Song 49: Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”Posted: February 19, 2013
I’m a musician, and when I play guitar and sing somewhere, I usually end the set with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” I do this not only because I think it’s a good song, but because I love watching people look over from their conversations, their game of pool, or their phone, because it’s slowly dawning on them that the dude up there is singing a Whitney Houston song. Usually, it’s a look of confusion followed by a look of recognition, and almost always completed with a look of enjoyment.
Why enjoyment? I’m not being falsely modest when I say that it’s not me. You love this song. I love this song. We all love this song, and there’s no sense in denying it. This is a great song.
The weird thing about “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” that effervescent pop hit that immediately brings to mind a bouncing, eternally youthful Whitney Houston, is that it’s pretty fucking sad. Reading the lyrics without hearing the song, you’d be forgiven in thinking it’s a cry-in-your-beer ballad by Hank Williams (except for the “I need a man” part). The fact that the words are paired with the synth-happy bubblegum sound is very strange, but of course, it works like gangbusters.
This song was the first single from Whitney Houston’s second record Whitney, which also features “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” and “I Get So Emotional.” The album was at the top of the Billboard 200 chart for 11 consecutive weeks, a monster success that was all set into motion by this song.
According to Wikipedia, the song’s co-writer, Shannon Rubicam, decided that “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” would be different from other love songs about dancing: “I pictured somebody single wishing that they could find that special person for themselves. It wasn’t, ‘I wanna go down the disco and dance,’ really. It was, ‘I wanna do that dance of life with somebody’.” In the meantime, the narrator is seriously bummed out. The sun’s going down, he or she needs to chase some blues away, and then there’s “I’ve done alright up to now, it’s the light of day that shows me how/ and when the night falls, loneliness calls.” With all that daylight talk, maybe this is a song about Seasonal Affective Disorder. (I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s probably not what Rubicam had in mind, but I call ’em like I see ’em.)
The video doesn’t seem to know what to do with all these feelings, especially as they apply to the super-poppy song they’re in, and the result is a hilarious mixture of ideas thrown at a wall. Black-and-white angst! A series of guys twirling near a coat rack! Fireworks! Maybe we can be generous and say that this confusing melange of tired clichés is meant to illustrate the confusion that accompanies the difficulties of finding companionship, especially companionship as depicted in popular culture. Let’s do that! Whew.