In April 2008, after the success of her comeback album The Emancipation of Mimi, Mariah Carey had nothing else to prove. While the last go-round was the victory lap that solidified Carey as a bonafide legend, her stunning follow-up, E=MC2, perhaps earned Carey the right to be an artist without the pressures to be heard.
“I think that having the success with the last record allowed me to have more freedom… and just make records that I like. It’s kind of a really fun record,” Carey told The Bryan Times leading up to the release of E=MC2.
At points, Carey was certainly having fun with the studio release, specifically in live televised performances. “Stop singing my part now, baby,” Carey, wearing a hot pink mini skirt, turned and said to her background singers during a taping of ABC’s Good Morning America, where she performed the flirty “Touch My Body,” which yielded her 18th Hot 100 No. 1 hit.
Many presumed this was Carey being a diva. But, in reality, Carey used her cheeky humor to address the backing track playing at the wrong time. She continued to sprinkle her invigorated energy level on the television circuit, appearing on Saturday Night Live to perform “Touch My Body,” along with the T-Pain-assisted “Migrate.” As Carey, styled in a black top and sporting a silver min, glamorously strutted around the stage with male background dancers caressing her, joy flickered from her eyes, suggesting fun was what she was having.
That’s the way Carey presumingly wanted E=MC2 to be absorbed by a new and familiar audience. Yes, Glitter, Carey’s misunderstood 2001 debut for Virgin Records, brought campiness. But, fast-forward seven years later, she effortlessly blended introspection with freshness and fun for one of her strongest albums since its mammoth predecessor.
Fans who desire to see Carey showcase layers beyond being a chanteuse or pop headliner should listen to E=MC2 through and through.
Carey’s 11th album is driven by a sense of levity rarely seen in her previous material. Her new love interest and then-soon-to-be-husband, Nick Cannon, was partly to thank. With a blossoming romance, Cannon hit all the supportive notes, making several cameos in her music videos for this album cycle. It was something Carey had not done up to this point. Of course, this wasn’t all that surprising for fans or critics, considering her love interest, Wentworth Miller, who starred in the “We Belong Together” visual, set the stage for a leading man to accompany her.
Cannon, being the comedian that he is, paired surprisingly well with Carey’s childlike effervescence. Many people in the media and the general public fail to understand all of the dimensions of Carey. Having a significant other validate your quirkiness and join you in your artistic endeavors greatly impacted Carey’s overall disposition during the E=MC2 era.
E=MC2 plucks heartstrings with vulnerable and melancholy songs that balance out its cheerful highlights, but the album shines brightest when embracing the camp. The opening track “Migrate” featuring T-Pain begins with a flurry of whistle notes as Carey calls on the listener to “bounce.” And once T-Pain appears on the record, the infectious energy continues as the crooner describes all the luxurious places their money can take them.
The joy fair continues with “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time,” a summer bop that gives a fresh take on DeBarge’s “Stay With Me.” Because of the sample, the track can have a timeless quality while also being enhanced by the lush production of modern drums and synths. Carey also utilizes her trademark layering in the harmonies, one in a heady and airy mix, while the other comfortably rests in her middle belting range; this is one record that belongs on any playlist for summertime pleasures.
When Carey gets campy, it’s always in good taste. Case in point: “4real4real,” from the deluxe version of E=MC2. Here, she remarks that she is “Better than cable TV, like somethin’ out of your dreams.” What makes this line so fun is that Carey has no qualms comparing herself to something embraced by the general populace because she, too, is a substantial piece of popular culture. And on a celebratory album like this, she has no problem declaring that.
Elsewhere, “OOC” shifts gears to the club scene and has a significant disco vibe that makes it ear candy. Carey even goes into her multicultural bag and speaks three different languages: Italian, Spanish, and French all in a single verse. Stylistic choices like this are sorely underappreciated by Carey and speak to why she’s such a versatile force in music. She doesn’t have any shame about being silly in her songs.
Continuing the festivities, “Cruise Control” pairs Carey with Damian Marley for an island love affair. Carey imitates a patois accent and sings, “Cuz he’s the flyest ting when he be cruisin’ on the avenue.” Lines such as that give one the impression that she’s having the time of her life in the studio. Before this album, we had never seen Carey play around with different accents and languages so liberally, which only adds to why this project is her most amusing.
It’d be remiss to talk about E=MC2‘s cheer factor without touching on the standout track that is “I’m That Chick.” Featuring a brief but poignant interpolation to Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” this confident jam deserves mention just for the line: “You’re fiendin’ to blaze up and taste me / Got flavor, like ice cream.” It’s another superb lyric that embodies the album’s levity and paints Carey as someone capable of using slang references to reinforce how fabulous she is. Should anyone ever need a song to remind them of who they are and the power they hold, “I’m That Chick” does the trick every time.
And then, there’s another layer to the album aside from its playful nature. E=MC2′s ballads serve as a great palette cleanser for all uptempo records. The second single, “Bye Bye,” was a heartfelt tribute to missed loved ones. Its video, in particular, packs an emotional punch, containing pictures of Carey with industry friends and family who passed away.
“Bye Bye” is a piano-led ballad decorated with a soft baseline. The lyrics are conversational, which adds to the song’s personable aspect, and sees Carey talking to her deceased father. “And you never got to see me back at number one,” she coos in a head voice. What hits most about the song is that one can apply the lyrics to their loved one. A strength of Carey has always been the universality in her lyrical content, despite painting specific stories.
Keeping on with the vulnerable tracks, “Side Effects” featuring Jeezy (then Young Jeezy) is one of her underrated album cuts that still doesn’t get the rightful attention it deserves. Carey uses this record to excavate her trauma from her past relationship with Tommy Matolla, former president of Sony Music. She’s spoken at length, especially in her memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, in the chapter “Princess. Prisoner,” of feeling like she was living under a dictatorship. Assisted by veteran producer Scott Storch, Carey rides the drums and electronic synths as she belts about the tumultuous relationship. The importance of putting this song on a celebratory album meant that Carey had taken progressive steps to reclaim autonomy over a time when she had to constantly battle for it.
All of the vulnerability in the album comes to a head with its closing track. Carey takes this opportunity to display her gospel roots and includes several references to Bible verses. One that particularly stands out is, “Pray for those who mistreat you,” which is from Psalms 129:2. Carey has all the ammunition in the world to hold a vendetta against Matolla, but she opts to take the high road with the use of her faith as a method of achieving peace, and ultimately emancipation. To truly forgive is to let go and let God. And Carey exemplifies that by extending an olive branch to a force that tried to overcome her. It is a monumental record for Carey, not because of any musical achievements, but because it represents her at her purest.
E=MC2 is more than just a remarkable follow-up to The Emancipation of Mimi; it is a momentous celebration of emotional gratitude, legacy, and persistence. And it is proof as Carey has said in several interviews, “You can’t write off talent.” The album has its own special reputation within her discography.
Someone can go through this immensely enjoyable album and giggle to themselves or shed a tear. But, more importantly, when they get to the end of this record, whether standard or deluxe, they’ll feel as though they’ve learned more about Carey than they ever had before.
Revisit Mariah Carey’s E=MC2 below.