Yesterday morning I listened to Mariah Carey’s 43 Best Songs playlist on Spotify. I’ve always been big on classic, pop-ballad Mariah. You know, the artist her first husband, Tommy Mottola wanted her to be. I’ll admit that is kind of selfish on my part since she has always been influenced by hip hop artists. But as I listened past those songs she created in the early years of the 2000s decade, I (re)realized something. No, Mariah’s voice isn’t up to the same par it used to be when she released “Vision of Love” in 1990. It’s not even at “Hero” level. But she’s found away to utilize her voice in other ways. Integrating rap/urban/club (read: black) elements in her music means she gets to be a vocal actress. Breathy vocals and rap-sung verses do her favors on the non-single “Migrate” from 2008’s “E=MC²”.
Looking back though her discography, it’s easy to see that Carey has always tried to tread the line between maintaining a pop audience but still being authentic to herself and the kinds of tunes she wants to reflect her. Rap mixes pepper her collection. Fused with club songs are the revamped style of ballads she’s adopted within the past decade or so. The new Mariah ballad hit its peak with “We Belong Together” from her highly acclaimed comeback album, “The Emancipation of Mimi” in 2005. We even got a full-throated belt at the end and a classic Mariah whisper note. Now, her ballads are more in line with “I Stay in Love” from “E=MC².” These slow jams are also more R&B than pop based, primed for any possible hip hop remix.
I say all this to say, yes, I love the music of old school Mariah Carey. Nothing can compare to a good MC power ballad from back in the 90s. But artists have to change and adapt to themselves and the times. Hip hop is a massive influence on Carey. Her voice isn’t built the way it used to be. It’s delusional to believe that it is. But a smart singer plays to their strengths. As the success of her latest hit “#Beautiful” proves, tapping into her urban, huffy/husky vocals continues to pay off. I’m finally embracing that.