I have been known, over the two years I’ve been doing this blog, to bash on tons and tons of well-known artists – “mainstream” artists, as they are sometimes known. But I have a strict rule that I will remain open to the possibility of being impressed by an artist I formerly despised, at which point I will admit I was wrong about said artist and never ever make fun of them again. Obviously, a lot of the artists I despise do me the great favor of never impressing me, so I can go on hating them and all is right with the world.
It’s never easy to admit I’ve misjudged an artist, but it’s not fair to my readers to go on pretending to dislike someone whose music has quietly charmed the socks right off of me. In this case, that artist is Mariah Carey.
That’s right. I like Mariah Carey. Yes, that Mariah Carey. I’ve admitted it publicly and I have to say, I feel a lot better now. Someone ask Ricky Martin if this is what it feels like to come out of the closet.
Why this sudden change of heart? Let’s look at the evidence, shall we? Over a twenty year career, Carey has sold 175 million albums, making her, according to the experts, the best selling female artist of the millennium. If she’s sold that many albums, she’s got to be doing something right. Right? I mean, by that metric, she’s outsold artists who have potentially had a few hundred years’ head start on her.
And then, of course, there’s that famous five-octave vocal range. That’s like 40 notes! How many notes can you sing? I can sing maybe five. Mariah Carey can sing forty fucking notes. Her next single should be called “Fuck You, I Can Sing Forty Notes.” Or maybe not.
But let’s talk about her music for a minute, shall we? She’s been cranking out R&B gold since I was ten years old. At that young and stupid age, I reviled songs like “Visions of Love,” and “I Don’t Wanna Cry” (I was really into hair metal back then; you might think less of me for liking Mariah Carey, but I’d rather like her than, say, Motley Crue) but today, with the wisdom of my years, I can hear those songs and be moved to my core. When Mariah sings, “I must find a way of letting go/ ’cause, baby, I don’t wanna cry,” I get chills. I don’t wanna cry either, Mariah.
I’m getting married in August and Carey’s catalog is a goldmine for great love songs. If “Dreamlover” doesn’t get the asses moving on our dance floor, I don’t know what will. And her last couple of albums are full of good dance songs, thanks to collaborations with the likes of the Neptunes and Kanye West (sure, the guy’s an asshole, but he can cough up the occasional good beat. I still don’t think it entitles him to designate himself the Voice of His Generation, but I feel like giving credit where credit is due today). There’s large chunks of The Emancipation of Mimi that I’m sure will get the kids jumping up and down in their suits and dresses.
And what about personal fucking grit? Mariah Carey has truckloads of it. She’s endured label changes, physical and emotional breakdowns, and even a period wherein she didn’t have a personal assistant (you may scoff, Bollocks! readers, but it’s no mean feat getting through a day of interviews, performances, and recording sessions as the Best Selling Female Pop Artist of the Millennium without a little help. You try it. Oh wait. You can’t, because you and your one-octave range don’t move the units as successfully as Mariah Carey), and she’s come out on top, embarking on the the most successful tour of her career in 2005, in support of her “comeback” album, the aforementioned Emancipation of Mimi.
Now I’m not uttering a completely full-throated endorsement of all things Mariah – I think we can all agree that Glitter was less than stellar – but the numbers don’t lie, and neither do the songs. If you drop your cynicism and hipster posturing and just listen to these songs, you might surprise yourself. I certainly did. And, having done so, I’m perfectly willing to make room on my shelf for Mariah Carey, right between Jeff Buckley and George Carlin.
And, lest I stand accused of being fickle, I’ll point out a few other cases where, upon further reflection, I have changed my mind. The first time I saw The Big Lebowski, I hated it. Now, it’s one of my favorite movies. The first time I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I loathed it. For some reason, a few years ago, I picked it up again and found it to be a tremendous novel (Milan Kundera is pretentious as hell, but he’s a good writer). I used to hate Blur and now I’m an ardent fan of their work (with the exception of the latest Gorillaz album, I’m a big fan of Damon Albarn in general). So it’s possible for someone with opinions as firmly entrenched as mine to change their mind about music from time to time. I was as surprised as many of you will be by how deeply affected I am by Mariah Carey’s music, but change is a part of life and I intend to embrace it. Who knows what other artists my indie snobbery has kept me from really listening to? Mariah Carey has influenced a lot of artists and maybe I’ll check them out – perhaps Christina Aguilera is a good one to start with. Maybe I am beautiful, no matter what they say.