No one should ever strive for perfection because even if you manage to reach the tippy top of excellence and all the success that comes with it, the only direction you can go after is down. I wish Mariah Carey’s handlers—namely her ex-husband, Tommy Mottola—understood this early on given now, on the anniversary of her eponymous debut album, so many people write about the Mariah of today with contempt. And if not contempt, pity.
She is not the perfectly package Mariah of yore. The one who could hit every note with a seemingly superhuman-like level of ease. The one who stormed the charts with one of the best debut singles ever in “Vision of Love” and went on to notch three more number one singles—a feat that had not been reached since the Jackson 5. And she did all of this while dressed like the sweet girl who finds her prince charming in some boring romantic comedy. You know, one starring Tom Cruise or Patrick Swayze that amassed a fortune in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
The bulk of the songs featured on Mariah Carey, Mariah’s debut album that came out 25 years ago today, fit perfectly for the soundtracks of all these types of films.
That’s why as impressive a singer Mariah Carey proved to be at the time and for many, many years that followed, I was never a huge fan of this version of her. Sure, I enjoyed watching her sing down on Saturday Night Live and The Arsenio Hall Show. The same goes for her fantastic edition of MTV Unplugged. However, her music along with her image, were just a wee bit too bland for my liking.
She was like The Cosby Show: cute, safe, and wholesome. Meanwhile, real life is over on A Different World.
“Vision of Love” is great, and “Someday” along with a few other songs were cute, but even as a kid, I got the sense that Mariah was holding back in the early 1990s. Mariah has confirmed this theory time and time again through the years. The very second she got a taste of creative freedom, she traded in those big dresses for short skirts and took her music to edgier—well, blacker—terrain. She worked with rappers and incorporated pure R&B into her songs.
I didn’t truly become a Mariah Carey fan—fine, lamb—until The Butterfly album. That was Mariah talking about love, but also sex, heartbreak, and yes, identity only not in ways that screamed suburbia and after-school-special backdrop music. This version of Mariah appeared to have a lot more fun and be far less inclined to come across as having it all together.
That’s why I hope that in the future, Mariah frees herself from having to perform all of her No. 1 hits—particularly those on her debut album. So many of them are attached to the perfect, balladeer version of Mariah. It is true that her voice is not what it used to be—or is like “decaying manufacturing machinery” as some would describe it. She cannot perform “Vision of Love” as well as she used to. Mariah can still do a pretty good rendition of it, but consistency remains a challenge.
Even so, I don’t look at her and think, “Poor Mariah.”
Read the rest at Complex.