hen you hear the name Mariah Carey, what words come to your mind—one, two, three, go!—diva, legend, glam, five-octave vocal range, summertime anthems, record-breaking hits. Those are just a few that surface to the mind. In recent years, the qualities that made Carey a success in the early ’90s haven’t been enough to sustain her position on the R&B train. What glittered for the singer early in her career hasn’t proven to be gold in the latter stages of her existence.
The New York native is known for being a diva entitled to her demands at the snap of her fingers and maybe she has the right to be with her many blood, sweat and tears labored in the industry and having such little control early in her career. But with the star’s recent musical decline, she may just have to sober up that prima donna spirit. There is no doubt that the well-respected singer has influenced a whole generation ahead of her, but it is evident that her career is slowly dwindling like grains of sand in a time hourglass.
Maybe the diva should step back from the music center stage while her image is still tidy and her name is in relatively good standing. On the other side of the fence, Carey can continue to stretch her musical longevity and possibly tarnish her well-worked-for image. While the final decision lies out of our hands, sometimes a perspective from the outside looking in can be very resourceful. Is it time for Carey to practice the ‘Art of Letting Go’ for her career? By the end of this article, you should be able to answer this well-debated question.
Let’s press rewind. Taking a look down memory lane, Carey has peaked in stardom twice: at the start of her career and then again in 2005 with the release of “The Emancipation of Mimi.” In between her two musical peaks, she incurred musical transitions, a publicity catastrophe, and a sudden hiatus. Let’s evaluate where her first rise to stardom went wrong, and then we will jump into her most recent decline.
Rise to Stardom No. 1: The beginnings of Mariah Carey.
The young 18-year-old Carey was signed to Columbia Records in 1988 by music executive later turned husband of five years (1993 to 1998) Tommy Mottola. The songbird was marketed as the main female vocal act for Columbia Records, spawning the expansive growth of Carey’s career. Her label home fed the songbird with seven multi-platinum albums and 15 No.1 hits, including her first four singles from her successful self-titled debut album. Released in June 1990, the debut album delivered by the curly-headed singer was at the top of the Billboard 200 chart for eleven consecutive weeks. Carey immediately broke records becoming the first artist since The Jackson 5 to have their first four singles reach the No. 1 spot.
Carey’s label home continued to nurture the songbird’s success hatching six more successful albums — “Emotions” (1991), “Music Box” (1993), “Merry Christmas” (1994), “Daydream” (1995), “Butterfly” (1997) and “Rainbow” (1999). Nearly the first decade of Carey’s career, she followed the instructions and creative control of her music executive turned husband. Yearning for independence both personally and independently, Carey made a noticeable change in her music, bringing upon the first shift in her career.
Toward the end of her marriage to Mottola and toward the end of what would be Carey’s departure from Columbia Records, Carey made a musical transition and began exploring a more urban hip-hop sound evident in her last three albums with the label. This was when the “Heartbreaker” artist captured the hearts of many hardcore R&B lovers with R&B/Hip-Hop hits like “Fantasy,” “Honey,” and “Heartbreaker.” The Long Island native even switched up her company in the studio and surrounded herself with 90s hit-makers like Puff Daddy, Missy Elliott, Stevie J and Jermaine Dupri.
With her shift from commercial mainstream to urban R&B, the “Hero” singer reportedly noticed a lack in promotional efforts from the label. Whether it was the backlash from the “Butterfly” spreading her wings and splitting with Mottola or disagreements with her musical direction, Carey decided to part ways with Columbia Records in 2000 and joined forces with Virgin Records. This is where the singer’s career began to down spiral and the end of her first musical peak ceased.
Thinking it was a smart decision to leave a label that granted her such huge success, Carey tried to sweep her past under the rug and leave her baggage behind. Arguably, this was not the best decision for Carey. Running away from her problems at the label only brought her more headaches further down the line, and this is where she first went wrong in her career.
From here on, is what I call the domino effect. After Carey knocked down her first domino block leaving her label home, the rest came tumbling down voluntarily with a vengeance. This change in her career created a chain of bad events for the singer in a short span of just under a year.
