1988 Countdown #80: Whitney Houston, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”


A deliveryman stands outside Whitney Houston’s dressing room: we can tell it’s her room because it’s got “WHITNEY” and a star engraved on the frosted glass. This implies that Houston’s abandoned her pop-music career in favor of starring in a Broadway show–or maybe she has “venue will provide artist with a specially made door with personally engraved glass” written into her contract rider for wherever she performs.

The deliveryman doesn’t knock, but Houston opens the door anyway, smiling and excited. When she sees who it is, her face falls and she pouts. As if that weren’t rude enough, she takes the box without tipping the guy.

In the dressing room, Houston sits down by an old-fashioned backstage mirror. She opens the box to reveal a bouquet of white roses and pulls out an envelope. Reading the note, she gasps. We see a closeup of the handwritten note (which also reveals that Houston’s manicure features clear polish and is quite restrained): “Goodbye / XXX / I.”


So the central mystery of the video is revealed: What does the “I” stand for? Ike? Isabel? Iggy? Perhaps Houston has adopted the Rastafarian concept of “I and I” and has sent herself the flowers?

Houston gazes off forlornly into the distance and closes her eyes: looks like it’s time for a flashback! Dissolve to a black-and-white sequence of Houston on a date at a café. She’s with a guy. He’s shot over the shoulder, but he seems good-looking enough. Let’s call him Iggy. In the foreground, chairs have been put upside-down on the tables, telling us that these crazy kids have been talking for so long, they’ve lost track of the time. They appear to be drinking glasses of water. You know how the hours just fly by when you’ve had a bit too much water.


Next flashback: Iggy (off-camera) gives Whitney a white rose. She’s wearing a big white fur wrap. She holds the flower to her nose and smiles, pleased that her sense of smell still works.

Back to the color stock and the present day, where Houston puts one of the delivered white roses to her nose, and then leans her head back, overcome by emotion. She, by the way, is wearing a very short black dress with a white wrap around the shoulders: it looks so constricting, I’m a little surprised she can get that flower up to her nose. Nevertheless, Houston looks totally cute: at age 24, she still had her baby fat and a bit of a dewy look, as opposed to the terrifying lich-diva she would become.

We hit the chorus, and go back to black-and-white: Houston’s in a studio, singing into a microphone dangling from the ceiling. She’s got her hair up, a blouse with a plunging neckline, and some extra-glossy lipstick. The camera pivots around her and the microphone; she keeps turning with it so she can sing into the lens. We eventually wheel around to a studio door, which opens, revealing a silhouetted man wearing a suit: hi, Iggy!


A transitional shot of Houston walking around her dressing room, showing off her legs, leads us to more flashbacks: Whitney puts on a big white hat, while Iggy inspects the brim. Whitney and Iggy sit at a coffee bar with two mugs. This profile shot is our clearest view of Iggy so far. He remains mostly off-camera–clearly, they want him to be an undefined presence in this video, presumably so people can imagine whoever they want to be standing in his shoes. Whitney and Iggy move on to a pool hall: she’s now wearing a leather jacket and a small black cap. Grinning, she leans over the pool table with a cue, about to break. Before we can see her billiard skills, we move on to a closeup of her hands on another date: Iggy’s hands slowly but brazenly move over hers. A smile plays on her lips, taking us into the chorus again.

This time Houston sings it as she walks through her dressing room, idly running her left hand through the outfits on a garment rack. She keeps looking over her right shoulder at the camera, making sure it’s following along with her. The chorus of this song is catchy, and gives Houston a chance to belt out dramatically–an opportunity, of course, that she grabs with both hands. In general, though, this is a generic R&B ballad of the period, with unmemorable verses and way too much synth. It was produced, as usual, by Clive Davis’s designated knob-twiddler, Narada Michael Walden. (Fun fact: Walden appended the “Narada” to his name because he’s a devotee of guru Sri Chinmoy.)


Another b/w flashback: now Houston’s wearing a black dress with white roses sewn onto them, which isn’t particularly subtle thematically, but shows nice attention to detail by the wardrobe department. We return to color and the dressing room for the song’s bridge, and then go back to black and white for a sequence where Whitney and Iggy go ballroom dancing on the landing of a grand staircase. Then a train station where Iggy’s leaving: Whitney embraces him, and oddly, gives him a chaste peck on the cheek. Lots of steam billows across the screen.

Back in the dressing room, Houston takes a single white rose and her jacket, which she slings over her shoulder. She leaves the room and walks down the hallway past flight cases stenciled “Whitney,” just in case we forgot her name.

And then Iggy comes back (still mostly in silhouette). I can only assume that he wants to make sure that his roses arrived. (“Uh, did you get that note where I broke up with you? Okay, great, I gotta go catch another train.”) But Houston smiles and gazes at him longingly, lips parted. The white rose falls to the ground. Houston sings the final words of the song (“you still care for me”) to Iggy. He puts his arm around her and they walk away as the synthesizers swell. Unfortunately, we never find out whether Houston was any good with a pool cue.


“Where Do Broken Hearts Go” hit #1 (staying there for two weeks). It was Houston’s seventh #1 single in a row, breaking a record jointly held by the Beatles and the Bee Gees. Narada Michael Walden said at the time, “There are seven lower worlds and seven higher worlds. With Whitney’s seventh in a row, she takes all of us to that seventh higher world. This is the place that all broken hearts go for inner nourishment, inner satisfaction, inner and outer peace.” You can watch the video here.

posted 25 September 2008 in 1988 and tagged , . 1 comment

One Comment Thus Far on 1988 Countdown #80: Whitney Houston, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Your video description is the first time I’ve really experienced the plot of this video, because whenever it appeared on MTV back in the day I instantly flipped the channel or left the room. I didn’t exactly love Houston when she started, but by ’88 I full-on hated her, and this song (whose chorus, unfortunately, I can still sing thanks to checkout-line radio and American Idol) is just about the worst of her late-’80s generic ballad schmaltz. (I softened on her a bit two years later on “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” still one of her few good songs.)

    For the record, she broke that Beatles/Bee Gees record only if you don’t count a single she released from the first album that was only promoted to R&B radio; it never made the Hot 100. A technicality, to be sure, but as a bigger fan of the Fabs and the BGs I’ve always retained it.

    She leaves the room and walks down the hallway past flight cases stenciled “Whitney,” just in case we forgot her name.

    That’s just Arista/Clive doing some branding: Whitney was the name of the album from which this song emanated. It followed the equally creatively titled debut album Whitney Houston. (All in, including the debacle 2002 album Just Whitney, Clive has gone to the eponymous well three times in naming Houston’s albums.)

    I think this is the last we’ll hear from Houston on this countdown, thank Jeebus: “So Emotional” straddled 1987 and 1988, but it topped the charts so close to New Year’s Day ’88 that I suspect MTV would have counted it down in their New Year’s Eve ’87 show. Fingers crossed…

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