The Dilapidation of Mimi

Posted July 1, 2014 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

In 2005, Mariah Carey was emancipated. In 2014, she was annihilated. HiFi breaks down what happened

When Mariah Carey first burst into pop consciousness with her reinvention of Barbra Streisand adult contemporary balladry on 1990’s “Vision of Love”, the world of music was changed for the better. Experienced music producers like Walter Afanasieff and ex-hubby Tommy Mottola knew exactly what formula worked best on her type of fluttery vocals. Throughout the ‘90’s, Mariah came, saw and conquered the upper stratosphere of pop music, even overshadowing the superstar divas of her kind of pop. Her first seven albums were all critical best-sellers, reaching multi-platinum statuses. And although 2002’s Charmbraclet performed poorly when compared with her previous sets, 2005’s Emancipation Of Mimi – a cool, hip-hop-spiced reinvention orchestrated by Jermaine Dupri and held together by “We Belong Together” and the gospel-arranged “Fly Like a Bird” – gave the five-octave Carey the comeback album she anxiously yearned for. Fast forward to 2014 and Mariah seems to be greatly distanced from the conversation of pop royalty. At best, she’s struggling to remain relevant. How she fell into this world of collapse remains a painstaking mystery to those that follow her every move. But the journey of world domination to world isolation for Carey’s career makes sense when it’s carefully documented.

Last year, Carey tried to bounce back into the forefront with “Beautiful,” a duet with rising soul crooner Miguel. Saturated in a deep balladic glaze, the single dropped while Carey was trying to enjoy her short stint on American Idol. The song even landed on a few ‘best of’ lists for 2014. But with very little radio airplay and a comeback campaign falling apart at the seams, “Beautiful” did very little to resuscitate Carey’s career. Then her record label stalled the release of her forthcoming LP and even initiated a name change for the disc – transforming from The Art of Letting Go to the poorly-titled Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. After months of stalling from record executives, Def Jam decided to drop Me. I Am Mariah… on retail. It dropped on the Billboard 200 at number three, behind the big debut album of Coldplay’s Ghost Stories and Brantley Gilbert’s Just As I Am. And then it dropped completely. The victory lap of Carey’s disc disappeared after the album dropped to a dismal number eighteen on the second week of sales. Two weeks later, it was no longer seen on the Billboard 200. So far, the disc has only sold 83,000 copies, the least of all Carey’s album releases to date.

So what actually caused the downfall of Carey? Was it one particular event or a myriad of issues?

1)      Carey disconnects with fans.

Her fan base –a demographic that spans several generations – remembers when Carey didn’t rely on gimmicks to sale records. Sure, her whistle register was highly used and abused on her popular tracks, but it still was a part of her God-given talent. Now Carey seems to be solely interested in adding fuel to the fire when it comes to her “Fight to Stay Hip” campaign. American Idol was supposed to help, but it only exposed the flaws of her humanness. She seemed out-of-touch and disconnected with her role. She rambled far too long when offering her criticisms and her diva ethics left a bitter aftertaste in the mouth when battling with the younger hip-hop creature of Nicki Minaj. Although both were guilty of acting like egomaniacs, the feuding diminished the jewels in Carey’s crowning more than it did for Minaj. The tenure at American Idol was very short-lived, lasting for only one season, but it was enough to eat away at some of the loyalty Carey’s diehard fans were willing to give her.

Recently, Carey posted a picture on her Instagram of her enjoying a little selfie action. But media blogs were quick to write the achievement off after uncovering that the 2014 post was actually ripped from the archives. Carey posted that she was spending time “with dembabies…so much happiness.” But the pic was actually snapped in 1997 and was even shown on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show that same year. The public doesn’t like posers, and we’re pretty sure fans of Mariah feels the same way.













2)      Poor live performance choices.

