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.