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Why Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance was not a disaster

Mariah Carey getting much-needed support

Mariah Carey getting much-needed support

So Mariah Carey is supposedly having a bad 2017 so far because of her “disastrous” performance at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. When “trying” to “perform” her big 1991 hit “Emotions” it was clear that she was either planning on lip syncing or at the very least, sing along with a backing tape. Either way, something went wrong because instead of miming gamely to the canned music, Carey – with a beautiful mix of bemusement and annoyance – wandered around the stage, drifting in and out of the choreography, while grousing about the sound issues.

Quickly fingers began to point. Carey’s people charged the show’s producers with sabotage and the producers of the show insisted that it was all on Carey.

Social media popped up with memes – one popular one has Jennifer Lopez gleefully gloating – a clap back at Carey’s infamous “I don’t know her” – and some suggested that Carey’s nonperformance was the perfect capper for 2016 – a pretty shiteous year.

But here’s the thing – the performance was not a disaster. It was sheer genius.

First of all, let’s agree on one thing before I go further: Mariah Carey is no longer a radio/hit artist. She’s amassed an impressive resume of hit records, multiplatinum albums, sold out shows, etc.  But the days when kids would want to hear the latest Mariah Carey song are gone.

But that’s okay, because in place of the top 40 artist is the new Carey: eccentric and volatile diva.

The word diva is thrown around so much, that it no longer means much. It seems like every female artist is called a diva. But Mariah Carey is the epitome of diva.

Since 2001, her one unassailable feature: her fantastic voice, had come into question. There were pitchy moments during concerts, and her whole 2002 post-Glitter album Charmbracelet is a sad testament to Carey’s degrading voice. So because of these moments, Carey’s concerts suddenly became high-stakes events, where fans waited with abated breath to hear if she’ll be able to hit those crazy high notes. Her performances now are similar to the late-in-life performances of divas of yore like Maria Callas, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf.

What’s even better about Carey’s performance was her “I couldn’t give enough fucks” attitude. Instead of playing the kind-hearted trouper (‘cuz that would be boring), she immediately starting throwing all kinds of shade.

That’s what I love about post-Glitter Mariah Carey. Let’s face it: she hasn’t really made any good music in about ten, fifteen years, but she’s never been more entertaining. The too-tight dresses, the young boyfriends, the crazy, rambling speeches. It’s all part of this fabulous package – she out drags drag queens.

When she started out in 1990, she was a fresh-faced ingenue with a gigantic voice and model good looks. She was chaste and pretty – she was going to be the poor man’s Whitney. She was also kinda boring. But we can blame that on her label and its executive, Tommy Mottola, who was Carey’s Svengali. He micromanaged her career and image, offering up Carey as a shiny, perfect pop princess.

But once she ditched Mottola, the real Carey came out. And thank goodness. Even though the record sales slipped (as did the quality of her music), she emerged as this supremely ridiculous pop queen, who looks and acts like a cartoon rich lady.

The latest fracas is just another notch in her ridiculous belt. Something that she’ll simply shrug off, as she counts her gagillion dollars in her Manhattan penthouse, surrounded by her gold and diamonds.

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Three legendary divas try to reclaim what was once theirs on the pop charts: new singles by Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Mariah Carey

Back in the fall of 1995, four of pop music’s most successful divas: Whitney Houston, Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Mariah Carey were released highly-anticipated albums. This was an era when people actually bought physical CDs and given each performer’s track record, expectations were high. Houston was coming out with the soundtrack to her starring vehicle, Waiting to Exhale, which would give her a handful of top 2o hits; Carey was releasing Daydream which is one of her biggest sellers in her career; and both Madonna and Jackson were coming out with greatest hit collections for the holiday season, each of which would go on to sell over 8 million copies each. In those days, it was a guarantee that a product by any one of the superstars would be lodged in the top ten for weeks.

But now, 20 years later, pop music has changed. Older artists are edged out for younger performers, and if an album manages to sell a million copies, that’s considered a monster hit. Houston sadly died in 2012, yet her colleagues are still around, making music, and seemingly trying to recapture some of their former glory. Each has come out with a single in the past few months, with sales being sleepy for all three songs. Carey, Jackson, and Madonna have seen their record sales all dwindle as tastes change.

 

Bitch I'm Madonna (The Remixes) [Explicit]Madonna’s “Bitch I’m Madonna,” is the third single from her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart. Teamed up with rapper Nicki Minaj (who guested on Madonna’s last top ten hit, 2012’s “Give Me All Your Luvin'”), the legendary dance diva has the strongest single of the three vets. As with her albums, Madonna has an uncanny ability to pick producers who know how to compliment her pop aesthetic, while remaining just subversive enough to be interesting. “Bitch I’m Madonna” is really a producer’s showcase – DJ and remixer Diplo creates a swirling mess of a dance song that shoehorns EDM, dance-pop, hip-hop into a surprisingly listenable song. There are samples of acoustic guitars, skittery beats, video game beeps and pops, and a farting synth that undulates alongside Madonna’s heavily-layered vocals. Diplo has his work cut out for him because he has to make an established pop star sound outre and original – a difficult task, as Madonna’s been in the business for over 30 years, and has seemingly tried everything. So instead of handling his muse with kid gloves, he converts her into a 21st century Donna Summer to his Giorgio Moroder. The song doesn’t reference Madonna’s storied past, and instead makes the case that Madonna’s still a relevant and powerful tunesmith. Instead of recalling Madonna’s fantastic past, the lyrics place Madonna squarely in the present. She presents herself as the queen of the party, still able to raise hell and cause a stink. And to her credit, she doesn’t sound hopelessly uncool, nor does she come off as some desperate legend trying to sound hip “for the kids.”

