The Queering Of Whitney Houston: Planningtorock’s “How Will I Know” Tribute Remix

Whitney Houston died on February 11, 2012, a little over five years ago.

I remember biking past the Beverly Hilton days after her passing, finding the sidewalk covered in flowers and memorials to the fallen pop star. It was a known tragedy, the sort of situation where you read the end of a book but then hope and hope and hope that you never reach the end: that was Whitney’s fate. She was an unrivaled talent and, as I biked passed the hotel that week, all those flowers spoke long, personal eulogies about how important she was to them.

Whitney was a remarkable gift to LGBTQ people, too. Not only was she a gay icon and ally, rumors of Houston being a bisexual herself have swirled for decades. Some conspiracy theorists have gone so far to say that Whitney’s personal tragedies were the result of her suppressed sexuality. While we may never know the truth, Whitney will always be in the orbit of queerness as an artist whose work was constantly about seeking and being devoted to love.

Lumping this altogether in the mind comes another queer icon in their own right, Planningtorock, who must have a connection to Whitney beyond being a music fan. The artist (semi-)recently shared a surprising gift with fans by way of remixing Whitney. The result is a bizarre yet captivating tribute remix of “How Will I Know.” At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it is one of the most significant musical retweaks of a work in a very long time.

The remix is about balancing extremes. PTR pitches down Whitney’s vocals and uses them as the central structure for the song, following the logical flow of the hit with only minor deviations. Instead of dwelling around the same eighties sonic dancescapes, PTR takes it to an alien cantina, perhaps Mos Eisley, where a funky synth organ marches the song along. PTR builds the song into a swelling of homespun electronics that at both times feel handcrafted and quaint while epic and overwhelmingly everywhere. At three and a half minutes, the remix captivates and requests itself go on a loop for a couple of hours. It’s a fascinating song that occupies both a cerebral honoring of a musician while suggesting a new generation take the dance floor.

All this is to say that an hour or so of this sound, of this sort of queer music, is exactly what we need in the world. The song originally was released via Soundcloud in Summer of 2017 but is only now available for purchase—and it is probably the best dollar you will spend all year. It’s similar to other high/low mashings like Gavin Russom remixing Britney Spears and Tiga’s covering Nelly and Alan Braxe and Fred Falke remixing Kelis: these are two artists that are otherwise opposites, brought together to make something truly mesmerizing given the time and place of both artists. We can add PTR’s “How Will I Know” to the list.

This is also a very clear request for PTR’s sequel to 2014’s All Love’s Legal, an album that is just as important now as it was when it was released. (Similarly, the album came out in February three years ago: clearly, February for Jam is an important time.) Enjoy the song and I highly, highly, highly recommend you buy it for repeated consumption.

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