Mariah Carey does not get the respect she deserves.
You don’t have to look far to find someone on Twitter ready to catch her next vocal slip up. When she released Me. I Am. Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse back in 2013, a tidal wave articles were published lambasting the singer for the album’s disappointing commercial performance (despite some pretty great reviews). But Mariah has been there, and done that. She’s played the game, set precedents, created trends within popular music and broke countless records along the way.
Today is the 11h birthday of Carey’s 10th album, The Emancipation of Mimi, which at the time of its release was heralded as her “comeback album.” At this point in her career, she suffered several commercial setbacks including the famously panned film Glitter and its accompanying soundtrack. She was also dealing with a very public nervous breakdown, which she attributed to “severe exhaustion” following a very grueling work schedule. Maybe you’re old enough to remember (and maybe you’re not) her now legendary appearance on MTV’s TRL.
Her career was in such a downward spiral, that her unprecedented $100 million recording contract with Virgin Records was bought out as a way of getting her off the label. Though she was signed to Island Records, not even her follow up album Charmbracelet could inspire public interest. In comparison to record shattering works like Music Box and Daydream, she was a far cry from the Mariah Carey that dominated the Billboard charts.
Never one to be knocked down, she threw herself into working on what became The Emancipation of Mimi. The album debuted with over 400,000 copies sold in its first week, and would go on to sell 12 million copies world wide. “We Belong Together,” the song’s second single, spent 16 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, a feat that only Carey herself has topped with her song “One Sweet Day” from Daydream. It was deemed as ‘The Song of the Decade.’ “Shake It Off” and “Don’t Forget About Us” also performed very well, peaking at #2 and #1 respectively. The album would go on to accumulate 10 Grammy nominations, winning three.
The Emancipation of Mimi was, at that point, Carey’s most personal project. Not only because she used her sacred nickname ‘Mimi,’ but because she addressed the personal struggles she had endured over the course of her career. The music video for “We Belong Together,” addressed her marriage to the much older music mogul Tommy Mattola, who “discovered” and signed Carey when she was just a teenager. She even wore her custom Vera Wang dress, in typical Mariah fashion.
The album was her most musically adventurous thus far. Blending traditional R&B and hip hop with gospel and soul, a deviation from the more pop-driven releases she released early on in her career. This shift was something that she had been hinting at with Butterfly and even Daydream, but she was previously denied by Mattola who exerted an extreme amount of control over her career and musical output.
To this day, the album is as fresh sounding as it was back in 2005. Back then, I didn’t appreciate music nearly as much as I do now , nor did I own many CD’s. But I do remember asking my mom for The Emancipation of Mimi for my birthday; that was all I wanted that year. I wore the disc out so much, that years later I bough the Platinum re-release edition just to have a working physical copy of it.
It’s still one of the most important albums ever released, especially to me. You’ll still catch me belting the chorus to “We Belong Together,” whether it be in the car with the windows rolled down or while I’m writing in my bedroom with headphones on. “Shake It Off” and “It’s Like That” are on every single party playlist my roommates and I have ever made. Her vocals are jaw-droppingly crystalline on tracks like “Mine Again,” “Your Girl” and “I Wish You Knew.”
However, it’s “Fly Like A Bird” that remains the crowned jewel of the album. Perfectly placed as the final song on the track list, it’s a cultivation of the album’s message. It opens up with Carey’s own pastor, Clarence Keaton, reciting a bible verse. What follows is an earth-shattering vocal performance from Carey, the best she sounded since “Vision Of Love.”
“Fly like a bird/take to the sky/I need you now Lord/carry me high!” she belts, simultaneously delivering a personal prayer to God.
Carey performed the song at the 48th Grammy awards, the year Emancipation was nominated. Though it didn’t win any of the major awards, her performance reminded everyone that she didn’t need an Album of the Year award, because she had already won. Actress Terri Hatcher, who presented the award following the performance, was visibly stunned. “It’s like we’ve all been saved,” she said.
Not only was Emancipation Mariah returning to prominence, but it was an announcement; for the first time, Carey exerted complete control over a project. She had already flexed her muscles as a vocalist and a songwriter, but never like this before. This is unmistakably a Mariah Carey record for a whole new generation. It’s an emancipation in ever sense of the word.