#389: The Emancipation of Mimi, Mariah Carey
I love that we get a one-two punch of Aretha-Mariah. Give me women that can blow over buildings with their vocal chords.
This 2005 album was kind of Mariah’s comeback, her first hit record after the release of her 2001 movie Glitter. (Which was panned, but also incredibly poorly timed — the U.S. release of the soundtrack came out on 9/11.) Her dedicated hard work was in fact the catalyst for what was widely publicized as a “breakdown,” which she later explained was largely due to lack of sleep. Reading about the backlash made me sad. Some PR stunts she made in service of promoting the movie were pointed to as evidence of her mental health deficiencies. Her relationship with her mother (opera singer Patricia Carey) became strained. After that, in 2002, EMI’s Virgin Records paid Carey $28 million just to buy her out of her contract with them. (Okay, that’s kind of insulting and heartwrenching, but also, I wish someone would may me $28 million just to NOT work for them.)
After all that, Carey released Charmbracelet, which was not exactly panned, but didn’t exactly sell well, either. The Emancipation of Mimi came three years later, and emancipated her back from obscurity, with a personal nickname and a dress that I’m obsessed with. (Seriously, what a great picture.) She broke a record that had previously been held by Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. She won!
What was it about this album that made it such a hit? For one thing, it reminded us that Mimi can freaking SING. Reviews for Charmbracelet were largely disappointed with her inability to hit notes the way she used to, one review lamenting the “raspy whistle behind her thin voice … Her voice is damaged.” Whatever the problem was, she solved it: she sounds beautiful on songs like “Your Girl” and “Circles” and especially “Mine Again.” She can even employ a whispering falsetto, like she does on “Shake It Off,” that’s completely devoid of rasp. I didn’t realize how crystal clear her voice is — she sounds youthful and sweet and elastic, which is pretty hard to do when you’re doing vocal flips and hitting whistle tone notes the way she does.
But I think the biggest reason it succeeded is that it sounds like a party. “It’s Like That” is all hand claps and scatting, but for the club, as are “Get Your Number” and “To The Floor.” Sex jam “Say Somethin’” has Snoop Dogg on it, and they meet each other in the middle: Snoop sounds more tender than he ever has, and Mimi sounds downright mischeivous. She’s got a campy thing happening, too — see “I Wish You Knew,” complete with crowd sounds and a short little vamp to the audience.
Her production team (which included her!) also gives her the perfect mixture of classic R&B tricks with brand spanking new 2005 ones. She clearly knows her stuff, interpolating Bobby Womack and the Deele on the album’s most enduring hit, “We Belong Together.” There’s a Prince-like funky guitar intro on “One and Only,” and a twinkling piano worthy of Alicia Keys on “Joy Ride.” There’s even a straight gospel song, “Fly Like A Bird” — as in, give thanks to the Lord, featuring her preacher. But there’s also an Kanye West production that’s, well, extremely Kanye, “Stay The Night,” which features a rapper that I’m pretty sure is shouting from a phone booth.
Researching this one reminded me that despite all of Mariah’s accolades, people are still so desperate to cut her down. People criticized her outfits, called her “fake,” accused her of being a diva. But twenty years ago, she was one of the hardest working women in the industry, and then some. She’s a badass, a trendsetter, a real-ass artist. Dare I say, an elusive chanteuse. Mariah deserves all the flowers.
Fun Fact: Mariah wrote the greatest song of all time, “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Note that I didn’t say “greatest Christmas song of all time.” Best song ever written, bar none, no question.