"How Will I Know" is a song recorded by American recording artist Whitney Houston for her eponymous debut album, which was released in February 1985. The song was released by Arista Records in November that year, as the album's third single. Composed by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, the song was originally intended for Janet Jackson, but she passed on it. Houston then recorded the song with altered lyrics and production from Narada Michael Walden. The lyrics speak about the protagonist trying to discern if a boy she likes will ever like her back.

"How Will I Know" received mainly positive reviews. The song became Houston's second number one single on the United States Billboard Hot 100. It spent two weeks atop the chart and also became Houston's first chart topper on the Canadian RPM Singles Chart. Its success was worldwide: it reached the top 10 in Sweden, Ireland, Norway, and the United Kingdom, and the top 20 in the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

The song's music video features scenes of Houston dancing in a setting of video screens and colored partitions. The music video gave Houston exposure to the teens and MTV. It also received nominations at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards in the categories of Best Female Video and Best New Artist in a Video, winning the former category. The song was performed on many of her tours including Greatest Love Tour (1986) and her Nothing but Love World Tour (2009–10). "How Will I Know" is also featured as a remix on Houston's compilation album Whitney: The Greatest Hits (2000), whereas the original version is featured on The Ultimate Collection (2007) and I Will Always Love You: The Best of Whitney Houston (2012; remastered).

Background and recording

Originally, songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam had written the song's demo for Janet Jackson, employed by A&M Records executive, John McClain.[1] However, after hearing the song, Jackson's management passed on the song, feeling it was too weak in comparison to her other material. In an interview with Fred Bronson, Merrill expressed his feelings after learning of Jackson's decision. "We were pretty upset because we thought it was perfect for her at the time. We had written it with her completely in mind."[1] During this period, Brenda Andrews, at Almo-Irving Music, Merrill and Rubicam's publisher, played the song for Gerry Griffith, the director for R&B music at A&M and Arista Records. Griffith, who was compiling material for Houston's debut at the time, felt the song perfectly matched her sound. He soon contacted Andrews and the song's two writers and implored that they should relinquish the song to him for Houston's debut album.[1] Griffith described his discovery of the song, and what he and Clive Davis thought of it:

"We had a lot of R&B-based tunes, we had a few ballads, but we didn't have a pop crossover song. So when I heard 'How Will I Know,' I said 'this is absolutely perfect.' I played it for Clive [and] he fell in love with it. I wasn't very familiar with her family background; I didn't realize that, even at that time, there was a pretty big industry buzz about her future."[1]

After getting permission to use the song from Merrill, Griffith quickly turned to Narada Michael Walden, who was producing Aretha Franklin's "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)", for her album Who's Zoomin' Who?, at the time.[1] After getting in touch with Walden, Griffith frantically implored him to produce the song, describing how important the song would be for Houston's future album. After hearing the song's demo, Walden agreed to fly down to San Rafael, California to arrange it. He was not much impressed with the demo and requested permission to change some of the song's lyrics and chord progression. Flustered by his request, Merrill and Rubicam denied him the right to their song.[1] After a lot of back-and-forth with Griffith, they compromised and allowed Walden to de-construct the song and change the key and tempo. After completing the song, Houston came into the studio to record her vocals. Cissy Houston, the singer's mother, joined her daughter to perform the song's background vocals. Griffith explained:

"I asked Whitney to sing on the background session. She was reluctant because she wanted to enjoy hearing her mother sing. I said, 'No, get out there and sing,' so she did. The background sounded incredible...Clive Davis heard the mix and immediately gave it a 10, which is outrageous for him, because he doesn't like anything!"[1]

The tenor saxophone is played by Premik Russell Tubbs.[2]


