Whitney Houston's cringe-inducing comeback

At the singer's long-awaited British debut, "I Will Always Love You" has never sounded quite so painful

Published April 14, 2010 8:45PM (EDT)

Last night, after several postponements and apparent health problems, Whitney Houston performed to a U.K. audience for the first time in over a decade. But it felt less like a "comeback" and more like scenes from a downfall.

In the following clip, Houston rambles through her iconic "I Will Always Love You." It begins a bit too casually, with Houston chugging along in a raspy voice, straining to hit the notes as the crowd sings along. Two minutes in, when we reach that spine-chilling, key-change finale, there's a dramatic pause practically long enough for a bathroom break, as Houston psyches herself up for the epic burst: Will she be able to hit those notes? Can she do it? The moment is excruciating.

Not as excruciating as what comes next. Just try not to cringe listening to Houston screech and yodel through the final minutes (yes, minutes) of the tune. Maybe it's time for the diva to pass the song on to that Taiwanese youngster, Lin Yu Chun, where it will be protected and nurtured for future generations.

By Paul Hiebert

Paul Hiebert is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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Music Whitney Houston