Popcast By THE NEW YORK TIMES JAN. 6, 2017
When Mariah Carey suffered a performance meltdown on live television on New Year’s Eve, it was, depending how you viewed it, either a colossal letdown by one of the great vocalists in modern pop, or one more chink in the armor of a performer who’s been publicly struggling for the past few years.
Whether the fault was her own or that of the show’s producers will never be known for sure — each side has thrown accusations at the other in the days since. But either way, the long-term damage will be to Ms. Carey’s reputation. That’s a point she herself made (speaking about a different incident) in a recent episode of “Mariah’s World,” her reality show — errr, “docu-series” — on the E! network. The mood on the show is, like the New Year’s Eve performance, slightly unpredictable, capturing a singer who long ago moved beyond being best known for the purity of her singing, and instead lets her attitude speak loudest.
To address all things Mariah on this week’s Popcast, the pop music critic Jon Caramanica was joined by Rich Juzwiak, senior writer for Jezebel.com, and Michael Arceneaux, who writes for the Root, The Guardian and others.
Mr. Juzwiak argued that Ms. Carey likely made the decision to lip sync on New Year’s Eve to avoid the kind of debacle she experienced at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in 2014, when an unflattering isolated vocal track went viral. “I think her voice is so temperamental, that if the environment is not perfect it throws another kink into this unpredictable instrument she has in 2016, going into 2017,” he said, hypothesizing that she would rather “be castigated for not singing than for singing” poorly.
In the last 15 years, however, it’s hard to talk about Ms. Carey only as a singer, as her artistic output has been overshadowed by her public missteps and dramas. Is “Mariah’s World” another such mistake?
Mr. Arceneaux said yes, that there are major problems with “Mariah’s World,” starting with the fact that the show is boring “because it’s not like the overly situated, dramatic things that make a reality show work, and it’s not the realistic depiction that would actually make a docu-series work.”
Mr. Caramanica explained that the show is “unsuccessful in telling you very much about Mariah; however, it is successful in repeating a bunch of publicly visible tropes about Mariah that we have all come to understand” — Mariah is almost always holding a wine glass; she is almost always prone; she is almost never simultaneously vertical and moving.
It is this “aesthetic of relaxation,” as Mr. Caramanica put it, that has defined late-period Mariah Carey. But when she challenged herself in the midpoint of her career, things were far more interesting. Mr. Juzwiak said that Ms. Carey entered her most significant artistic moment when Ms. Carey’s voice began to change and she could no longer simply open her mouth and create magic: “It was from ‘Butterfly’ and on, when she started doing different things with her voice, partially because she had to, that she became an artist.”