We all know that Mariah Carey is one of the greatest singers of all time…or do we? After a string of shaky live performances, awkward attempts at lip-syncing and backlash from longtime fans, it appears she is now more of a punchline than a celebrated icon.
Now, any of us who remember the 1990s know Carey was a vocal standard of her generation along with the late Whitney Houston. Her voice could dip or soar to extremes no other singer could match, and her style eventually became the blueprint almost every budding pop act since her rise to fame has followed.
However, those people too young to have experienced the greatness of Carey during the Daydream or Butterfly years just don’t get the hype. Unfortunately, I can’t blame them, especially after her embarrassing showing at the 2015 Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival.
Think about it: Many of the people born in 1998 – when Carey’s voice first began to show signs of wear and tear, and her use of backtracks during her “live” shows became the norm – will turn 17 years of age in 2015. So, they have no memory of a time when Carey could belt a high note without straining.
In fact, most people under the age of 18 years were probably introduced to Carey when she enjoyed a career resurgence with The Emancipation of Mimi of album in 2005. Yes, that was a very successful year in her career but the cracks in her voice were evident and she didn’t sing as effortlessly as she did in her prime ten years earlier.
Interestingly, as Carey’s vocal decline coincided with the rise of social media. Facebook and Twitter have made realtime discussion among millions of people around the world possible. Thus, every time she or any other artist has a mishap, the news spreads instantly.
YouTube, however, has been the true bane of Carey’s existence. The video sharing platform, which was ironically conceived in response to another performer’s onstage flub – Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl – makes every bad note in a Carey show available for instant replay.
Even if she performs at a small venue in a country thousands of miles away from North America, people can tune in to see Carey’s mistakes as many times as they want. That means that every flat, sharp, strained or lip-synced note can be dissected and debated by people who probably never attended a Carey concert.
Add other video hubs Instagram and Vine to the mix, and the odds are even less in Carey’s favour. After all, with only six second clips allowed on the latter app, on which part of her performances will people most like focus: A well-executed vocal run or a croaked belt?
Of course, Carey is not the first diva to experience troubles with her voice. Indeed, Aretha Franklin was also in her mid-40s when her range started to shrink and her shows were not as exciting as they were when she was at her peak.
Yet, Franklin lost her touch long before most of the world had computers and had never heard of the internet. Moreover, by the time digital age had caught up with the queen of soul, she had already cemented her position as an untouchable artist and reached her 60s.
Nobody enjoys picking on a senior citizen, especially a woman who still commands standing ovations while sounding eerily like Elmo.
Carey also is not the only singer who lip-syncs. Honestly, that practice has been common since the golden days of Soul Train and was the norm on television until Milli Vanilli were exposed for miming their songs.
Furthermore, several artists do it today, especially while on tour or when they are expected to perform extensive sets. One of the most recent cases came via Beyonce when she shamelessly lip-synced numbers from her show in Paris.
On the other hand, Carey has always been expected to be better than her peers. After years of being billed as gifted vocalist with a five-octave vocal range, people have been trained to anticipate flawless singing and pitch-perfect acrobatics.
Moreover, Carey does not dance
well. Her shows have little production value and the spotlight shines squarely on her. She is always at the centre of attention and other than her quirky personality, singing is all she has to offer onstage.
So, when she does not deliver strong vocals, Carey has nothing else on which to rely – none of the props that made Katy Perry the top-rated Super Bowl star, the army of dancers who support Britney Spears or the giant kitty graphics that shield Miley Cyrus.
Where does this leave Carey? Well, without knowing the full extent of her vocal problems, we might be witnessing the abrupt halt of a stellar career. Similar to Houston before her, she is quickly becoming a running joke in tabloid headlines instead of an icon to be celebrated.
Unlike Houston, Carey also has to deal with the full brunt of social media backlash, the latest of which includes GIF sets on Tumblr comparing her to Ariana Grande.
Add discouraging comments from other artists and the lost of support from her fans, and it appears Carey is on an uncontrollable downward spiral. Well, not if she addresses the issue head on.
Social media are breeding grounds for speculation and rumours but there is also a desire for truth. Just imagine how people would stop focussing on whether or not Nicki Minaj’s butt is real if she admitted she had it enhanced.
Not knowing is half the fun.
Hence, if Carey directly admits her issues and explains exactly how she intends to address them, she could turn public opinion in her favour. Besides, bullying someone with a handicap certainly does not seem exciting, even for TMZ.
Until that day finally dawns, Carey better strap in for a bumpy ride. Her Las Vegas residency is starts in the spring and there are a scores of people armed with smartphones, eager to catch her latest mishap on film.
Let’s end on a positive note: Carey belting out “Vision of Love” in Jamaica and making dancehall artist Lady Saw take back her insults live on camera.