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2014 columns, Pop Culture

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

by Julia Tulloh , June 13, 20141 Comment

Mariah Carey

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless (it exceeds even the audacity of previous albums The Emancipation of Mimi and Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel) but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy.

It’s important that I say she has styled herself, as in curated, cultivated, constructed. Mariah’s celebrity has always been a very public type of fame. She gives plenty of interviews, regularly interacts with her fans via Twitter and Instagram, frequently posts pictures of herself in the studio, in her apartment, in the jacuzzi, in bed with her family and often performs ‘home concerts’. It’s easy to assume, therefore, that fans know the ‘real’ Mariah in a way that they don’t know, say, an artist such as Beyoncé. Bey, as Anne Helen Peterson has observed, is the master of image control and presents a polished and highly cultivated version of herself to the world: when something goes wrong, like an altercation between her sister and her husband, Beyoncé has a killer PR team ready to distance her from the mess with an onslaught of happy family snaps and politely worded press statements. Mariah, on the other hand, is not ashamed to let the messiness in her life show. When she and Nicki Minaj were co-judges on American Idol, their ongoing bickering unleashed a media storm that Mariah was happy to talk about.

Of course, Mariah’s ‘open’ and ‘honest’ account of herself is still a type of curation – but it’s one that assumes people are actually interested in the minutiae of her life, one that assumes the whole point of being a celebrity is to be curated. The way she walks, the way she flips her hair; it’s self-conscious, always posed. But the resulting effect is not a sense of performed authenticity, where style is used to produce a certain sense of substance; rather, I get the feeling the over-the-top, almost-ironic-but-always-in-earnest performance is an end in itself for Mariah. She’s a diva, and she loves it.

This is what makes the title of her new album so great. In a promo video she released shortly before the record came out, Mariah describes how she came up with the name. The first part of the title, ‘Me. I am Mariah’, is the way she named a self-portrait she drew at the age of three. Her discussion of the latter half of the title is far more outrageous: ‘Along the way there’ve been a couple of nicknames and I have inadvertently embodied many personas. Lately, they’ve been calling me “the elusive chanteuse”’. Um, what? What ‘they’ invented this name? I have been a fan of Mariah for over twenty years and no one that I know of has ever referred to her as the elusive chanteuse, except Mariah herself when she announced the name of the record. I love how blatantly she just incorporates her own fantasies about herself into the myth that is MC2.

The album itself is what I expected: catchy, exceptionally well produced, but not hugely different from her previous works. A good mix of ballads, hip hop, RnB, and a hint of gospel. Stand-out tracks include swing-pop delight ‘Make it Look Good’ and rap song ‘Money ($*/…)’, but my favourite is the good old-fashioned hip hop number ‘Dedicated’, which samples a lyric from the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ which, of course, refers to herself: ‘rap…carry like Mariah.’ But since her voice still carries, twenty years after Wu Tang penned the line, I think she can sample whomever she wants.

Julia Tulloh is a writer in Melbourne and is working on a PhD about Cormac McCarthy’s fiction. She tweets at @jtul and blogs at juliatulloh.com.

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