"How Will I Know" is composed in a 1980s dance beat.[3] Rolling Stone described the song as "perky synth-funk".[4] According to Kyle Anderson of MTV, the song found Houston hitting an "incredible groove".[5] It is written in the key of G flat major.[3] The beat is set the time signature of common time and moves at a fast tempo of 120 beats per minute.[3] The song also has the sequence of G-Bm7-G/C-D-Em-D as its chord progression.[3] Houston's vocals in the song span from the note of E4 to the high note of G5.[3] Lyrically, the song speaks about the protagonist trying to discern whether a boy she likes will ever like her back.[6] She is also hesitant, because her friends tell her "love can be deceiving", and she is so shy that she cannot phone him.[6] Later, she feels that it might be a dream, but realizes that "there's no mistaking", and that what she feels is really love.[6]


Critical reception

The song mainly garnered positive reviews from critics, with some noting it as a standout on the album.[7] Don Shewey of Rolling Stone commented "Although it's awfully reminiscent of the Pointer Sisters' 'He's So Shy', 'How Will I Know' is still irresistibly danceable."[8] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote "...what really impresses some 20-plus years on are the lighter tracks, particularly the breakthrough single 'How Will I Know'."[7] While listing Houston's top five songs of the 1980s, Steve Peake of About.com gave the song a positive review, writing, "Houston's boppy, peppy numbers tend to suffer from a particularly dated sound compared to her ballads, but this song still works remarkably well because of its lush melody throughout the verse, bridge and chorus." "[t]his track helps Houston prove that she knows how to interpret, with great skill, tunes that display solid craftsmanship," he added.[9] While reviewing the Deluxe Anniversary Edition of the album, Mikael Wood of Entertainment Weekly commented on the a cappella version of the song noting, "a cappella mix of 'How Will I Know' [that] displays the singer's precision long before the advent of Auto-Tune."[10] While reviewing The Ultimate Collection, Nick Levine of Digital Spy added, "Houston's floor-fillers have aged a little more gracefully, although their clunky, thudding drum sounds are as unmistakably eighties as Joan Collins' Dynasty wardrobe."[11] The song was voted number twelve in VH1's List of Greatest Songs of the 1980s.[12][13]

Chart performance

"How Will I Know" was released by Arista Records in November 1985 as the third single from Houston's self-titled debut. It debuted at number 60 on the US Billboard Hot 100, on the December 7, 1985 issue.[14] Nine weeks later, it peaked at number one on the issue dated February 15, 1986, becoming Houston's second number one single in the US.[1] It displaced Dionne Warwick's "That's What Friends Are For", and was displaced by "Kyrie" by Mr. Mister.[1] It stayed on the peak for two weeks.[1] The song also debuted on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs at number 60 and later peaked at number one, a peak it maintained for one week.[14] On the issue dated January 25, 1986, "How Will I Know" entered the Hot Dance Club Play charts at number 30 and later peaked at number three on the February 22, 1986 issue.[14] It also peaked at number one on the Adult Contemporary charts.[14] Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the single Gold on December 6, 1995, for shipments of 500,000 copies or more.[15] It ranked number six on the Billboard Year-End charts. In Canada, the song debuted at number 80 on the RPM Singles chart on the issue dated December 14, 1985.[16] It later peaked at number one on the week dated March 1, 1986, becoming Houston's first number one single in Canada.[17] It was later certified Gold by Canadian Recording Industry Association on May 1, 1986, for shipments of 200,000 copies or more.[18]

The song performed well in other countries. In United Kingdom, the song debuted at number 36, during the week of January 25, 1986, and later peaked at a position of number five.[19] It was also certified Silver by British Phonographic Industry (BPI).[20] According to MTV UK and Ireland, the single has sold about 280,000 copies in the United Kingdom.[21] In New Zealand, the song debuted at number 35 on the Singles chart and later peaked at number 19.[22] In Austria, the song reached a peak position of number 28,[22] while reaching a peak of number 12 in the Netherlands.[22] The song also reached number two in Norway and Sweden, while charting at number 11 in Switzerland.[22] According to Allmusic, "How Will I Know" has sold about 1.5 million copies worldwide.[23]