Those who vividly remember her live performance of her holiday classic “All I Want for Christmas” at the NCT Christmas lighting in 2013 will recall the crucial struggle of Carey’s voice. She struggled with the high notes, poorly executed her melisma and waged a depressing war with her ad-libs. Despite a small selection of people tuning in to see the performance, the media picked up on it the following day and ran it like it was a D-Day on Christmas. Some were quick to blame the bitter cold for Carey’s shock-and-awe performance. It’s a natural excuse. But Carey normally avoids the idea of singing live, opting to lip-synch her performances while wearing her best acting voice. She recently opted for lip-synching on her appearances on The Today Show while on her latest album’s publicity campaign, which had as much value as Britney Spears’ GMA performances in 2011. For an artist that has survived the times by being so picture-perfect, this blemish placed a dirty scar on Carey’s vocal abilities. People now wonder if she’s losing her muscle.

3)      Bad music.

Carey hasn’t had anything in her collection as Motown-ish as “Emotions” or as legendary as “Hero” or as timeless as “Dreamlover.” Her now-timeless is now her worst enemy. But Carey still has the ability to produce magical performances. The problem is that there’s no one in her corner that’s able or willing to pull that off for her. Since leaving Columbia Records and reestablishing her presence on Island, Carey has had to depend on hipster productions culled by Dupri, Tricky Stewart and Bryan-Michael Cox to keep Carey relevant in the contemporary R&B market. The selection of album singles (i.e. “Touch My Body,” “Obsessed”) were good, but seemed laughable when compared with her solid gold offerings. The subject matter always seemed to suggest a high propensity of self-indulgence and diva worship – a bad look for a forty-five year old mother of twins. She’s better than this. As if she’s in direct competition with Beyoncé and fears of aging, Carey has turned away from the material she’s supposed to be doing and opting for something more elementary.

Judging from the poorly-designed selections aboard her last album, she seems way too cavalier about her songcraft. Almost nothing on the disc merits our attention. When she goes into the vaults to pull out George Michael’s “One More Try,” she does absolutely nothing to it to expand its glory. And then there’s the awkwardness of revamping Inner Life’s disco gem “I’m Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair” in the silly, repetitive soundscapes of “You Don’t Know What to Do.” While comparing the two tracks with a friend, I was told that Carey should have just copied and pasted Jocelyn Brown’s vocal performance on the Patrick Adams 1979 workout. But Carey doesn’t do that. Instead she creates a silly sing-a-long that uses less imagination than 2008’s “Migrate.” With Wale taking across the entire track as if he’s got diarrhea at the mouth, Carey’s track is pretty much ruined. These ideas aren’t mistakes. They are brutal destructions of a music career falling into the clutches of peril.

The critical acclaim of Carey’s new LP has also been shot to a dismal crawl. HiFi Magazine released its frustrations a few weeks ago, but other critics are echoing familiar sentiments. “She falls short,” says musicOMH. Rolling Stone said that “stylistic cohesion is as elusive as the chanteuse herself.” The Guardian proclaimed it was “a good deal of clutter.” What HiFi said? “She seems to be playing with well-intentioned ideas without actually perfecting them.”

4)      And then there’s Ariana Grande.

If there’s one artist that covered Mariah Carey and did it well, Ariana Grande is it. There’s not much groundbreaking originality inside Grande’s art. She maneuvers her breathy vocal rolls exactly like Carey, and her catchy tunes – including the hip-hop throwback grooves of “Right There,” “Baby I” and “The Way” – sounds like late ‘90’s and early ‘2000s vault tracks from Butterfly and Rainbow. Now that the 21-year old Grande has copied and pasted Carey’s urban tricks with mere perfection, Carey is lost to the younger generations. This is far worse than Iggy Azalea’s rise to popularity over Nicki Minaj. Carey is a legend that’s now forgotten to the winds of time.


To add to the sad narrative of the disappearing act of Carey, Grande’s debut LP Yours Truly rose to number on the Billboard 200 and sold 138,000 copies in its first week. Carey’s 2014 disc only sold 58,000 on week one.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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