Music critic Suraj Hallan talks us through the ups and downs of Mariah Carey’s 25-year career, culminating in her Greatest Hits album, #1 To Infinity
She is the most successful music act of the 90s, possessor of the biggest catalogue of Number One singles by any female solo artist of all time, winner of five Grammy Awards and achieved 200 million in worldwide record sales. In 2015, Mariah Carey decided to mark this success in the form of a Greatest Hits Album entitled #1 To Infinity, to commemorate 25 years since the release of her debut single and self-titled album.
The opening of #1 To Infinity, ‘Vision of Love’, takes us right back to where Carey’s career began. With its smooth vocals, powerful lyrics and warming sound, ‘Vision of Love’ makes listeners feel thoroughly nostalgic. This single was Carey’s first US Number One single, followed by seventeen more, and quickly cemented her as a musical legend with its wide appeal and significant commercial and critical success. From there, #1 To Infinity picks up in pace and sound. It moves from soothing songs of love to energetic romance anthems. Most notably seen on ‘Emotions’, which served as the lead single from Carey’s second studio album. Its recognisable 90s beat and high vocals was another success by Carey and showed the world she was here to stay and sustain her success and appeal. ‘Emotions’ is also the song on the album, arguably the song of her career, which most explicitly showcases Mariah Carey’s signature high whistle notes, which have since been recognised as her trademark sound.
‘Dreamlover’ is also another of Carey’s tracks which resembles a more happy and upbeat feel. It has a very poppy sound with R&B influences, this is arguably one of the most recognisable songs of Carey’s career. This energetic feel is sustained with the hit ‘Fantasy’. Its positive sounds made it the ultimate worldwide jam of parties from the 90s till today.
The most notable and successful of Carey’s impressive hits is the monster hit ‘One Sweet Day’, featuring Boyz II Men. What do you get when two of the biggest vocal acts of 1990s team up and join forces to showcase their impressive talents? One of most successful singles in American history. The song speaks of the impact of death and the importance of appreciating someone whilst you still have the chance. It was influenced by and regarded as a tribute to the AIDS crisis through which many individuals were suffering at the time. The song became a record-breaking hit, a critical and commercial success that was nominated for five Grammy Awards. Surprisingly, however, ‘One Sweet Day’ did not win a single Grammy. But who cares? It’s longest running US Number One of the all-time, a decade definer.
Just like ‘One Sweet Day’, Carey went onto achieve another Number One hit with ‘Always Be My Baby’. This song is prototypal Mariah, it depicts Carey’s smooth vocals and general warmness. The same themes can be seen in ‘Heartbreaker’, which bears some resemblance to her previous hit ‘Dreamlover’. ‘Heartbreaker’, a duet featuring Jay Z, brought a refreshing sound to her catalogue. Many critics of the time, however, called it ‘recycled version’ of ‘Dreamlover’ and ‘Fantasy’. Nevertheless, the ‘Heartbreaker’ was commercially as successful as her previous hits.
Between 1990 and 1999, Carey had achieved unprecedented success, she was the most successful female act of the 90s, but her career began to decline after the millennium. In 2001, she released her eighth studio
album, Glitter, which was an unfortunate failure and was unable to match her past successes, resulting in her label terminating her recording contract. Many deemed her career ‘over’ by the early 2000s. However, in typical Carey fashion, she refused to give up, and in 2005, with the release of The Emancipation of Mimi, carried over her 90s success into another century.
Her comeback hit ‘We Belong Together’ received widespread acclaim and gave Carey her first twenty-first-century Number One and sixteenth in total. It was deemed her ‘career redefining’ single and topped the Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks, becoming the second longest running American Number One, behind her own prior hit ‘One Sweet Day’. The theme of love, and relaxing sound took us back to the old Mariah we all knew and loved.
#1 To Infinity is an impressive display of Carey’s natural talent and contribution to music. It flows well, with the track list taking us through her 18 Number One singles in order of release, displaying her evolution as an artist. It takes the listener on a journey of reminiscence and nostalgia.