Can Mariah Carey Score Another Comeback?

June 28, 2013 8:32 pm

Asking whether the record-breaking, octave-shaking diva can pull off yet another return to the top of the charts.

From the moment she debuted on the charts back in 1990 Mariah Carey has been big business. For the rest of the decade the quintessential diva reigned supreme, scoring hit after hit after hit. Her transformation from wholesome Adult Contemporary balladeer to overtly sexual R&B diva hurt her popularity in the UK and Europe but fueled continued success on the US charts: 1997’s “One Sweet Day” (a collaboration with Boyz II Men) was the most successful song of the entire decade and was followed by annual chart-toppers until the turn of the millennium (96’s “Always Be My Baby“, 97’s “Honey“, 98’s “My All“, 99’s “Heartbreaker“, 2000’s “Thank God I Found You“).

The new millennium opened with her first and last soundtrack album, “Glitter“, taken from the film of the same name. An obvious vehicle for Carey’s vocal acrobatics, it was widely panned and bombed at the box office. The disappointing commercial performance of lead single “Loverboy” and remix was a roaring success compared to subsequent singles, which failed to make any dent on the charts whatsoever. A highly-publicized appearance on TRL fueled speculation about her mental health, increasingly negative media coverage and saw her check into rehab (for exhaustion ostensibly). A relationship with controversial rapper Eminem was short-lived (he says six months, she says two dates) and traumatic enough for their beef to tarry on for a whole decade (Warning: NSFW). A well-timed Greatest Hits release and another studio album, 2002’s “Charmbracelet“, once again failed to yield the big hit she so desperately needed.

And then, as if by magic, a life line. A feature on a new album by rapper Busta Rhymes, himself in the dumps, was pushed as a single by Clive Davis‘ J Records in a last-ditch attempt to revitalize the rapper’s dismal album sales. The rest, as they say, is history. “I Know What You Want” became one of the biggest songs of the summer, charting high worldwide and propelling its parent album to a Gold certification and sales in excess of 600,000. The music video, featuring a scantily-clad Mariah at the very peak of her sexual allure, was in heavy rotation on stations all around the globe – at a time when music videos being played on television still mattered.

Suddenly Mariah was hot property again. She was savvy enough to clasp the opportunity with both hands: not missing a beat, a club-ready first single and comeback album were soon on their way. A high budget music video and a feature from Fatman Scoop (recently #1 in the UK with popular club track “Be Faithful”) saw “It’s Like That” go Top 5 in the UK and return Mariah to the Billboard Top 20. It’s longevity in the US resulted in a Gold certification and a respectable placement in the year-end list of most successful singles. Follow-up single “We Belong Together” stayed at the top of the US charts for 14 weeks and was acclaimed by Billboard as the song of the decade. She was back and boy was she back.

Mariah Carey as Eminem in the 'Obsessed' videoMore hit singles, multi-platinum album sales, tours, awards and universal acclaim followed. Subsequent albums fared less spectacularly but still spawned hits big enough to keep her afloat – 2008’s “Touch My Body” topped charts worldwide while 2009’s “Obsessed” loitered around the US Top 10 for months and made headlines thanks to the alleged (Mariah denies) humiliation of Eminem in the accompanying music video.

In disconcerting symmetry the end of the decade brought a lull in Mariah’s popularity. Singles that failed to chart, deteriorating vocal performances and cancelled releases did little to allay the natural detriment that age, marriage and children cause to a pop star’s image. A disconcerting Justin Bieber collabo did nothing. Another lifeline perhaps? An invite from American Idol to replace Jennifer Lopez – famously dismissed in interviews by Mariah in interviews after Mariah’s ex-husband Tommy Mottola allegedly stole a sample out from under his ex-wife for Jenny to utilize in her own next big release. A big check, weekly exposure to the American public and guaranteed media coverage seemed to be everything Mimi needed right now. Until the show actually aired and audiences were turned off by Mariah’s passive-aggressive hostility toward fellow judge and former collaborator Nicki Minaj. A tester single, “Triumphant“, was a catastrophe; featured rappers Rick Ross and Meek Mill not only proved insufficient to garner Mimi the radio play she so desperately needed, but humiliatingly overshadowed her on her own comeback single. There was little her PR could do to spin the release in a positive light. A fantastic, radio-friendly remix featuring Mariah alone was ridiculously titled “Vintage Throwback Mix” (there’s nothing vintage or throwback about it) and never saw proper release.

Mariah Carey and Miguel - still from 'Beautiful'

Fast forward a few months and another single, “#Beautiful“, featuring a hash-tag and recent R&B sensation Miguel in not-so-subtle a bid for relevancy. A radio deal guaranteeing plays on the hour saw the song enter the Bubbling Under charts; a performance on the American Idol finale fueled digital sales and brought her yoodleing back into the US Top 40. The song has even done the seemingly impossible and landed Mimi radio playlist slots on major UK stations which have not only shunned, but openly mocked, her for some years now. Weeks on and it continues to loiter around the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic – a situation unlikely to be hurt by the release of two new remixes, the first featuring A$AP Rocky and the second re-sung in Spanglish.

The question remains: is the jaunty soul-pop of #Beautiful the last hurrah of an ailing diva or the springboard for another comeback of titanic proportion? Having just announced her departure from Idol and a world tour, Mimi and her team certainly seem to think the latter. Ultimately, however, it is left to the music buying public to decide – can Mariah Carey recover and become a viable chart star once again?

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