What is there even to say? The last thing that a tribute so soon after Whitney’s death, one under circumstances that are just going to get more uncomfortable to watch, needs is even more carping or comparisons. Too many people have already ensconced all of Whitney Houston’s songs in ’80s spandex and schmaltz and talent-show judging, called them distant or impenetrable or other things that aren’t supported by actual listening (it’s telling that one of the Houston clips people responded to most, after the fact, was an isolated vocal track.) Anything short of immaculate wouldn’t have been enough for them. But it’d also be missing the point–among Houston’s greatest legacies is her influence on later artists–indeed, how many latter artists might not be artists were it not for her influence–and any tribute would be as much about that as her actual, still-resplendent voice.
So what we got: “I Will Always Love You,” on a bare stage, with Jennifer Hudson singing as well as Jennifer Hudson possibly can, which is very well, and ending it with “Whitney, we love you.” Was it a Whitney Houston performance? It was never going to be a Whitney Houston performance, logically (this happened just yesterday, remember) or otherwise. It was never going to be about Jennifer Hudson either–by design. It was one of Houston’s many admirers paying tribute, sincerely, with everything she had. If you found the Grammys not sufficiently reverent, there are plenty of other things to blame.