This song is HARD. I don’t mean a fun challenge. I mean it is a belter masterpiece. I have been intensely studying it for about 3 or 4 months and I have ONCE hit the belted high notes. For you non-singy people this is a different ball game from just singing “high” notes at a normal level. For example go try to sing the hook for “Only Girl (In the World)” by Rihanna at full force…kinda hard, huh? This is higher…
When I was pre-gaming for this post I wanted to rewatch this segment of The Bodyguard (the movie this song came from, in case you weren’t alive or live under a rock) and I noticed that the lip-sync performance in the movie does not imitate belting at all, which is utterly bizarre to watch. This prompted me to go watch some live performances on the YouTube to see just how much power she was actually using to sing this song. The answer is a fucking lot.
Which almost satiated my curiosity, and frankly my need for validation that this song is fucking hard…but. Video after video…after video…after video. Even the incredibly talented goddess of melisma HERSELF does not attempt to sing it as recorded for the studio album. In every live performance I’ve watched so far, they drop the key. This results in the song not sounding that much different, and to the average pop listener maybe not noticeable at all, but makes it much easier on the vocal chords because she doesn’t have to leap up to that incredible note on “close” of “don’t make me close one more door” while still leaping to a slightly more manageable note and sounding incredible (because she is). It’s a musical illusion that saves voices and embarrassment. (And by the way Rihanna does the same thing in her live performances of “Only Girl.”)
I bring this up not to disparage the approach, but rather to reinforce that these studio vocal gymnastics are HARD. We have no idea how many times it took these professionals to reach up there and make it happen for the record, so it’s kind of foolish to say “oh I’m no (insert Diva here)” –you might be!! Even they don’t hit those spectacular notes on most days, or reliably enough to bet on it in a live setting.
This is why “I Have Nothing” is such a demanding song that I obsess over. The crown jewel of The Bodyguard, her cover of “I Will Always Love You,” is beautiful and challenging in its own way; but “I Have Nothing” is the more stunning of the two. The gentle piano harmonies, the punching horns, all just caress the roller coaster of emotions. But to be honest, the musical accompaniment could be a dump truck pouring trash and I wouldn’t give a fuck–that voice is all I hear.
If you’ve never had the privilege, check out some of these live performances–she is brilliant.
Black Girl Magic: We go to 11.