pop vent: on ‘me, i am mariah…the elusive chanteuse’

I normally pop vent in private. You know – if you can’t think of something nice to say, just spill it over a nice bourbon to your best friend. But me and Mariah go back like pop infantilization, and I need to process aloud my intimate disappointment with her most recent work.

I was gonna leave it at a Facebook post until I heard R Kelly on this album. His voice is a desperate canary in any pop singer’s coal mine. I generally don’t comment on famous people’s scandals, because who can really know? Except, you know, journalism.

When I was the age at which he would have been interested in me, I was hiding under covers with a Mariah tape in my walkman singing Always Be My Baby. I’m disappointed to hear his voice here, especially in what sounds like another gross narrative of his innocence. I removed the song from my playlist, but I’m not sure I can shake his verse from my view of this work.

And it kind of clicked something together in my mind about why Mariah has been coming up short for me since Glitter. She’s desperately clinging to the past.

She was ahead of her years in both vocals and content on her first album. But this most recent album, besides it’s unfortunate title, continues the trend of implying that Mariah never got past that moment. In fact I am beginning to wonder if the lyrics and presentation and vocal choices could actually indicate that she is unavailable for any emotions that might age her.

She adapts, which I am generally fan of. But not necessarily the good stuff. Mariah keeps learning the language and vocal styling of the lowest common denominator pop of the incoming generation, and adjusting. Her voice, within that hit-oriented container, is contorted. In the effort to quickly top charts, she loses her capacity to awe.

In a vacuum this might work, but I’ve listened to Little Dragon, Meshell, & Lykke Li’s new albums this month, each one amongst their best work, Lykke Li’s work an emotional revelation. And Beyonce is still right there. All maturing before our ears. So I am getting spoiled, I expect my artists to develop, grow, age elegantly.

In terms of the music, it’s certainly not a vision of love. It sounds like it was a first production effort by her church choir director, or by her teenage heartthrob husband Nick, or maybe herself with garage band (I speak from experience as a mixed girl with garage band – that’s private MC!).

Song after song, album after album, she surrenders her once glorious upper register to an oft giggly childish nasal tone that makes me think we wouldn’t get along anymore – keep in mind she was once my range ambition at five octaves! Now her runs are overwrought in a way that implies she couldn’t hold these notes and let the emotions run.

I accepted these floral concoctions as a teen. But now we can make other choices.

She brings Nas, Fabolous and other rappers in the studio with her, and it makes me miss Ol Dirty…even Puffy. But that might be nostalgic bitterness on my part, because somewhere in her effort to be a perpetual hip-hop princess, she’s sacrificed the grand potential of her octaves. It isn’t just hitting the notes, it’s filling them out with life.

To veer close to petty – I’m not convinced she understands the word elusive. But regardless, I don’t want her to tell me how to think of her. I want her to embody herself fully. That is what makes an artist irresistible to me, that is how she first appeared on the scene. Now she deploys multisyllabic vocabulary in her familiar oddly paced way, as if she perhaps longs to be a rapper at some tectonic level.

And yet…isn’t this my Mariah of unicorns, butterflies and rainbows, earnest romance, random visits to black church, abundant runs that indicate she lives an unedited life?

Yes, she is Mariah.

There are catchy tunes on this album that I could give in to. I feel some goodness in here. ‘Make It Look Good’ is the best song I’m hearing so far. Her babies are sampled in cute ways on ‘Supernatural’. If I forget we are grown women, there are moments that shine, that earn my shimmy and my nostalgia.

But even with the cute bits and occasionally lovely and innovative runs, I can’t green light this. Her look, her words, her sound all evoke a teenaged love affair, a girl afraid to be a woman, Romeo and Juliet forever sacrificing wisdom for romance, forever sixteen. I want to see a line on her face, hear her throaty experience show up in her songs, see a grown up sexual diva emerge – isn’t the butterfly a creature of spread wings?

Clinging is not healthy, clinging to one’s youth truncates the miracles that come as the gift after suffering. Clinging leads to bad choices. Mariah wants to look and sound like a sixteen year old. And R Kelly? He is the step too far in her role play.

short music recommendations

she, alice smith – because you like sangin’, and original songs, and songs about all the different aspects of love and heartbreak. because alice is on par with the best vocalists singing anywhere today. because her cover of cee-lo’s fool for you smashes.

jake bugg, (self-titled) – because you like bob dylan but always wondered how it would be if his voice was a bit more tender. because you really like simple lines well delivered – ‘broke my heart when i knew/that i could never be with you’.

