Sometimes my mind works in mysterious ways. Last night I was lying in bed listening to a Freestyle playlist on my Ipod, which got me thinking about Brenda K. Starr. When I think of that legendary Freestyle icon, my mind always wanders to Mariah. As any Lamb worth their Hello Kitty screensaver and Jennifer Lopez voodoo doll will tell you, Brenda played a huge role in launching Mimi's career by slipping her demo tape to Tommy Mottola at a party in the late 80s. That put me in the mood for some vintage Mariah and I spent the rest of night re-visiting favourites from her self-titled debut all the way through to 1999's trashfest "Rainbow". I then had the brainwave of putting together a list of her ten best singles from the 90s, which would be an easy task for most fans but I'm a relatively late convert. In fact, I genuinely disliked Mariah at the peak of her popularity. Probably due to the fact that overblown ballads generally make me want to vomit and because my mum, like every other Australian housewife in the mid-90s, played "Music Box" on repeat for at least a year. I'm still haunted by visions of her driving me to school singing along to "Without You" at the top of her lungs! Anyway, I know everyone will have their own opinions on this but here are my 10 favourite Mimi anthems from the 90s.
10. I Still Believe (Video)
(1999 - US #4, UK #16, AUS #54)
Speaking of Brenda K. Starr, Mariah paid tribute to her mentor by covering the diva's biggest hit on her "#1s" compilation album. I'm not a huge fan of Mimi's power ballads but this is definitely one of her best. "I Still Believe" is less overwrought than most of her earlier efforts, turning in one of the best vocal performances of her career. That said, Brenda's version is still better.
9. Honey (Video)
(1997 - US #1, UK #3, AUS #8)
Not only is this the best song ever recorded about the sweet taste of cum, it also represented a turning point in Mariah's career - when she ditched the granny ballads, squeezed into the shortest skirt she could find and decided she was black. Basically, it was the moment I realised I loved her. The video was also a work of genius. Mimi camping it up on a jet ski before rolling around with that hunk on the beach was truly a sight to behold. A camp classic.
8. All I Want For Christmas Is You (Video)
(1994 - US #86, UK #2, AUS #2)
Releasing a Christmas cash-in is a fairly stale marketing technique for desperate (and usually washed up) pop stars. Sure, they usually sell a few copies but how many stand the test of time? I can think of The Weather Girls' "Dear Santa" and Wham's "Last Christmas" from the 80s and "All I Want For Christmas Is You" from the 90s. That's all. It speaks volumes for the song's catchy chorus and camp appeal that Mariah's anthem still charts every December. Check out the trashtastic 2009 dance remix to celebrate the song's 15 year anniversary!
7. Heartbreaker (Feat. Jay Z) (Video)
(1999 - US #1, UK #5, AUS #10)
"Rainbow" is generally accepted by fans as the era when Mimi musically jumped the shark but it has more than its fair share of guilty pleasures. I loved the album's lead single then and I still do. Mariah had dabbled in urban beats before but this was the beginning of her rent-a-rapper period and "Heartbreaker" worked surprisingly well. I love the bouncy production and the chorus is pretty irresistible. Furthermore, anything tragic enough to sample Stacy Lattisaw's ode to aliens "Attack Of The Name Game" and feature Jay Z's worst rap ("she wanna answer the phone, tattoo her arm, that's when I gotta send her back to her mom") is OK by me. By the way, was this the #1 hit that Columbia Records bought by selling the single for 50 cents or was that "Loverboy"? I get confused...
6. Fantasy (Video)
(1995 - US #1, UK #4, AUS #1)
As much as I hated Mariah's mid-90s power balladry, it was impossible to refute the poptastic brilliance of "Fantasy". This was Mimi at her most upbeat and fabulous. Sure, the track shamelessly rips off Tom Tom Club's "Genius Of Love" but it's a killer beat that was begging to be sampled. I thought the diva had finally ditched the granny ballads and staked her claim as Paula Abdul's natural successor but "Daydream" turned out to be even more boring than "Music Box". At least this stunning disco throwback made the album a little more bearable.
5. Emotions (Video)
(1991 - US #1, UK #17, AUS #11)
1991's "Emotions" is easily my favourite early Mariah album. It was much more fun than her debut and infinitely less formulaic than mega-sellers "Music Box" and "Daydream". A lot of the credit has to go to David Cole and Robert Clivillés, better known to 90s pop fans as C&C Music Factory. They produced most of the album's highlights ("You're So Cold" and "To Be Around You" come to mind) as well as the title track and another little gem that I'll come to later. I love the unexpected disco influence on this anthem and Mariah's dog whistle never sounded more fabulous. A 90s pop classic.
4. Always Be My Baby (Video)
(1996 - US #1, UK #3, AUS #17)
I'm always surprised when fans pinpoint this as Mimi's first taste of hip hop because it strikes me as pure pop. Is it because the fat dwarf that married Janet Jackson produced it or because the song was nominated for a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the Grammys? Regardless of its genre, "Always Be My Baby" stood out as the shining gem on "Daydream" from the very first listen. I love the catchy vocal hooks ("do do do do dum") and cute chorus. Just don't pay too much attention to the delusional lyrics. He won't always be your baby. More likely he's moved on and can't even remember your name. Stop lying to us, Mariah!
3. Butterfly (Video)
(1997 - US Did Not Chart, UK #22, Aus #27)
This is just beautiful. Well, apart from the horse porn video which puts Britney's "Radar" to shame and finds Mariah running around a field looking like Nell in bad lingerie. "Butterfly" wasn't a big hit for Mimi - it didn't even chart in America (although I think that was due to stupid chart rules as opposed to actual popularity) - but to this day it remains one of my favourite ballads. The pretty lyrics are perfectly balanced against her delicate vocal delivery and the song packs a genuine emotional punch. Probably because it was written during the breakdown of her first marriage. I know some people find this saccharine but I just think it's gorgeous.
2. Someday (Video)
(1991 - US #1, UK #38, AUS #44)
Someone needs to build a time machine and bring back new jackswing Mariah. Bitch was fierce! "Someday" was apparently one of the five songs on the demo tape Brenda K. Starr slipped Tommy Mottola. He must have seen dollar signs flash in front of his eyes because this is one hell of a pop tune. I love the bad boyfriend lyrics and the jackswing beats are a nice touch. If only Mimi had followed this route instead of wasting all those years having massive hits with cures for insomnia like "Hero", "Without You" and "Open Arms". Sure, she'd probably be back singing back-up for Brenda but I have no doubt she'd be an even bigger Pop Trash Addicts icon than she is already!
1. Make It Happen (Video)
(1992 - US #5, UK #17, AUS #35)
Dance beats and gospel music don't usually make the best bedfellows but C&C Music Factory and Mariah concocted the perfect formula on 1992's "Make It Happen". Rolling Stone dismissed it as an "obnoxious self-help dance track" but does all inspirational music have to be deathly boring? You could never accuse the song of being subtle but I love the message and Mimi's earthy vocal delivery. For pure comedy value, check out a very drunk looking Mariah destroy "Make It Happen" on American TV last year and compare it with this blissful performance (below) from the inaugural 1998 Divas concert. They are both fabulous... just for very different reasons.