Friday, January 14, 2011

Always Be My Baby by Mariah Carey

I was watching television with my father-in-law the other day when news of Mariah Carey’s pregnancy came on he commented that he understood the appeal and vocal prowess of Beyonce but he wasn’t sure about Mariah. At first, I was surprised to hear this, I mean this is the girl with that ridiculous garage door-opening, making dogs run away super-high whistle tone (remember “Emotions”?).

After I thought about it a second I understood. Mariah isn’t the pop dynamo that she used to be. Once upon a time she was at the pinnacle of pop superstardom but now artists like Lady Gaga have taken her place. She has tried to reinvent herself to more modern sensibilities but she has failed to recapture her past glory.

None of this changes the impact she had and how she influenced mainstream popular culture. In the 1990s, Carey crossed R & B music into popular culture with soulful music.  Along with immediate and accessible lyrics, Carey creating music that was had universal appeal without being cheesy. Yes, it may not have effected social change but it was music you weren’t uncomfortable to listen to with your parents and sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. No song captures this quite as well as her eleventh number 1 hit, “Always Be My Baby.”

This song feels like a Coca Cola commercial in the best way possible. The opening “dududu, hum” rises softly and settles in a relaxed and smooth way as this mid-tempo song unfolds. There is a level of Beach Boys-like innocence in the music that reflected in the lyrics about a girl telling a boy who’s leaving her that he will always be hers.

Now, I agree that this song also works if you take it from a “crazy-girlfriend who refuses to let go” perspective. I mean it’s kind of a like the letter you keep getting from an ex right before you get a restraining order: “don’t you know you can’t escape me.”

Then there’s the use of the 5-syllable word, “indefinitely.” I’ve never found another instance of a 5-syllable word in a song ever. I’m not sure if this is a over-the-top or the greatest thing ever but somehow it works within the context of this song.

What really sticks with you in the optimism and hope in the face of a break up. This song is an expression of strength and self-confidence, “If you’re determined to leave boy, I will not stand in you way, but inevitable you’ll be back again.”

What makes all of this work is Mariah’s vocals. She effortless dips low into her range gliding up to higher vocals blending the tone of her voice like a master painter. Like a great soul singer she embellishes her long notes but never overdoes it like many amateur singers.

Pop music is a lot of thing but at its core, it's an expression of joy and this is exactly what "Always Be My Baby" is all about.  Mariah Carey may not be the biggest pop star out right now but for a period of time she was and what she left us is some of the best pop music you will ever hear.

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