Written for the Seoul Olympics, “One Moment In Time” makes an age-old connection between sport and character – if you want to win, you have to suffer, be more than you thought you could be, and so on. Do this, and you might be rewarded with your moment when you’re “racing with destiny” – only caring about the Track And Field is a classic US Olympic-watching stereotype, of course, though I guess all your dreams are a heartbeat away in the dressage or synchro too.
We’re a long way from “it’s all about the taking part”, but in a sporting context I’ve no real problem with the message. This generic glory-of-sport stuff doesn’t quite work as a song though, for two reasons: one sporting, one pop. First of all, the thing about glory is that it isn’t generic. Every triumph comes with its own story, which is why the most effective sporting songs are often from the fan perspective – people with a powerful investment in that story. “One Moment In Time” is more like sport as understood by ‘the neutral’, people who care about the effort of winning, but not who the winner actually is.
I should point out that if the Guardian’s What’s Rocking Sport columns are anything to go by, actual sportspeople often love this kind of stuff. So it’s emotionally true and resonant for some. As a spectator, I can’t really relate, not just because I’ve never won a race but also because from the outside the moment of triumph needs no empathy or elaboration: it stands by itself. And here’s my pop reason for not feeling “One Moment”: something I think pop music is amazing at is capturing and condensing feelings, putting an emotion or situation you recognise into a song. Winning a gold medal honestly doesn’t need that kind of capture – it is what it is, already so focussed and concentrated that it makes pop seem clumsy. Something not helped by “One Moment” moving at the pace of an action replay, and in the process setting a grim template for every winners’ single in 00s reality pop.
But Whitney Houston’s two earlier number ones were superb examples of the pop song as emotional snapshot, so if anyone could make “One Moment In Time” mean something, it would be her. But the brief glimmer of hope that she might is snuffed out when those painfully sedate drums pad their way into the song, and from then she’s bracing herself against the arrangement. Key changes – she’s ready. Brass – she’s ready. Strings – SHE’S READY. And actually, by the end you realise there is an Olympic sport “One Moment In Time” evokes perfectly: weightlifting.