I hope you have enjoyed this week with Mariah Carey.
Carey’s vocal style and singing ability have significantly impacted popular and contemporary music. As music critic G. Brown from The Denver Post wrote, “For better or worse, Mariah Carey’s five-octave range and melismatic style have influenced a generation of pop singers.” According to Rolling Stone, “Her mastery of melisma, the fluttering strings of notes that decorate songs like “Vision of Love”, inspired the entire American Idol vocal school, for better or worse, and virtually every other female R&B singer since the Nineties.” Jody Rosen of Slate wrote of Carey’s influence in modern music, calling her the most influential vocal stylist of the last two decades, the person who made rococo melismatic singing. Rosen further exemplified Carey’s influence by drawing parallel with American Idol, which to her, “often played out as a clash of melisma-mad Mariah wannabes. And, today, nearly 20 years after Carey’s debut, major labels continue to bet the farm on young stars such as the winner of Britain’s X Factor show, Leona Lewis, with her Generation Next gloss on Mariah’s big voice and big hair.” Sean Daly of St. Petersburg Times wrote, “Depending on how you feel about public humiliation, the best/worst parts of American Idol are the audition shows, which normally break down into three distinct parts:(1) The Talented Kids.(2) The Weird Kids.(3) The Mariahs.” Daly further commented, “The Mariahs are the hardest ones to watch, mainly because most of them think they’re reeeaaally good. The poor, disillusioned hopefuls plant themselves in front of judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson – then proceed to stretch, break and mutilate every note of a song, often Mariah’s Hero, a tune that has ruined more throats than smoker’s cough.” New York Magazine’s editor Roger Deckker said that in regarding Carey as an influential artist in music, he commented that “Whitney Houston may have introduced melisma (the vocally acrobatic style of lending a word an extra syllable or twenty) to the charts, but it was Mariah—with her jaw-dropping range—who made it into America’s default sound.” Deckker also added that “Every time you turn on American Idol, you are watching her children”. Despite her vocal prowess, Carey’s vocal technique particularly with the use of melisma and belting, has been subject to public scrutiny mainly because of young singers such as from talent shows have been overly imitating her singing technique in which critics commented “Mariah Carey is, without a doubt, the worst thing to happen to amateur singing since the karaoke machine”. As Professor Katherine L. Meizel noted in her book, The Mediation of Identity Politics in American Idol, “Carey’s influence not just stops in the emulation of melisma or her singing amongst the wannabe’s, it’s also her persona, her diva, her stardom which inspires them…. a pre-fame conic look.”
Among the hip hop, pop, and R&B artists who have cited Carey as an influence are; Aneeka, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Rihanna, Grimes, Kelly Clarkson, Nelly Furtado, Leona Lewis, Brandy Norwood, Pink, Mary J. Blige, Melanie Fiona, Missy Elliott and Jessica Sanchez According to Stevie Wonder, “When people talk about the great influential singers, they talk about Aretha, Whitney and Mariah. That’s a testament to her talent. Her range is that amazing.” Beyoncé credits Carey’s singing and her song “Vision of Love” as influencing her to begin practicing vocal “runs” as a child, as well as helping her pursue a career as a musician. Rihanna has stated that Carey is one of her major influences and idol. Christina Aguilera said in the early stages of her career that Carey was a big influence in her singing career and one of her idols. According to Pier Dominguez, author of Christina Aguilera: A star is made, Aguilera has stated how she loved listening to Whitney Houston, but it was Carey who had the biggest influence on her vocal styling. Carey’s carefully choreographed image of a grown woman struck a chord with Aguilera. Her influence on Aguilera also grew from the fact that both are of mixed heritage. Philip Brasor, editor of The Japan Times, expressed how Carey’s vocal and melismatic style even influenced Asian singers. He wrote that Japanese singer Utada Hikaru “sang what she heard, from the diaphragm and with her own take on the kind of melisma that became de rigueur in American pop after the ascendance of Mariah Carey.”
In an article titled “Out With Mariah’s Melisma, In With Kesha’s Kick”, writer David Browne of The New York Times discusses how the once ubiquitous melisma pop style suddenly lost in favor of the now ubiquitous autotune in which the former was heavily popularized by the likes of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Browne had commented “But beginning two decades ago, melisma overtook pop in a way it hadn’t before. Mariah Carey’s debut hit from 1990, “Vision of Love,” followed two years later by Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” set the bar insanely high for notes stretched louder, longer and knottier than most pop fans had ever heard.” Browne further added “A subsequent generation of singers, including Ms. Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé, built their careers around melisma. (Men like Brian McKnight and Tyrese also indulged in it, but women tended to dominate the form.)”
Carey’s usage of melisma throughout the song was credited with inspiring several vocalists and performers throughout the turn of the century, and is considered to have brought the usage of the vocal technique to modern day singers and talent competitions around the world to date.
Carey is also credited for introducing R&B and hip hop into mainstream pop culture, and for popularizing rap as a featuring act through her post-1995 songs. Sasha Frere-Jones, editor of The New Yorker commented, “It became standard for R&B/hip-hop stars like Missy Elliott and Beyoncé, to combine melodies with rapped verses. And young white pop stars—including Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, and ‘N Sync—have spent much of the past ten years making pop music that is unmistakably R&B.” Moreover Jones concludes that “[Carey’s] idea of pairing a female songbird with the leading male MCs of hip-hop changed R&B and, eventually, all of pop. Although now anyone is free to use this idea, the success of The Emancipation of Mimi suggests that it still belongs to Carey.” Judnick Mayard, writer of The Fader, wrote that in regarding of R&B and hip hop collaboration, “The champion of this movement is Mariah Carey.” Mayard also expressed that “To this day ODB and Mariah may still be the best and most random hip hop collaboration of all time”, citing that due to the record “Fantasy”, “R&B and Hip Hop were the best of step siblings.”
Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times wrote, “In the mid-1990s Ms. Carey pioneered a subgenre that some people call the thug-love duet. Nowadays clean-cut pop stars are expected to collaborate with roughneck rappers, but when Ms. Carey teamed up with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, of the Wu-Tang Clan, for the 1995 hit “Fantasy (Remix)”, it was a surprise, and a smash.” Aside from her pop culture and musical influence, Carey is credited for releasing a classic Christmas song called “All I Want for Christmas Is You”. In a retrospective look at Carey’s career, Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker said, the “charming” song was one of Carey’s biggest accomplishments, calling it “one of the few worthy modern additions to the holiday canon”. Rolling Stone ranked “All I Want for Christmas Is You” fourth on its Greatest Rock and Roll Christmas Songs list, calling it a “holiday standard.” In a review of her Greatest Hits album, Devon Powers of PopMatters writes that “She has influenced countless female vocalists after her. At 32, she is already a living legend—even if she never sings another note.” While reviewing a concert of Carey in Sydney, Elise Vout of MTV Australia wrote that “it’s not amazing choreography or high production value you’re going to see, it’s the larger than life personality, unique voice, and legend that is Mariah Carey.”