Here’s a quick run-through:
- Left Columbia Records in 2001. Signed a reported $100 million multi-record contract with Virgin Records. A free and liberated Carey was finally granted the creative control she yearned for, which had its pros and cons. The then clutter-minded Carey wasn’t in a stable mindset to have this type of control at the time.
- Decided to do a musical drama film, “Glitter.” Getting a bit ‘Carey’ed away, the “Fantasy” singer decided to make another shift in her career. Her decision to make her film debut in a lead role was not wise because too much was expected of her. If the movie did poorly, the negative weight would be all on her shoulders. Therefore, Carey should have made her major film debut in a smaller, less-attentive role. Secondly, the decision to make the soundtrack to her album was a poor choice because her music was catered to the film’s 80s disco theme, drifting her away from the musical shift she had already established in the urban R&B sector.
- Hospitalized in July 2001 for extreme exhaustion. The pressure of a debut lead film role, demanding schedule and unresolved baggage at previous label left the scatter-brained singer in a state of mental destruct. Suffering a public emotional breakdown, both her movie and album were delayed.
- Released “Glitter” album on September 11, 2001 (9/11 terrorist attack). Coincidently if things weren’t already going wrong enough, “Glitter” (the album) was released on what would be one of the worst days in American history, 9/11. This evidently affected sales for the album. The movie was released ten days later and underperformed as well. Carey was named Golden Raspberry’s 2001 Worst Actress. After such failed success, Virgin Records decided to buy Carey out of her contract and her misery for several million dollars.
- Experienced negative media publicity and hiatus. After a humiliating series of events, including public pitty fits and missed performances, the overwhelmed Carey experienced a harsh media frenzy. These hardships brought the blonde singer’s career to a screeching halt and hiatus.
Rise to Stardom No. 2: The Emancipation of Mimi
Press forward. Skipping past her new deal with Island/Def Jam and her mediocre ninth album “Charmbracelet,” the singer managed to crawl back to success and revive her call to fame. After a decade of prosperity and a year of hardships, the songbird found new confidence and continued to fly beyond her previous hurdles. Working predominantly with mega producers Jermaine Dupri and Bryan Michael-Cox, the geniuses recreated her sound and added a new level of sophistication for her tenth studio album “The Emancipation of Mimi.”
With this comeback album, it’s as if you could abstractly see the burdens lifted from the liberated songstress. Carey revealed a more chill, comfortable, intimate vibe and was able to click with her fans once again with hits like “We Belong Together,” “Shake It Off,” “Don’t Forget About Us” and “Say Somethin’” featuring Snoop Dogg. This album spawned a massive seven singles marking the redefining moment in her career.
Carey continued rising to a higher power with 2008’s “E=MC2”. The album’s lead single and Tricky Stewart produced track “Touch My Body” gave Carey her 18th No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 single making her the number two artist with the most No. 1 singles in history behind The Beatles. Adding to her discography in 2009, Carey released her underrated album “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel.” Then, in 2010, she released “Merry Christmas II You,” the follow-up to her 1994 “Merry Christmas” album.
After Carey’s second rise to stardom, she fell back from the scene a bit, focusing on family life with her husband of two years at the time, Nick Cannon, and the soon arrival of their twins. Birthing at the age of 41 and achieving such major career success thus far, it’s logical for the songbird to have settled in her nest with a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment without peeking a look to the outside world. Instead months later like a bird nudging on wood, Carey teased the public with duets and song features to satisfy her music crave.
The music slowly began to take the backseat with Carey at the wheel. Driving as if she had no sense of direction or route in mind, she began releasing stand-alone tracks in 2012 and 2013 (“Triumphant” feat. Rick Ross and Meek Mill, “#Beautiful” feat. Miguel). After previous promises of new music and no fulfillment, fans were sure to have been led to the promise land for sure this time. Music headlines kept reading “Mariah Carey: New Song” far too many times to know the real purpose of these releases. Was this song just another track to maintain some relevancy or was it a part of an actual 14th studio album for the singer?
Finally, in June 2013, the drought in the land of Lambs seemed to be coming to an end as Carey revealed an album release date, July 23, and an album title, “The Art of Letting Go.” It was discovered that “#Beautiful,” what we thought was a stand-alone track, would actually serve as the album’s lead single. To fuel the hype, Carey was even doing interviews stating specifics about the album: who she was working with, musical content, etc. We even saw with our own two eyes as pictures surfaced on Twitter of her and Young Jeezy recording in the studio together.
