“Lately they’ve been calling me the elusive chanteuse,” Carey says at the end of her new album, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse, out next week and streaming now on iTunes Radio. But who are “they” exactly, and have they ever met Mariah Carey? She is many things, but elusive is not one of them.
Albums by female pop stars are not typically concept-driven affairs but, rather, diverse collections of singles and all-star collaborations. Such is the case for Carey, who recruits a handful of rappers (Nas, Wale, Fabolous) and producers (Jermaine Dupri, Mike WiLL Made It, Hit-Boy, Rodney Jerkins) to help her appeal to as wide a fan base as possible with this, her long-in-the-works 14th album. The mixed results reveal ten different Mariahs, none of them elusive in the slightest. Let’s dissect.
The Gospel Singer Found On: “Heavenly (No Ways Tired/Can’t Give Up Now),” “Camouflage,” “One More Try,” “Cry.” Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse is as much gospel as it is straight-up pop, R&B, and hip-hop. Ever heard “Can I get a witness?” scratched and looped? How ’bout a full gospel choir doing call and response with Preacher Mariah? In terms of a platform to showcase her otherworldly vocals, gospel music makes a lot of sense.
The ’90s Rap Disciple Found On: “Dedicated” (feat. Nas), “Money ($ */…)” (feat. Fabolous), “Thirsty” Shout-out to Wu-Tang and that scratchy noise from “Jump Around.” Also, hi Nas.
The Vocal Gymnast Found On: All of them. Every Mariah track ever. Shout-out to sounds only dogs can hear.
The Clingy And/Or Scorned Lover Found On: “Cry,” “Faded,” “Camouflage,” “One More Try,” “You’re Mine (Eternal)” Besides Vocal Gymnast, Clingy/Scorned Lover is historically Mariah’s default. She’s either blissfully in love or lamenting that’s she not. Mariah’s not exactly a purveyor of female-empowerment pop. That hasn’t changed just because female-empowerment pop is de rigueur these days.
The Mom Found On: “Supernatural” Carey’s three-year-old twins, Moroccan and Monroe, are featured on this midtempo track, in which Mariah sings about their love being supernatural. They coo, giggle, sing, and at one point, Monroe declares that she is a chanteuse. The Mariah we crave — campy and fabulous — declares, “I know you are, dahling.” Way to put your own spin on the new pop-star mom favorite, putting kids on the track.
The Coquette Who Might’ve Banged Her Duet Partner Found On: “Dedicated” (feat. Nas), “#Beautiful” (feat. Miguel), “Money ($*/…)” (feat. Fabolous) “Dedicated” is the musical equivalent of #TBT (Throwback Thursday), with Mariah and Nas teasing each other with old inside jokes. “#Beautiful” was last year’s ultimate cougar hit, and “Money”… well, Fabolous came to fame during Mariah’s Glitter phase. All was fair game then.
Nicki Minaj Found On: “Thirsty,” “Faded” Idol enemies or not, Mariah and Nicki have some sonic similarities when they both go for midtempo club-pop. “Faded” is Nicki when she goes all “Moment 4 Life” sweet, but Mike WiLL Made It puts his very current, rhythmic-radio stamp on it. “Thirsty,” a highlight, is an EDM diss track directed at those who are clamoring too hard for the limelight. Shout-out bawses and Insta.
The Studio 54 Dancing Queen Found On: “Meteorite,” “You Don’t Know What To Do” (feat. Wale) Mariah recites Andy Warhol’s “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” quote before shimmying into disco banger “Meteorite,” the album’s highlight. There are definitely sparkly boobs involved here. “You Don’t Know What To Do” is all over the place, one of them being the Barry Gibb Talk Show.
The Aging Diva Gone Full Vegas Found On: “You Don’t Know What To Do” (feat. Wale), “Camouflage” “You Don’t Know What To Do” starts kinda Celine, but then it’s all, Are You There Cher? It’s Me, Mariah. “Camouflage” is the big waterworks climax, when the diva gets to sit on a stool and rest before yet another costume change.
The Stevie Wonder Fan Found On: “Make It Look Good,” “Heavenly (No Ways Tired/Can’t Give Up Now)” Dat harmonica loop.