The Song “How Will I Know?”, a 1985 song penned by George Merrill, Shannon Rubicam and Narada Michael Walden, and sung by Whitney Houston on her debut album. It was originally intended for Janet Jackson, who astutely turned it down, perhaps instinctively sensing the cardio-spiritual mayhem lurking in this deceptively effervescent song.

The Culprit

I say a prayer with every heartbeat”.

Whitney likes a boy, to the extent that she dreams about him. She likes him so much, in fact, she prays they will be as one. She doesn’t confine this petitioning of the Lord to Sunday, however, or even before bed each night. No, she says a prayer with every heartbeat. Greatest love of all, or waiting to exhale? With our finger firmly on the pulse, it’s time to get busting.

Matters of the Heart
Her heart beats about 110,000 times per day, providing she doesn’t get excited. This means, of course, she needs to say 110,000 prayers per day, every day…presumably until she and her crush are together (given she’s a prayin’ kinda girl, it’s probably not “together” in the biblical sense).

Speaking of Biblical, which prayer is she uttering? It’s a safe bet it’s not the Israelites’ prayer in Nehemiah 9:1-37, which took them three hours and is the longest prayer mentioned in the Bible. One of the shortest prayers is in Matthew 14:30, where Peter, sensing he’s about to meet his maker – and apparently not all that keen to – asks his maker for a raincheck and says “Lord save me!” Three words is more realistic than three hours, but even so, she’s going to have to hustle – 330,000 words is the equivalent to reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch aloud with room left over for Brother Jacob.

What happens if she does get excited? Let’s say she bumps into him outside the lockers, or they’re meeting up after school to prepare for that big science project? The increase in her heart rate demands a concomitant increase in praying…and really, how much faster can she get before she sounds like Alvin and his rodential buddies calling the last two hundred of the Kentucky Derby? Hollering “Lord save me” at top speed is not exactly the best approach to pitching woo at your crush, or conducting the most rudimentary of conversations, come to that.

Faint Heart Never Won Fair Boy
This brings us to another problem – it’s hard to imagine a young man being attracted to a woman muttering to herself, praying to God incessantly, and unable to do anything else until he agrees to be her boyfriend. Let’s face it, he’s never going to agree to it, and Whitney’s not dumb, she must realise she’s driving him away with her perpetual God-bothering…but with the Fear upon her, her heart rate is going to – you guessed it – increase, leading her into a prayer spiral that can only result his fleeing or her fainting from hyprayerventilation.

Taking it Sloooow.
The only way she can feasibly fulfill her outlandish claim is to slow her heart rate…but how? The answer is, naturally, cryogenics. By entering a pre-cryogenic torpor, Whitney can finally make good upon her cardiac-powered prayer regime…but the catch is, she’s not going to be much chop on the dating scene, given she’ll be struggling to remain conscious.

Unable to boogie, or even move under her own power, the boy of her dreams is going to undoubtedly move on to another, less sluggish girl. Even if he’s not, the underlying problem of her relentless religiosity – even if it is at a more sensible pace – is still going to be off-putting, perhaps more so, given that is being delivered by a woman at the very cusp of consciousness.

Houston, We Have a You-Know-What…
Let’s pause and review. To get the boy of her dreams, Whitney says Peter’s postponement prayer with every heartbeat. Unsurprisingly this is unlikely to attract said boy, and merely result in her sounding like a cartoon chipmunk on amphetamines. The only way to resolve this problem is to cryogenically lower her heart rate to several beats per minute, thus achieving one of her aims – the heartbeat:prayer ratio – yet unquestionably dooming the other, namely, to get the boy to go out with her.

Frankly, if there was a boy attracted to a girl lingering at the edge of death, murmuring prayers and not doing much else, you’d have to wonder if this was the boy of yours, or anyone else’s, dreams.

Either way, the song’s title takes on a whole new meaning in light of this deep-freeze solution. “How will I know if he really loves me?” becomes less a question of how she’ll know by the signs he’s giving, but how she’ll know at all. 

With the cryogenic option on ice, we’re back to the original problem – no matter how many words she runs together, she’s never going to be able to maintain this insane routine, gibbering and palpitating. There’s no time for breathing, eating, drinking or even singing this song – the very fact she’s telling us about praying with every heartbeat means she’s not praying, and therefore flouting her own declaration…with this revelation, there is nothing left to say but Lyricbusted!, amen.