After a hopeful month of fertilization for the land of Lambs, bad news rained on their parade. “The Art of Letting Go” album release date was pushed back with no set future date. The singer admits that she just wasn’t ready. “While making the album, I got so immersed in the creative process that I just don’t feel I would be doing it justice to release it on 7/23,” tweeted the songbird.
After that push-back, Carey’s blocks began to tumble down in a line once again. At her 2013 BET Awards Show performance, speculations began to surface accusing the singer of allegedly lip-syncing. Just a little over a week later, Carey suffered a cracked rib, fractured shoulder and broken arm at the expense of “#Beautiful,” falling at the video shoot of the remix with Young Jeezy. The roller-coaster ride continued as Carey changed management to long-time working mate Jermaine Dupri in Oct. 2013.
Fasting forward a month later, Carey thoroughly planned to release “The Art of Letting Go” on Nov. 11 via Facebook during her anticipated listening party. Carey found out that the wrong version was released from an earlier cut three days later. Devastated, Carey wrote a lengthy, detailed heart-filled message to her lambs apologizing for the mistake.
“A mistake was made by a brand new sound engineer whose only task was to press the space bar and upload the song to Facebook,” said the irritated songstress in her Facebook post. “I am very involved in every record I make, from the inception to the completion of the song. Every nuance of the beat or vocal matters to me…I had put time, effort and emotions into ‘The Art of Letting Go’ and the real mix is how I intended for you to hear the song.”
Taking a jump to the current year of 2014, on Valentine’s Day, Carey released what would be her already the third single from an album that still hadn’t been unleashed. “You’re Mine (Eternal)” debuted at only No. 88 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Trying to add attention to the mediocre-received single, Carey enlisted R&B crooner Trey Songz for the remix. America’s love affair with the singer seemed to be slowly diminishing, as they seemed to no longer want to spend their time on false hope. Now with almost half of the year underway, her anticipated 14th studio album hasn’t seen the light of day and the album title has been dismissed and tossed away. The singer is losing the attention span of her little lambs, and it is clearly showing.
Carey has incurred many transitions and shifts in her career, like summer with many winter days. Her first downfall early in her career predominantly was, in my opinion, her departure from Columbia Records. Her most recent downfall spurs from the false hopes and unfulfilled promises to her Lambs, music delays and pushbacks, lack of consistency, and confusion about her brand and musical direction. For example, not only did the singer release stand-alone singles, as mentioned before, but she also released several versions for some singles.
Take “#Beautiful” for example. She had the original version featuring singer Miguel, a mix with rapper Young Jeezy and a Spanish version “#Hermosa” on the airwaves as well—as if fans weren’t already confused enough with so many singles thrown left and right. Carey also left too much time sparse between the release of all her singles from 2012 and beyond. All in all, Carey has risen to stardom twice and maybe she can do it once more. They do say, “Third time’s a charm.”
Let’s face it and step into reality. Lately, Carey’s music hasn’t been sticking with fans, but she has had some lucrative other stable income areas that she may want to indulge in instead. Throwing the memory of her “Glitter” role in the dumps, she has had decent success acting in films like “Precious” and “The Butler.” Mentoring as a judge on American Idol was a decent look for the singer as well. Even though the mother of two did not thoroughly enjoy this gig, it gave the diva a platform to regain some relevancy as it did with former pop judges Paula Abdul and Jennifer Lopez. In retrospect, it seems more fitting for Carey to invest in such business ventures (maybe some endorsements as well) to bank off before her music career crashes to the end of no return.
Carey should not try to stretch her musical longevity beyond its limits, and it will be like an overstretched t-shirt no longer fitting the silhouette of its owner. The legend has put far enough on her resume to retire her musical jersey: 13 successful albums to date, groundbreaking hits, prestigious titles and more. While we are rooting for Mrs. Carey-Cannon’s success and waiting for the manifestation of her 14th studio album, pushed back again to May 6, it will be in her best interest to let go before it’s ‘too little, too late.’
Follow Lanetra on Twitter @iamWritefullyme.