering of paint dripping down the screen. Aretha Franklin (Whitney's godmother and close family friend) made a cameo in the video. The video received heavy rotation on music channels such as MTV and gave Whitney exposure to a wider audience which African-American artists at the time found difficult to achieve.
Song Chart PerformanceEdit
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||2|
|Canada (RPM 100 Singles)||1|
|Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)||5|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||12|
|New Zealand (RIANZ)||19|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||11|
|UK Singles Chart||5|
|US Billboard Hot 100||1|
|US Billboard Hot Black Singles||1|
|US Billboard Hot Dance Music\Club Songs||3|
|US Billboard Adult Contemporary||1|
|US Billboard Hot 100||49|