Mariah Carey’s debut single, “Vision of Love” was released towards the end of my fifth grade year, so I remember a time before Mariah Carey. This also gives me the luxury of clearly remembering America’s first impression of her. The year was 1990 and there were two things: her ethinic ambiguity (it was 1990) and her VOICE. Specifically her range and that she could hit what the internet tells me is G7, achieved on “Emotions,” released on her follow up album a year later. The releases were so rapidfire, I remembered them as being from the same album.
I don’t care about her vocal range! It’s the thing that made her famous, but I liked “Vision of Love” because it was bluesy and cool and I loved her style. In the “Vision” video, she wore black skinny jeans and a black camisole and had this giant head of beautiful curly hair. It was stripped down, simple and elegant. “Emotions” was upbeat and had that high note, but it didn’t sound particularly like signing to me. She was everywhere for a while and I was there for it initially. However, it was 1990 and I was in the process of growing out of pop music so by the time her next releases hit, I was into Weezer and the Cranberries. Mariah wasn’t cool enough for me, haha.
This period when I completely lost interest in pop/R&B is when Mariah Carey became a legend.* I referenced this dead zone in my post about “This Is How We Do It,” another mid-90s pop standard that I didn’t realize I liked until the last 5 years and it’s real because Cybil didn’t know who Montel Jordan was either. We were just not following it. It’s the period during which her now-classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was released. Despite my willful ignorance, you couldn’t avoid hearing this song. I want to say that I was privately tolerant of the song upon release and immediate ubiquity, but I honestly don’t remember. I do remember hearing it in the mall at some point in the early 2000s and thinking to myself “yeah. This is a classic. I finally love it.” It’s not Christmas until I hear “All I Want” in the wild.
*This is the period that gave her the license to slip into her eccentric, Diva Emeritus period she now enjoys and I’m so happy for her.
Similarly, but MUCH delayed, I fell in love with 1995’s “Always Be My Baby” more than 20 years after it was released. Again, I must have known about this song when it was released to some degree, but it didn’t register. I kept hearing it as time went on and then last year it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I was riding the bus home from New York and it came on a playlist. “Good god,” I thought to myself. “This is the best song ever recorded.” I listened to it like ten more times in a row.
Mariah’s early output always struck me as voice first, song second. It felt for a long time like songs were written around her voice. “Vision of Love” was a strong first single, but I don’t like “Emotions.” Despite being up-tempo, it’s not a very interesting song and the most remarkable part of it is that high note. It feels like a weak attempt at a party. “I Don’t Wanna Cry” is downright boring. The rest aren’t really even worth mentioning from my perspective. It’s all just very bland.
Arguably, the singles off her Daydream album break this pattern, but “Always Be My Baby” is head and shoulders as far as I’m concerned. The songwriting is sophisticated. Musically it starts out rather formulaic, with the slow and quiet acoustic guitar and then the BEAT DROPS and things pick up slightly but it stays quiet well into the verses. It’s a very difficult song to sing. The verses are very runny and then the chorus is anthemy, but it’s also long. Despite listening to it hundreds of times on repeat, I don’t know all the words to it. The second half of the chorus starts with the unintentionally well-placed phrase: “and we’ll linger on” and it still takes me by surprise. The hook is just “doot doo doot.” I’m tempted to call it a throwback but it isn’t. It’s a class of song I’d describe as having been written on Mars, which is so weird because it’s Mariah Carey and not Nine Inch Nails or David Bowie. It’s strange and slightly uncomfortable but so infectious and has become a part of my very soul. I do love this song so, so much.
It’s funny that this epiphany came to me on my way home from New York following a visit with Josie. Funny because an inside joke between she, Pete, and I is that she entered into her summer of liberation after she and King Fuckboi (TM Dorian) split up. We likened this to Mariah Carey’s life after her divorce from Tommy Mottola during a very memorable Korean dinner in Manhattan before finally ordering six shots of something at the Continental in the East Village before it closed. Josie laughed HARD for like ten minutes about this. For those who don’t remember or never cared, Mariah married Sony Music’s CEO when she was a mere child. They divorced in 1997, coinciding with Mariah’s sexiest releases off of her Honey album. She was water-skiing in a crop top. You can’t get any more free than that. Mariah became Josie’s spirit symbol the summer of 2018 and the origin story of the Summer of Josie remains one of my most treasured memories of her: https://apainintheneck.com/2018/07/15/mariah-carey/