 

InfinityIf Madonna is happy in trying new things, Mariah Carey is interested in some good old-fashioned nostalgia. Her single “Infinity,” the title track off her latest greatest hits record, #1 to Infinity will remind ardent Carey fans of her best pop ballads. A lot has been said about Carey’s diminished vocal range –  I don’t hear it. She sounds great on this breezy, overwrought ballad. When one listens to Mariah Carey, it’s not for subtlety or truth, but to get ones musical sweet tooth satisfied. And though the lyrics are supposed to be empower in an “I Will Survive” kind of way, they are merely there to let listeners revel in Carey’s substantial set of pipes which can still belt and do that crazy dog whistle thing. The song has a catchy chorus that moves at a sweeping pace because of wall-to-wall strings and with dramatic drums. Though it’d be nice of Carey would start using her prodigious talents to do something more substantial, as a lovelorn, breakup ballad, “Infinity” fits the bill nicely.

 

 

No SleeepLike Carey, Janet Jackson decided to return to pop music with a pop ballad. Unfortunately, of the three songs reviewed here, “No Sleeep” is the least interesting. Misspelling aside, “No Sleeep” is a misleading title because it’s a drowsy quiet storm ballad. This is Jackson’s first single in 5 years, so it’s a surprising that she’s chosen this slow meandering tune instead of a dance single which would show her off in her best light. Though she possess a pretty voice, it’s thin and airy, and her vocal limits are often highlighted when she slows down. On “No Sleep,” she indulges in some of the bad habits she leans on when she’s singing slower songs, namely the whispered cooing and random spoken bits that sound like they were recorded under layers of gauze – she tries to reach for some real singing in the bridge, which has the singer use a fuller voice, which is nice, but unfortunately, she falls back on the drowsy delivery just as soon as she belts, which is a shame because it’s the only time the song comes to life. All of these debits would still be okay if the song was well-written with a memorable hook. Unfortunately, Jackson and her longtime collaborators, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis chose to craft a song without a hook – instead it’s meandering and formless, with little-to-no structure. Though it’s only three minutes long, it feels interminable.

 

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Mariah Carey’s latest is surprisingly solid

Mariah Carey’s albums have never been great. While obviously a talent, Carey indulges in some of her worst artistic impulses on her studio efforts – namely, big, soapy ballads crafted solely to have Carey squeeze in as many notes as she can. Her LPs are little more than just vessels for her radio-ready singles, but her latest Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse is a shockingly solid collection of urban pop, that makes the case that the diva, while past her salad days, is still relevant.

Throwing aside the ridiculous title (her album titles were always shit: Butterfly, Rainbow, Glitter, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel), and the awful publicity blitz she mounted to promote the record (the album art includes a mawkish addition of a self-portrait the singer drew when she was a toddler), Me. I Am Mariah is gratefully devoid of Carey’s goofy eccentricities. The album is front loaded by some great, classic Mariah Carey ballads and closes with some fine dance numbers.

The best moments on the album show that Carey still possesses one of the most remarkable voices in pop music. It’s easy to forget with all the diva excesses, that Mariah Carey is a fantastic singer. When she’s not intent on impressing us with her reported five-octave range, she’s able to do some wonderful work with her massive lung power – she has a lovely falsetto, and when she’s being understated, there’s a great, appealing nasal quality to her toned-down singing.

The album opens up with the somber “Cry” that sounds a tiny bit like Elton John’s “Your Song.” It’s vaguely inspired by gospel music (Carey should consider putting out a gospel record), but is restraint and controlled. It’s one of Carey’s best moments on vinyl.

Following “Cry” is something a little more typical for Carey, “Faded” – a somewhat bland, serviceable R&B ballad with skittering beats and shuffling synths. It’s the kind of song she’s recorded ad nauseam, and it pales in comparison to her classic “We Belong Together” which sounds a lot like inspiration for the okay “Faded.”

“Dedicated” and “#beautiful” are two duets Carey performs with Nas and Miguel, respectively. The former like “Faded” is well-performed, but suffers from blandness, but the later is excellent – one of Carey’s best single moments (though most of the credit should go to Miguel, who is obviously a good influence on his duet partner). It’s the sort of soul-pop ballad that skates on mutual good will and enthusiasm from its singers, and will remind folks of the classic soul duets like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell or Ashford & Simpson.  “Make It Look Good” is a great old-fashioned, almost doo-wop number that has a haunting melody.

And thankfully, just when the album suffers to sag from too many ballads, Carey throws in a frisky dance number “You Don’t Know What to Do” which features Wale. The song is a great throwback to 70s disco. But the album’s best moment is “Meteorite” which is a dance anthem, similar to Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover,” and it boasts some insightful (for a Mariah Carey album, anyways) lyrics. Another highlight is “Money ($*/…) which features a great soulful sound with pulsing programmed beats, and an ingratiating cameo by Fabolous.

The album doesn’t maintain the brilliance of the aforementioned three songs, and it drifts into a somewhat treacly sameness – the worst offender of the collection is “Supernatural,” an awful ballad that is made all the more gooey and sappy with the inclusion of Carey’s young children and syrupy harps – Carey’s obvious affection for her children is charming, but it harks back to the seemingly unaware moments in her career when she comes off as hopelessly tone-deaf as to how indulgent she looks.

When awaiting a new album by Mariah Carey, expectations are usually pretty low. Me. I Am Mariah won’t convert any naysayers, but for fans and those of us pulling for the lady, it merely confirms that she’s a singular talent that deserves to be heard on the radio.

Click here to buy Mariah Carey’s Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse on amazon.com.

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