Thursday, January 16, 2014

Divas vs. Queers

What happens when openly gay singers dare to cover songs made famous by divas?

The Song: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"

It was the first single from Whitney Houston's second studio album, Whitney, released in 1987. Topping the charts in over a dozen countries, the recording also won Houston a Grammy and an American Music Award. Despite widespread commercial success, critical response was mixed. While the Los Angeles Times called it "a deliciously raucous tune," The New York Times declared that listening to it was like "watching television while someone fiddles with the color controls." But a quarter of a century later, lots of people consider it to be a definitive example of '80s dance-pop. Frankly, I hate her version (and the video doesn't help). Loud and feverish, it sounds like the aural equivalent of a convulsion rather than a sincerely expressed desire to dance with someone. But I realize I'm in the minority there.

At the time of it's release I remember telling a friend that it might be tolerable if someone besides Houston turned it into a ballad. I got my wish in 2012 when openly gay singer Matt Alber took the song in a whole new direction. Haunting and elegant, Alber grounds it in recognizable, relatable emotion.

His cover of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" is available on iTunes or cdbaby.

I saw Matt Alber live in 2013. If you ever get the chance to see him perform, go -- he's sexy, affable and truly gifted.

Matt Alber (photo courtesy of his official Facebook page)

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