“I Wanna Dance with Somebody” captures one of the most dramatic moments of Whitney Houston’s career and falters in the process. In the film, Houston attends the 1988 Soul Train Awards hoping to walk away with a big hit. Unfortunately, not only does she lose the Best Music Video award to Janet Jackson, she also gets a chorus of boos from audiences, many of whom blame Houston for selling out to white audiences. The scene is heartbreaking, but it’s not spot on either.
In real life, Houston lost to Jackson in 1988, but she didn’t actually attend the awards show that year. Even though she wasn’t there, the Houston crowd still gave a negative reaction (clips still exist on YouTube), and that energy didn’t wane after 1988. The next year, Houston headed to the ceremony, and her experience there was much closer to what the film depicted. In 1989, Houston lost to Anita Baker in the R&B Soul Singles category, was booed by some of the audience, and met her future husband, Bobby Brown (per Essence).
The Soul Train Awards might not have been too inviting in Houston in the late ’80s, but in 2000 she was named Artist of the Decade, so she finally got the recognition she deserved.