In Australia, "How Will I Know" was released as the first single from the album, in mid 1985. It spent a solitary week in the Kent Music Report top 100 chart at number 97 in July 1985,[24] before re-entering the chart in February 1986, eventually peaking at number two.[25]

Music video

The music video for "How Will I Know", directed by Brian Grant and choreographed by Arlene Phillips,[26] was filmed prior to the release of the single and album.[27] Unlike her previous music videos, Houston was given the opportunity to move beyond the staged performance settings to demonstrate elementary dance moves.[27] The video is set against a strikingly designed, vividly colored setting of video screens and partitions.[27] Houston's hair is dyed a honey color, and is held up by a dazzling colored bow.[27] She is also seen accented by a tight, sleeveless gray dress made of metal mesh, reaching almost to her knees, accessorized with matching arm-bracelets.[27][28] Houston is also seen interacting with animated dancers, in black outfits and wearing French-style makeup.[28] The video also has a scene of splattering of paint and it's dripping down the screen.[28] Houston's label-mate and family friend Aretha Franklin also makes a cameo appearance in the music video.[28] In 2011, Kyle Anderson of MTV wrote that the video was "eye-opening to watch her cut loose in a fun environment," since her previous songs were ballads.[5]

The music video was her first to received heavy rotation on MTV[29] [30] Also, the video was nominated for two awards at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, in the categories of Best New Artist in a Video and Best Female Video, winning the latter.[31]

Live performances

Houston performing on her "Nothing but Love World Tour", in Milan, Italy

Houston performed the song throughout the entire run of her Greatest Love Tour (1986), Moment of Truth World Tour (1987–1988), Feels So Right Japan Tour (1990), I'm Your Baby Tonight World Tour (1991), The Bodyguard World Tour (1993–1994), and My Love Is Your Love World Tour (1999). She also recently performed the song on her Nothing but Love World Tour (2009–2010). Apart from the concert tour performances, Houston has performed the song on various other occasions like the Third MTV Video Music Awards (1986), where she sang "How Will I Know" and "Greatest Love of All",[31][32][33] Thirteenth Annual American Music Awards (1986),[34] and 1987 BRIT Awards.[35] The latter performance is included in the 2014 CD/DVD release, Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances.[36] On May 15, 1987, during her European promotion for then-new album, Whitney, Houston sang the song at the Montreux Golden Rose Rock Festival: IM&MC Gala with two other 1986 released songs, "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go".[37] She appeared on The Mike Douglas Show, taped in Philadelphia, and performed "How Will I Know".[38] On her Moment of Truth World Tour, she participated in the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert and performed the song with other seven songs. She also performed the song on "Welcome Home Heroes", a concert dedicated to the US troops, their families, and military and government dignitaries in honor of those returning from the Gulf War, which aired on HBO on March 31, 1991.[39][40] The concert was taped and later released as a VHS on May 14, 1991.[39] She also performed the song on The Concert for a New South Africa, three concerts to honor President Nelson Mandela, in 1994. Houston later performed the song on the closing ceremonies of the 1994 World Cup along with five of her other songs.[41] In 2000, she performed the song on Arista's 25th Anniversary, along with "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)".[42]

Track listing

Credits and personnel

Charts and certifications

See also

Preceded by
"That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne & Friends
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
February 15–22, 1986
Succeeded by
"Kyrie" by Mr. Mister
Preceded by
"The Sweetest Taboo" by Sade
Billboard Adult Contemporary number-one single
February 15, 1986
Succeeded by
"Sara" by Starship


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  • Parish, James Robert (2003), Whitney Houston: The Unauthorized Biography, Aurum Press, ISBN 978-1-85410-921-7 
  • Bowman, Jeffery (1995), Diva: The Totally Unauthorized Biography of Whitney Houston, Harper Collins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-100853-2 
  • Bronson, Fred (2003), The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, Billboard Books, ISBN 0-8230-7677-6 

External links