I Know What You Want
Mariah Carey Live In Concert, Seoul, Korea, 6/21/2003
There are two distinct sides to Mariah Carey. One side makes good music. The other makes American Idol fodder.
The side that makes good music basically invented the pop/hip-hop cross followed by countless big-name recording acts; Jennifer Lopez went so far as to steal a sample idea from Carey's Glitter album and scored a huge hit (ironically titled "I'm Real"). Carey was supposed to be a footnote, an obscure yet influential artist that was considered cool to like, with her immense library of samples, her obsessive songwriting and producing, her vocal phrasing replete with influences from jazz, hip-hop, and R&B.
Instead they dressed her in a long dark gown, gave her a microphone, and told her to sing as bigly as possible.
That Mariah Carey was largely killed off with the release of Charmbracelet (after a slow death that began with "Fantasy," Butterfly and Rainbow) but I was afraid of seeing her rear her ugly head at the opening date of the Charmbracelet tour. She did have those fans who still wanted, from her, the Ultimate American Idol. They wanted "Without You" and "Hero" and "The Great American Ballad." Granted, I think "Vision of Love," "Hero," and "I'll Be There" should stay in some form, as long as she vamps them up enough to make them gospel or R&B. But I wanted "Heartbreaker/If You Should Ever Be Lonely" and "My All/Stay Awhile" or the soul remix of "Thank God I Found You" because Mariah Carey was never a good pop artist, not like Madonna or Janet Jackson. She was always a hip-hop artist at heart who was only covering pop material. Until it drove her to divorce, insanity, and through two record companies.
Carey loaded her setlist with her solid Charmbracelet material. She let her voice rip in "Subtle Invitation" as she improvised over the jangling horns and jazz, she rode the groove on "You Got Me," she did a rock ballad with the Def Leppard cover "Bringin' On the Heartbreak," told Eminem to stop being so schoolgirly in "Clown," brought church to the audience with "My Saving Grace," and did a costume bit with "I Know What You Want" where she even deigned to sing a little bit of the Busta Rhyme parts. These songs had an awesome groove, and they are sure to impact when she hits America for her theater dates (the arena dates in Seoul and Japan will probably not feel as much intimacy). The concept, in other words, is solid, understated, and showcases the music, not her voice or her celebrity or big flashing spaceship things. Best concert ever? Read on.
The Other Mariah was present for the last half of the show, leading the audience with a sing-along to "I'll Be There" (Trey Lorenz is touring with her), lip-synched to "Fantasy (ODB Remix)" as she did a little dance number, but her voice began to show its fatigue with "Make It Happen" where she began singing down when she could've sang up. What was usually a great inspirational dance anthem in earlier concerts was strange and disturbing in its difficulty at execution. This continued with "Vision of Love," and I never thought the day would come when Mariah Carey would come on stage and not be able to hit all the notes to her debut song. She closed with "Hero."
Carey's interests and vocal range have changed but the audience - judging from the Korean audience present that day - will always grumble about the songs that she didn't sing, they will always want the Ultimate American Idol with the microphone and long indigo dress. But that Mariah is dead, and she can't come back even if she wanted to. The one we have now will make new music, have new fans, and face an uncertain future, but we can be sure that - unlike certain sample-stealing actress-turned-lip-synchers we won't name - She's Real.