reincarnated, snoop lion – because it will make you feel like your regular life is smoking weed in l.a. and you’re on vacation in jamaica discovering your greatest self. all summer.

nomad, bombino – because you need gorgeous expansive road music that can play on repeat, and this touches that sacred ali farke toure place.

haim – because sometimes you need dramatic music that harkens fleetwood mac and the 80s and you’ve played your florence & the machine albums too much.

blah, blah, blah, denitia and sene – because you are unafraid of pretty, blatantly cool and well-produced pairings.

overgrown, james blake – because his voice is unique and meta-gender and the album is calm and sexy and kind of feels like bubbling up from a deep place.

ghost on ghost, iron and wine – because you have guests over and you want something warm and cozy and mature and easy on in the background.

passalaqua – because you want some detroit hip-hop that makes you laugh and feel your nerdy swag.

james linck – because though he is harder to find (has some stuff on soundcloud) he’s into making magic electro-soul falsetto music.

indicud, kid cudi – because some songs (not the whole ambum) are magnificent. primarily unfuckwittable and afterwards with michael bolton.

the 20/20 experience, justin timberlake – because it’s smooth and funky and unashamed of being pop. this is going continue to be good all summer.

songs:

queen, janelle monae featuring erykah badu – because it’s actually too good to even talk about. song alone, or video.

#beautiful, mariah carey and miguel – because i am loyal.

what y’all listening to?

sloth and celebration and remembrance

i’m wondering if there is any way to write a blog that touches on both gaza and mariah carey gracefully. i haven’t written in a while, because i have been taking a moment.

i spent most of the last week in a mumu and pajama pants playing abstract chase and surprise games with my nephew, old school nintendo and nerts with my family, EASILY not looking at email, facebook or twitter. this intentional sloth is part of our familial bonding process. watching movies, cooking and saying to each other, “i haven’t gotten dressed in X days!” is our big annual tradition.

this year i took a major step and had my partner join me, for what was her first christmas ever, and our first christmas with outside witnesses. early early on christmas morning i crept downstairs by myself and i felt what i understood to be nostalgia in the truest sense. i was the first one awake, just like when i was a kid. i was always the one to do reconnaissance to see what santa had brought to each of us. i remember being the big sister, the surprise and mystery of it all. i remember our dog for the years she was with us, pulling at the ornaments at the bottom of the tree and a couple of times pulling the whole thing over, which just upset her completely. i remember our first christmas after she died and how i kept looking for her to be under the tree. i remember christmases when we visited extended family and christmases when i didn’t want to…i felt the peace i have towards them all now. i just felt this weight of time, measured by these rituals of giving and anticipating and repeating, laying down the path of shared memory for our family. and now our family is growing in every direction, with new paths being laid down; none of us are children now, my baby sister is pregnant with her second child and the changes are so continuous and fast that there’s barely time to remember, to cherish, to honor the safe and loving place my parents created for us.

over the week, a new line of thinking and writing crystalized, which i want to explore in the coming decade. i can’t quite put it into words here, but it has a lot to do with the art of family as a central building block of community, learning how to be in the tension and familiarity of family, to work through, to find the right levels for that unconditional love when there are very complex and opposing politics and life choices present. i’m giving myself at least 10 years to flesh it out 🙂

i know i have been working too much because i completely missed that mariah carey came out with a new album. she long ago gave up singing the way i most loved – really blaring through her pipes like she had access to some unlimited source of air that didn’t require breathing. but i am still unexplainably pleased by her little soft high sounds, and at the very least should know when she releases an album.

i used to always pride myself on my personal sustainability, my commitment to weekends, hours spent making art and listening to music. i realized on the flight to see my folks that the last time i had spent a day not working was in the hospital…and while there i was wishing i could do work the whole time.

there is so so much work to do. not because of the places i work, which are a lot but manageable…but because of the world in which we live. there is not enough time in the day to do the work of justice, locally, internationally. i don’t even try to hold it all in my heart at one time, i don’t think humans are actually capable of maintaining both sanity AND awareness of our total suffering at the same time. but there are political moments that arise that need response – fighting, grieving, educating.

last year, right after christmas, israel launched an attack on gaza. this year, i am returning from vacation to reminders that we must remember this atrocity, which continues, as the oppression and violence against palestinian people is a daily practice by the israeli government, financially backed by the u.s. my friend angel is in cairo, in part of an effort to get medical supplies to gaza. i’m leaving now to attend a solidarity event here in detroit, and in 2010 will be working with the u.s. academic and cultural boycott of israel throughout the year, with events at the allied media conference and the us social forum to continuously escalate the pressure on the u.s. to withdraw financial and military support to the vicious government of israel.