diva las vegas: mariah goes to sin city
We celebrate the career of Mariah Carey as the superstar begins her Vegas residency.
Tomorrow is the opening night of Mariah Carey #1's, the singer's first ever Las Vegas residency, in which she's promising to perform all 18 of her US Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping singles. Carey officially launched her Sin City show last week by pulling up to Caesars Palace in a vintage pink convertible wearing a sheer sequinned dress - but only after 18 mobile billboard trucks bearing the titles of each of her number one hits had circled the venue's entrance. It was a classic Mariah moment: grand and shamelessly self-congratulatory, but also very tongue-in-cheek.
Carey's detractors, those who still dismiss her as a gaudy diva with a self-regarding vocal style, tend to miss the fact that she's totally in on the joke. Carey recognised years ago, probably some time around her well-publicised 2001 breakdown, that we've come to expect a very OTT brand of fabulousness from her, and she's delivered it ever since with a knowing wink. During a 2006 promo campaign, she wanted to arrive at HMV on Oxford Street for a CD signing by helicopter - yes, by helicopter - but couldn't secure permission for the chopper to land on the store's roof. Unperturbed, Carey did the best next thing: she hopped in an oh-so-London black cab and tipped the driver £150 when she got out.
Carey displayed her flair for the ridiculous again last year, when she rode the New York subway in a plunging turquoise ball gown and documented her adventure with the hashtag "#subwayincouture" and the caption "laughs pon de subway". Only Mariah, right? And she sent herself up memorably during a recent appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden, riding shotgun in the British presenter's car around L.A. while a succession of her own songs just happened to come on the radio. When Corden started flirting with her from the driver's seat, as obviously he would, Carey played along gamely. "I know that I'm your dreamlover," an ever on-brand Carey told him, referencing one of those 18 number one hits.
But even at her most flagrantly flashy, even when she created a website for her newborn twins called Dem Babies, Carey has never become a prisoner of her own persona. In 2009, she dialed down the glamour for a well-received performance as a social worker opposite Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique in Lee Daniels' Oscar-winning film Precious. She was also impressive in Daniels' 2013 drama The Butler, playing a Georgia sharecropper who is raped by a plantation owner in an early scene.
Carey's occasional acting ventures have been surprisingly successful (if, ahem, we gloss over 2001's infamous box office bomb Glitter), but music has always been where her star shines brightest. Sometimes the way she's used her five-octave vocal range and signature melismatic trills hasn't been subtle, but there's no denying Carey possesses one hell of a voice. Even now though, her skills as a songwriter and producer tend to get overlooked. "The thing with women performers," she noted in a 2008 interview with The Guardian, "is unless you see them behind a piano for the first eight videos that they do, then you are not going to think of them as a songwriter if they look remotely pleasing."
Carey's right to feel kinda hard done by. Of her 18 number one singles, she has a co-writing credit on 17, and a co-producer credit on 15. She's written deathless summer jams (Always Be My Baby, Fantasy), sleek club cuts (Make It Happen, It's Like That) and ballads you can't resist even when you think you want to (Vision of Love, We Belong Together) . Along the way, her songwriting has often been brilliantly idiosyncratic. Who else could slip words like "incessantly", "indefinitely" and "relinquish" into the lyrics of massive international hit singles - who else would try? Carey's way with a metaphor is also pretty individual. "You a mom and pop, I'm a corporation," she tells the subject of 2009's Obsessed, rumoured at the time to be an infatuated Eminem. "I'm the press conference, you a conversation."
Nor should it be forgotten that Carey helped to pioneer the rap-R&B crossover hit with the Bad Boy remix of 95's Fantasy, which featured a rap from Ol' Dirty Bastard against the wishes of her record label. Four years later, she went one better by featuring Jay-Z, then a rising star, on the main version of Heartbreaker, the lead single from her Rainbow album, which duly became another number one single. She still has an ear for a hot collaborator now: her 2013 duet with Miguel, #Beautiful, was the perfect union of hipster favourite and R&B superstar.
So as she begins her Vegas residency, 25 years after she released her debut album, it's time to embrace Mariah Carey in all her ostentatious glory - God knows she has. May she continue to do things like decorate her arm sling with fur, feathers and diamanté, pick album titles like Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse, and say things like "18 number ones - that's why my age stays 18" for however long she wants.
Text Nick Levine
Photography Vincent Peters
[The Hot Beach Issue, i-D No. 288, June 2008]