survival of the fittest: mariah carey’s victory lap

November 16, 2018
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It is strange to realize as you get older that your life can not only be measured by the daily moments and events in your life, but cultural eras. You wake up and realize you were born in a decade with a distinctive style and idea, and maybe found young adulthood in another, and so on. Mariah Carey is one of the few artists that still represents an era gone, but is relevant enough to still inspire the public to stop what they are doing to pay attention to her next project.

“GTFO” is the lead single from Mariah Carey’s new album, Caution. It’s a sultry kiss-off that sounds like a romantic groove until further inspection into the lyrics: How about you get the fuck out. Carey’s delicate falsetto sings about her disappointments and the infectious, slinky pre-chorus finds her deeper register and adds or gives more conviction to her request for her ex-lover to leave. In the vein of previous Mariah Carey stunners like “Obsessed,” “Up Out My Face” and “It’s Like That”, it has a sense of humor that doesn’t compromise the listenability of the songs.

At the Genius Headquarters this past Wednesday, Mariah Carey was candid about where she is in life. She tells music journalist Rob Markman, “It’s not that serious. Sometimes, it’s just about a fun moment.” The intimate crowd snickered, as she concludes, “I’m not saying this is my world’s greatest song, but sometimes you need to say it like: How about you get the fuck out?” Mariah Carey is a woman with nothing left to prove.

Mariah Carey is also a masterful singer, but anyone acquainted with the Black church — preferably below the Mason Dixon line — can tell you that sanging is not a rarity. The majority of Carey’s power lives in her pen. Her premiere ballad, “Vision of Love ” was written by the singer at just 19 years-old and the mediation of love and desire cemented her not as just a powerhouse vocalist, but a immaculate songwriter.

On Caution, she supplied us with grooves that serve as a reminder of who first hybridized R&B/Pop with hip-hop with classics like “Honey” and the Fantasy” remix. Slick Rick and Dev Hynes to create a sultry, Hip-Hop offering that feels nostalgic, but still cutting edge. The title track literally sounds like a lullaby on fire. Carey sounds effortless while telling futures that they should proceed with caution before loving her. “One Mo Gen” finds Mariah Carey exploring her sexuality boldly with lines about getting kissed all over her body. While the romantic anthem “The Distance” doesn’t quite abide by the pop ballads of Mariah’s past, but it the haunting cheerleading samples and the lyrics about “warm days, cold nights” ensures the Ty Dolla $ign assisted track will land on everyone’s playlist.

As Carey has matured, what she decides to do with her hold on language and music loosened in the most interesting ways. She has been just as romantic, poignant as she has been fun, clever, and even hilarious. The sense of humor that has arrived in her writing is proof of a woman with nothing left to prove, but everything left to celebrate.

Caution is a modern slice of R&B that is fresh enough to avoid feeling like adult contemporary without feeling aged, but more than how it plays sonically, it is a celebration of a diva that is not interested in comebacks or competition, but enjoying the unique space that she holds in the music lovers’ imagination. The satisfaction in Carey’s voice and the humor in her pursed lips as she coos is proof positive that this is a woman doing a victory lap.

The music industry — along with America at large — is a place that is commonly violent with how they treat Black artists, especially women. When creative industries begin to fail or transform, it is the Black creators that feel the first and biggest brunt from the change. It is not easy to resist and survive the ever changing landscape of the music business as a Black person without eventually being harmed, neglected, or sacrificed. This is true for Mariah Carey, but her survival of this truth is what makes her latest album feel powerful and its own feminist statement about longevity.

In the digital age, musicians that found their popularity in the 90’s and early 00’s could hardly survive. It feels like the only artist that did survive the shift in how people engage and purchase music because of the internet that found their stardom in the 90’s is Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Mariah Carey. Other acts seemed to have been drowned by an industry transforming quicker than they could adapt and there was no care to sustain musicians if they could not meet profit goals. Digital streams, the demand for more product at a quicker pace, and the desire for the public to feel engaged with you at all times via social media were just some of the demands that resulted in some of her other peers fumbling and never quite reaching the point where the conquered these new digital demands.

Mariah Carey fumbled — we all remember “Glitter” — but she came back and conquered. And did it again and again. Caution is not as much a submission for another album cycle of relevancy and awards, but it is a victory lap. Mariah Carey is the diva from another era — an era with CDs, ticket sales, no social media, or Spotify — and she transitioned into the age of the internet without compromising her point of view as an artist, and most importantly, without losing her sense of humor. The diva can unquestionably can go the distance.