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  • Sam Darling

Let’s talk about Mariah Carey

My friend said I needed to do a blog post about Mariah Carey because I went off on an impassioned tirade when some unedited vocal tracks came out last week and many people were goofing on her.

So here’s the thing. Professional opera singers get compared to professional athletes and there are parallels. One of the things about opera, however, is that if you’re singing properly you will maintain your voice. Your body will fail you before your voice does. Here, an 82-year old opera singer kicking some serious Madame Butterfly butt. Her breathing is weak yet her voice sounds youthful and clear right up until those final (brutal) notes. I’ve sung with classical singers nearing 100 years old and they’ve got vocal stamina.

Pop singers are not expected to sing properly. They’re quite often asked to sing pieces that are outside of their range. They sing outdoors and into mics and dance and strut and shout every night. Like many professional athletes, the pop singers are breaking themselves in service of their fans and evanescent fame so they can get their payday while the getting is good.

Mariah Carey had an amazing career. She found a way to manipulate her normally low, possibly even mezzo-soprano voice, using whistle tones, and she dazzled us. Her style of music is not something I choose to listen to but I can acknowledge that she could sing and she gave people a great pop experience. I expect that Mariah’s team and she all knew that this type of singing was damaging to her voice long term and that’s why later albums didn’t depend on it as much.

If you listen to that isolated track you should note that her voice feels lower. I think she’s finally singing in her “real” natural range. Fifteen years ago she was whispering and whistling and generally extending into her higher register far too often for vocal health.

Mariah and her own version of a Butterfly aria.

Entertainers frequently choose the expediency of immediate success in exchange for career longevity. When singers do this they lose much of their vocal power and ability. You don’t usually see female singers take their career into their elder years unless they’re in opera. Cher was 52 when she had a pop hit but she sings in her natural register and didn’t have difficult songs to begin with. Madonna also has some staying power and generally sings low and relatively easy tunes. Mariah sang high and vocally difficult songs.

Okay, I have to tell you guys a story now.

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I used to work for a TV show that starred Nick Cannon back when he was a kid working for Nickelodeon. When Destiny’s Child guest starred on his show, he followed them around like a lovesick puppy and talked about how he would one day marry a diva. I was so happy for him when I learned he had married Mariah Carey! But just a few days ago I saw that they’re heading for divorce.

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Damn it. They were so cute together.

But do you think maybe when you’ve spent decades singing in the wrong range to please your fans and you’re getting older and you never liked live performances because you suffer from stage fright and you’re going through a divorce and have twins to think about and custody hearings and such, do you think MAYBE that could affect your singing voice a little bit?

And do you think the public that feasted on you at the height of your beauty and vocal fame could ease up a little bit?

I have no doubt that Mariah Carey is a high maintenance pain in the neck, but she doesn’t deserve the mockery; there is always more than a hint of misogyny when older singers lose their edge. It’s usually the women who get the brunt of the mockery. Not to mention the public mocking the plastic surgery designed to keep a youthful appearance. Yes, let’s not mention that either. Let’s just show some compassion for good ol’ Mimi.

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