Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Kygo x Whitney Houston – Higher Love

Lower score…


Katie Gill: All I can think about while listening to this song is the concert footage of Whitney singing this same song and how vastly superior it is. Whitney Houston covering “Higher Love” is quintessential late 1980s/early 1990s. Making it sound so aggressively slick and modern just feels WRONG, especially when you get to that horribly out of place post-chorus which is seemingly added just because all 2010s EDM songs have a breakdown, so this one must have one too. Add in the fact that the remastering just isn’t all that good to begin with (does Kygo have it out for backing vocals or something?) and you’ve got a piece who’s only saving grace is Whitney Houston’s voice.

Thomas Inskeep: Both Kygo and Whitney Houston’s estate deserve the worst punishments possible for this abomination. Whitney singing “Higher Love,” notably when she was at her vocal peak ca. 1990? Sure, I’m good with that. But trop-house is not what Whitney was meant for, period, and Kygo resorts to every one of his clichés here. This is awful, and the legend deserves much better. Few singles this year have made me more viscerally angry.

Alfred Soto: When Steve Winwood wrote his first number one single “Higher Love” in 1986, he had Chaka Khan to provide the lift that his chalky, parched vocal and straitjacketed synths couldn’t achieve on their own. This salvage job of a recorded Whitney Houston cover from the I’m Your Baby Tonight era boasts the star doing a fine job on a song whose white soul boy aspirations and Houston’s alignment with blank balladry mesh all too well. What neuters it, fascinatingly, is the contemporary arrangement. We’re doomed in 1986 exile forever, aren’t we?

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I mean, this is really just the opposite of those YouTube videos where someone makes an ’80s version of a contemporary pop song. Which is to say that “Higher Love” is best understood as a novelty song whose existence proves intriguing for a single listen, and then is forgotten immediately thereafter.

Edward Okulicz: I’d never turn off the original “Higher Love” if it came on the radio, but Whitney’s studio version of it just didn’t have the magic that would have made it explode and end up as something other than a Japan-only bonus track. Modernising it has added some fun to it but it can’t solve the problem of it just being inherently okay. But if anything, Kygo’s made it worse — why would you cut up Whitney’s voice? It’s like you’ve cut a diamond into shards and pasted them together, and that’s just barbaric. Of course, diamond is also used for industrial purposes, to crush and grind things away. Kygo’s take on “Higher Love” is 100% pure bort.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Wouldn’t ever listen to this over either original version (shouts out to Steve Winwood), but it’s shockingly enjoyable. It’s the musical equivalent of White Claw — gimmicky and hyper-engineered for aesthetic thrills, but ultimately something unlikely to last beyond summer. It does, additionally, confirm my hunch that Kygo’s chopped up vocal shtick works much better when used on a substrate that isn’t Selena Gomez.

Joshua Lu: “I was trying to make it sound like something that she would’ve done, but also something that’s my style,” said Kygo to Rolling Stone, and the song’s two disparate parts reveal his success. One half displays Whitney Houston’s vocals in all of their otherworldly glory, undergirded by simple piano chords and a dash of brass. It’s predictable but pleasant; being able to just hear her long-lost studio recording of her Steve Winwood cover is worth it, and the boilerplate instrumental doesn’t get in the way. But then her voice is reduced to stutters and chirps, then subsumed by a generic trop house drop, reducing the song’s pièce de résistance to a background accessory for Kygo’s bullshit. Why would you waste Whitney vocals on production gimmicks recycled from your Selena Gomez collaboration?

Andy Hutchins: The Steve Winwood version of “Higher Love” is one of my favorite songs: It is written with eyes to the horizon, produced with patience and control that still allow for utter ebullience, has a melody so perfect that you can hear its echoes 30 years later, features contributions from Nile Rodgers and Chaka Khan, and has never failed to make me smile. It did not need a Whitney Houston cover, because Whitney being able to out-sing Steve Winwood without actual effort inevitably led her to do that while mere mortals on instruments strained to match her stratospheric highs, and the combination busted “Higher Love” at the seams; even if it’s hardly a bad version of the song, you can understand why it was relegated to Japan-only bonus track. So I’m left to believe that Kygo, born after both of those recordings, either genuinely prefers the Whitney version — which would be mystifying at a minimum, especially given his own minimalist tendencies — or, far more likely, understood the potential of tropicalizing a little-heard cover of a well-known hit (something he had experience doing with one of another lost legend’s signature songs) and found getting permission to do so from the rather accommodating Houston family to be a breeze. Had Kygo been working with Winwood’s vocals — or, and not to be crass, with Winwood, who still walks among us and performs “Higher Love” (well!) and thus might have pesky opinions — he would have of course found a rather fruitful source material for his light, delicate production, and maybe an unlikely collaborator who could have pushed him to do something genuinely transformative to a classic song. Instead, we now know what it sounds like when typically brilliant Whitney Houston vocals are chopped and drowned for a hook and backed by a drop: Fine enough, I guess, and probably better in an arena or at a festival, but far from special or essential. In this whole world, what is fair?

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12 Responses to “Kygo x Whitney Houston – Higher Love”

  1. Dang it forgot to blurb this — this sounds like an experiment to prove that you can turn ANY chorus into a bridge with enough effort.

  2. Also…Pure Bort is 100% what I am not going to call all of these dumb things.

  3. The promo picture in the image exudes the most horrifying energy

  4. the worst part is that i’m fairly certain that’s the cover art for the single, honestly who approved any of this


  6. 100% pure bort is of course what I am NOW going to call them, not “not” (sorry). Wrote more thoughts about the bort—bosh continuum here:

  7. BORT ALERT — R3HAB has somehow already put the bort to “Never Really Over” by Katy Perry and its sublime post-chorus, making R3HAB the Anti-Copperman. I am appalled.

  8. One thing that this makes me think: #justice4kellileigh

  9. Bort alert: Weezer edition

  10. does this count as bort

  11. That is DEFINITELY bort. Here is a borderline case that does feature a dumb synth hook but doesn’t quite trample on the chorus. And it uses MEG AND DIA for some reason!

  12. Another “All Star” bort!! And minor entries for Disney’s “Cinderella” and ATC (by R3hab Prince of Bortness).

    Running playlist here:

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