Why Janet Jackson Didn’t Sing Whitney Houston’s ‘How Will I Know’ Even Though It Was Meant for Her

One of Whitney Houston‘s most famous songs is the dance-pop hit “How Will I Know.” The song was initially intended for Janet Jackson. During an interview, two of the writers of “How Will I Know’ explained why Jackson did not record the song.

Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston sitting at a table
Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston | KMazur/WireImage

Why Janet Jackson’s publishing company turned down a future Whitney Houston song

“How Will I Know” was co-written by George Merrill, Shannon Rubicam, and Narada Michael Walden. During a 2012 BBC interview, Merrill discussed “How Will I Know.” “We’d had success prior to ‘How Will I Know,’ but nothing that compared,” he recalled. “That was the meteoric rise, right there. But it was originally written for Janet Jackson.”

Rubicam discussed why Jackson didn’t perform “How Will I Know.” “We were asked by our publishing company to write something for Janet’s album, and we just wrote for what we knew of Janet’s voice and style,” he remembered. “But she took such a different musical direction on that record, which became her Control album, that they turned down our song. But then Clive [Davis of Arista Records] heard it and wanted it for Whitney, who he had discovered.”

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What George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam thought when they heard Whitney Houston’s demo of ‘How Will I Know’

Merrill was concerned “How Will I Know” wouldn’t be a massive hit if it was a Houston song. “We didn’t know much about Whitney,” he said. “There was a buzz. People who had heard her and seen her were excited. But we were concerned it wouldn’t work out as well as it might have with Janet Jackson.”

Rubicam discussed what it was like to hear a rough version of Houston’s “How Will I Know” over the phone. “Even down the telephone, I’d never heard anyone sing like that,” she recalled. “Especially on one of our songs. I think our hair blew back!”

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The way the world reacted to ‘How Will I Know’

“How Will I Know” became a huge hit. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. It spent a total of 24 weeks on the chart. “How Will I Know” appeared on the album Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for 14 weeks of its 176-week run on the chart.

Jackson’s album Control was a hit as well. The biggest hit from the album was “When I Think of You.” “When I Think of You” was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks and lasted on the chart for 19 weeks. It wasn’t as popular in the United States as “How Will I Know.” Control stayed atop the Billboard 200 for two of its 106 weeks on the chart.

Merrill and Rubicam worried “How Will I Know” wouldn’t be a hit without Jackson — but it outperformed all the songs from Control.

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