2. 68to05: 2005: Mariah Carey, The Emancipation of Mimi
I LOOVEEEEEE reading about Mariah Carey! I like Carey’s music, but I think I love reading about her—what she means to people, and how she claims space for herself—even more. Carey is undeniably a diva, which requires “claiming oneself publicly and unapologetically,” writes Adrienne Maree Brown. She is part of a lineage following “Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston,” and “Mariah Carey’s self is perpetually young, romantic, and definitively multiracial.”
I never paid much attention to music when I was younger, and I think The Emancipation of Mimi was the first time I heard Carey sing, or at least the first time I could recognize that it was Carey singing. I encountered Carey as she declared her freedom (at least publicly). “With Emancipation, Mariah Carey showed us how she was entering her diva phase – not just as a vocalist with an incredible five-octave range, not just as a biracial balladeer, but as a grown woman, in her dignity, in her confidence, in her own style: sensual hip-pop infused with power bottom dreams from a singer with a pure heart and a big vocabulary that she was unafraid to deploy.”
I’ve gone back and listened closely to Carey’s early work as I’ve grown up, allowing me to understand just how emancipatory The Emancipation of Mimi was, hearing that “It was Mariah demanding to be accepted as herself, no compromises, no labels limiting her, no longer shrinking into any one else’s concepts of what she sound like.” Until reading this essay, I didn’t fully realize how this is the only Mariah I have ever known.