U.S. MUST WAIT FOR DIANA ROSS CLIP read a headline in the February 17, 1996 issue of Billboard magazine, and the accompanying article provides a telling insight into the obstacles facing Diana Ross in the 1990s.
The “clip” being referred to is the music video for “I Will Survive,” a song from Diana’s 1995 album Take Me Higher. Miss Ross shot the video in West Hollywood, dancing on a gay pride parade float with drag superstar RuPaul and a bevy of Ross impersonators and fans; she even famously crowd dives at the end, something I’ve heard she decided to do on the spot. The video was daring enough that it began to gain attention in the media, as noted in the Billboard article; Ross also started promoting the song, performing it on the Super Bowl halftime show and in a hilarious and well-received skit on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Certainly, with this kind of attention (the song would even later be included on the soundtrack to the 1997 film In & Out), “I Will Survive” seemed poised to bring Diana back onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in nearly a decade.
Diana’s international record label EMI released the song and video, and “I Will Survive” climbed into the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart (becoming her best-performing single from the album there). But in America, Ross was signed to Motown, which had just issued a double-sided single of “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right” and “Voice Of The Heart.” Instead of striking while the iron was hot (or, at least, heating up), Motown decided to stay the course; product manager Thornell Jones is quoted in the article as saying, “It’s not that we don’t recognize that there is interest in this clip, but we are concentrating on positioning other songs by her to radio right now.”
Of course, we know how the story ends; neither “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right” nor “Voice Of The Heart” even got music video releases, and the songs only charted modestly on the R&B and Adult Contemporary listings, respectively. The “I Will Survive” music video did eventually make it to the U.S. airwaves, but a single was never released and it was never really promoted (aside from Diana’s handful of televised performances), therefore killing any chance for the song to make a significant impact. For Ross fans in the United States, it was another frustrating case of a missed opportunity, something that seemed all-too-common in the 1990s. Even if the song hadn’t been a huge hit, it likely would have charted higher than her other singles of the decade; a readily-available video and maxi-single could have also lifted the song to the top of the dance chart, as the success of “Take Me Higher” proved DJs had no problem spinning Diana’s records.
The biggest bummer of all us that more people stateside didn’t get to see the video, and it was really something special to see such a celebration of the LGBT audience twenty years ago. Diana Ross has been fairly apolitical throughout her career, rarely speaking in-depth about her personal beliefs and choosing instead to let her music speak for her. But the “I Will Survive” music video speaks volumes, even today.