We like Mariah Carey for probably the same reason why some of you loved her years ago: her voice and her songs. Vocally, she was (and to some extent still is) amazing. Nobody could back up to herself better than Mariah. She could sing the alto and soprano parts of her own chorus, make up adlibs that are too difficult for the ordinary person (e.g. Madonna), and hit the notes (need I say more why she’s not ordinary?). She started out singing ballads that were too beautiful to neglect, and dance tunes that were just too catchy. For those reasons, we began loving Mariah.
It is, however, also true that she has become a business woman more than the artist that she was when she started. Who can blame her? Most successful debut of all time: multi-platinum debut, 4 consecutive #1’s, Grammys, AMA’s, etc. Just try to put yourself in her position: full of expectations, at the top of the world, all the top stars looking down on you. For your next album, you can either: be risky and try to sample new music, or play safe and make music that you know has already worked. We all know what she took, and the result was Emotions, an underwhelming and underrated achievement. Then there was Music Box: a ballad-laden album that resembled blockbuster soundtracks to Disney movies. Then there was Daydream. Daydream was different, it not like any Celine Dion album that was all full adult contemporary music, instead, if you listen closely you see the various flavors of Daydream that made it a nominee for Album of the Year. Some fans of the ballad and catchy Mariah began disliking her for her infusion of multiple formats (genres), and various vocal styles in Daydream. In Daydream, we saw her move from one genre to another with ease. She truly became an artist who could sing any type of song, of any genre that was appealing to all. And of course Sony only released the surefire hits-to-be and neglected Mariah’s rare gems: Vanishing, Prisoner, Underneath the Stars, Breakdown, etc. All her albums are always multi-formatted, crossing pop, R&B. Dance, jazz, 70s soul, gospel, etc.
When she was liberated from bondage, she knew how things worked: make a safe album that had all the ingredients of a blockbuster album, and release sure-to-be #1’s. Her formula never failed her, until she added her own element. Butterfly was OK. Vocally different, lyrically deep. Pure R&B that bordered the lyrical genius of Prince. But fans noticed something different to the image and the music… she was not the same MC we knew. She then made the urban R&B that was Rainbow. Take off “Can’t take that away”, “Against all odds”, and “Thank God I found you”, and you can listen to an all-out urban Mariah in rainbow. We hated her because we never understood this type of music. We bought the album for the formulaic songs, but never thought we’d be taken to a whole new music that was too urban for us. Many abandoned her. I know did. Then she made the 80’s inspired Glitter, and the very complicated R&B musings in Charmbracelet. It’s a sad thing that people judge her on the basis of her few 1st singles.
My point: While I think it’s true that her first singles in every album are just marketing strategies to catch people’s attention, the rest of the songs are not the same. Mariah never made albums that sound the same. She made albums that progressively ventured to the various flavors of urban music. Her songs of multiple formats evolved accordingly to the new music that is pervading throughout her album. If Madonna made similar songs that sound different due to the stark difference her producers bring to her album, Mariah made different songs from various genres to fit into various molds of R&B that is suffused in her album.
Try this: you never heard a Madonna album with the following: 1) dance track 2) solo ballad 3) mid-tempo R&B 4) duet 5) ballad with choir 6) jazz 7) gospel 8) new age (Petals, Close my eyes), etc.