What you lookin' at? It's not a video for Whitney Houston's comeback single "Whatchulookinat," that's for sure.
Last Thursday, golden-throated Whitney decided at the last minute that everything intended for her first new video in two years was wrong -- particularly the script.
So even though makeup people and stylists, a full video crew and a director were all waiting on a video soundstage to start the proceedings, Houston simply said "No" and didn't show up.
As this column reported a month or so ago, "Whatchulookinat" was surreptitiously released to New York radio stations before it was supposed to see the light of day. The record, which has a pretty good groove and outstanding Houston vocals, nevertheless has difficult lyrics.
The lyrics blame the press and everyone else in the world for Whitney's constant battles with the tabloids (the National Enquirer in particular) over her alleged drug abuse and husband Bobby Brown's extracurricular activities.
When it came time to filming a version of this recording, suddenly the song's inherent problems became clear.
"They [Whitney and the director] didn't know what tone to take -- whether it should be a funny video. Or how it would be a funny video," says an insider. "So it was easier just not to do it."
Maybe Houston -- who turned 39 on Friday -- realized this was not the song to make a video for after all. Both Billboard and Entertainment Weekly panned it, the latter giving it a letter grade of F.
Radio stations, after the initial shock of receiving "Whatchulookinat," have turned a cold ear to it. According to the magazine Radio & Records, which monitors airplay, less than a handful of stations are playing the record.
Nevertheless, the cancelled shoot caused tens of thousands of dollars to fly out the window. Pfffft -- gone. That's not good since, according to one former employee, "They [Houston's office staff] do not pay their bills."
Meanwhile, there are discrepancies about whether or not Houston will make the delivery deadline on her new album, which Arista had set for a Sept. 17 launch -- in time for the Grammy Awards Oct. 1 eligibility cut-off.
Houston and Brown had been in Los Angeles, where they were supposed to be cutting tracks with Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds for the album. Some of those sessions may have been missed, I am told, causing the album to be pushed back.
"I could tell you about dozens of missed studio appointments," a former Houston associate told me -- and then did.
For Arista Records, the Houston album is incredibly important. Label head L.A. Reid, who inherited Houston, her remarkable voice and her personal problems from Clive Davis, helped OK an announced $100 million deal with the singer last year.
Even if the deal was for half that (let's say the other half was for headlines), $50 million is a lot of money. (Just ask Michael Jackson.)
Even though Arista is comfortably ensconced on the charts with Avril Lavigne, Usher and Pink, Houston is the label's franchise player. They can't afford an autumn of missed dates and bad press combined with rumors of Whitney's troubled life.
Only a couple of months ago, Houston and Brown pulled their luxury touring bus over in Fredericksburg, Va., so that Brown could be admitted to an emergency room. He was said to have been suffering from some sort of virus.
Houston and crew continued on home to New Jersey, leaving Brown to fend for himself. It was the latest of several recent mysterious hospitalizations for the 33-year-old singer.
But let's not be so quick to jump all over Brown, whom a lot of people point to as the key to Houston's problems. One source tells me the opposite: "Bobby's a great guy. He's fun to be with. He is not the trouble in Whitney's life."
But Bobby -- who found the producers for "Whatchulookinat" and has a good ear for a catchy hook -- may wind up causing problems for Houston that no one has thought of yet. According to two sources, Brown has become enamored of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
"Bobby's sister has joined Farrakhan and she's pushed for Whitney and Bobby to join up too," says one source familiar with the situation.
The word is that the couple's new bodyguard, a man named Curtis Mohammed, comes from Farrakhan's security detail.
Even on a bad day, Whitney Houston has the best voice of her generation, an instrument that has only been fractionally used so far. The lyrics for "Whatchulookinat" may not be the most ingratiating, but one listen makes it obvious she has still the chops.
As for Brown, he has incentive from Arista Records to make Whitney's album come in on time and in line with budgets. If he can do it, I've heard that Reid has promised him his own deal.
Personally, I'm rooting for both of them to pull this off. No one would be happier to let Whitney Houston sing the words "I told you so" than me.
Tipper Gore's "Ticketgate" story took on a life of its own last week.
Our source stands firm that Tipper expected free tickets, rejected a chance to buy four, then acquiesced at the last minute. Presumably Tipper and pals attended Saturday night's show at the MCI Center in Washington DC.
In the meantime, though, I must relay the message I received on Friday from Bruce Springsteen's reps, who called to emphatically deny that Bruce's camp had been approached about tickets for Springsteen's show at the MCI Center on August 10.
"If the Gores contacted the MCI Center or any other source and had a problem, we're sorry to hear about it," the reps told me. "The Gores have always been warmly welcomed at Bruce's shows."
Late last week news-wire services and New York papers reported ecstatically that Russell Simmons' "Def Poetry Jam" was coming to Broadway this fall. We told you that in this very space back on May 3.
Now if only Simmons can get his Def Soul Classics record label together. I'm told that deals with the artists -- including Barry White and Earth, Wind & Fire -- are far from complete.
White, meantime, is set to grace the cover of November's Vanity Fair with Alicia Keys, Sheryl Crow, Eve and Gwen Stefani as his pre-Christmas ornaments.
There was the great writer/director Paul Schrader with wife Mary Beth Hurt (a great actress) sitting front and center last week at Joe's Pub for Nick Lowe's acoustic show. It figures the literary Schrader -- author of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Mosquito Coast, American Gigolo and Affliction (which he also directed) -- would be a Lowe rider.
Schrader told me, before the lights went down and Lowe wowed the crowd with his lonesome-cowboy routine, that he'd fallen in love with Lowe's Dig My Mood album a couple of years before.
Dig My Mood -- on the little known Yep Roc Records -- is a classic, and part of a trilogy that includes the more recent gem called The Convincer.
At the show, which couldn't have been more perfect, Lowe even performed a solo version of "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding," later made famous by Elvis Costello. Just lovely.
Schrader's next directorial effort, Auto Focus, comes out in October, by the way. It stars Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe and advance word is very strong.