With Mariah Carey’s recent holiday special still fresh on our minds, we thought we’d take a look back at some of our favorite albums from the icon’s discography.
3. The Emancipation of Mimi (2005)
Described as a comeback album, The Emancipation of Mimi is 2005 as heck – and we mean that in a good way. Featuring production by frequent Mariah collaborator Jermaine Dupri, The Neptunes, Kanye West, and more, Mimi is like a playlist of the many sounds worth reexamining in the inevitable contemporary reinterpretation of the mid-aughts aesthetic. But this album is not merely notable for its production values. Mariah is highly underrated as a songwriter – she has co-written 18 of her 19 No. 1 hits – and this album shows it. From the undeniable party track “It’s Like That” to the huge hit “We Belong Together” to the hypnotic, melodically shifting “Say Somethin’” (featuring rap verses from Snoop Dogg), the best of the album features sparse production with fun hooks and tight songwriting that withstand the test of time. And, of course, they all feature that voice.
This era is also around the time where Mariah’s public image started to change. During the recording of the album, executive producer L.A. Reid had learned Mariah’s inner circle referred to Mariah as Mimi. Reid suggested Mariah use the nickname in the album’s title, as it represented her more fun side, and reflected the album’s material. This all seemed to give Mariah inspiration to embrace the more memeable moments of her personality, to lean into the I don’t know hers, and just own it, dahhhling. “We love a little zhuzh.”
2. Daydream (1995)
Featuring the everlastingly cool “Fantasy,” Daydream marked a true turning point in Mariah’s career. Ever since her debut album, Mariah had been pushing for creative control. She wanted to include more R&B and hip-hop into her sound, despite her label’s wishes. Mariah told Trevor Noah that “Dreamlover,” which features a sampled loop, was “slightly whitewashed.” “I wanted to put a rapper [in the song] but nobody was ready for that,” she said. With Daydream, Mariah had more creative control to start incorporating more R&B sounds.
The album also features her trademark ballads, one of which would become her biggest hit. “One Sweet Day” features powerhouse vocals from Mariah and Boyz II Men, singing about the death of a loved one. “One Sweet Day” held the record for the longest-running No. 1 song in the Billboard Hot 100’s history for 23 years. (Mariah has broken a lot of records – she’s kind of amazing.) As one of the best-selling and most critically praised albums of the year, Daydream was infamously snubbed at the Grammys, losing all six of its nominations. Despite this, the album would go on to be recognized as one of Carey’s brightest shining moments in an illustrious career.
1. Butterfly (1997)
If Daydream represents Mariah’s first big step toward embracing hip-hop and R&B, Butterfly represents her true metamorphosis. During the recording, Mariah separated from her then husband and music executive Tommy Mottola, who had exerted a lot of influence over her music and image. Co-produced by Mariah, Puff Daddy, Q-Tip, and Stevie J, lead single “Honey” is pure hip-hop and R&B. The music video for the song is also famous, depicting a more sensual, playful Mariah. She credits the video as the first where she could express herself freely. Other highlights include ballads “Butterfly” and fan favorite “Fourth of July,” the Latin-influenced “My All,” the heavy and brooding “The Roof,” deep-cut “Babydoll,” and a spirited cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.” From start to finish, Butterfly represents peak Mariah.
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