With Whitney Houston’s televised funeral just one day away, her music sales remain at an all-time high.
Currently, Houston’s The Ultimate Collection holds a top two-album position on iTunes, and the same rings true for Whitney: The Greatest Hits on Amazon.com. In fact, the only artist currently outselling Houston is Adele, which, considering the way the soulful singer nabbed six Grammy’s last week, comes as no surprise.
Then again, maybe none of this should.
The death of an iconic artist tends to send a tremor throughout the music community and rattle the foundations of the present-day music empire. Michael Jackson’s death in the summer of 2009 brought a similar phenomenon. For weeks it was impossible to find a copy of Thriller, and if downloading wasn’t a desirable option —after all there’s something about holding a priceless work of art in your bare hands— there was a distinct waiting period while record companies scrambled to supply the high demands of eager audiences. The deaths of Amy Winehouse and James Brown also met with similar soaring music sales. It’s as if, temporarily, the often meaningless and absurd nature of modern music is put on hold while the greats are remembered.
For Houston, whose innovative vocals inspired singers like Mariah Carey and Britney Spears, a far-reaching influence is so present in 2012 that it’s impossible to dismiss her as yesterday’s news. Even for those who aren’t familiar with tracks like “The Greatest Love of All” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” or Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” probably ring a bell. Clarkson, Aguilera and other top-of-the-charts artists consider Houston a strong musical influence.
For die-hard Houston fans, her unpredictable death seems almost personal. Fans rush out to buy her memorable music, anxiously anticipate her autopsy results, and set aside time to watch her televised funeral, which will draw thousands of at-home viewers in addition to those with an actual invitation.
Yet the entire phenomenon appears to have an air of brutal reality attached to it. The fatality of a larger-than-life luminary only highlights the inevitability of death even as it immortalizes those who have gone on. Mortality becomes something tangible and eye-opening that takes the form of increased interest in the deceased and excessive music downloading, which may be why Houston’s single “I Will Always Love You” clocked in at number 7 on the Billboard 200 this week. It’s a way of holding on to the past even when faced with the uncertainty of the present.
Still, what’s truly sad about this is not Houston’s sudden death, but that it takes such a tragedy for good music to be remembered.