Mariah Carey: All That Glitters Is Not Gold, Essay Example

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Essay

To state that Mariah Carey is a pop superstar legend whose recording career has spanned a legion of number one albums and singles would not be an understatement.  According to biographer Mark Shapiro, Carey is both “the consummate superstar and the all-too-human being that we love” (Shapiro 10).  But while her vocal talent is an acknowledged facet of her rise to success, Carey also serves as a representation of the changing needs of a music industry which, while it recognizes her important contributions to pop music and R&B, finds the 41 year-old singer facing stiff competition from a wide range of up-and-coming young singers.  Music industry analysts suggest that her need to connect with a young audience may be behind her most recent Christmas collaboration with pop superstar Justin Bieber.  As MTV correspondent Sterling Wong states in discussing what he called a “strange musical collaboration,” Carey and Bieber make for an unlikely combination.  “Not only is the music Carey makes very different from Bieber’s,” Wong wrote, “her fanbase is an entirely different demographic” (Wong).   However, the Bieber/Carey collaboration, coupled with Carey’s recent inauguration as Jenny Craig’s new ambassador, suggests that the Grammy winning artist is trying to retain her cachet with loyal, ageing fans while reaching out to a younger audience who would not even have been born when top hits like “Vision of Love” (1990) and “Fantasy” (1995) were released.

Issues of Carey’s relevance in the youth-driven music market of 2011 aside, her  voice remains her best and most distinctive asset; with its unique five-octave range and ability to access the whistle register, it possess a power which few young up-and-comers can match.  According to J. Steven Walker of the Department of Music at East Central University, the whistle register is the highest vocal range available to human beings, and one that almost all women can develop, given the right training.  However, the physiological reasons that allow some singers to access this unique vocal range remains largely unknown the whistle register has become a trademark of Carey’s and one which she continues to utilize on her thirteenth, and most recent, studio album, Merry Christmas II You (2010).  The album debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200, making it Carey’s 16th top ten album over the course of her career (Ramirez).  The success of this album illustrates that Carey retains the star power necessary to sell records and attract fans.

Carey’s star power was also recently demonstrated with the high level of media attention she received after the birth of her twin sons, the pinnacle of which was her pre-recorded interview with husband Nick Cannon on 20/20.  Carey’s ability to successfully brand herself not only as a pop icon, but as a philanthropist, actress, and product spokeswoman mirrors Paul Allen’s assertion that “the name of the artist is a distinct brand, and like all brands it becomes the sum of all of the experiences the fan has had with the artist’s music” (Allen 71).  Thus, Carey’s control over her own image–which could be interpreted as evidence of her diva-like tendencies–also speaks to her abilities as a businesswoman to connect her name and image with causes and products that she feels befits her celebrity status, musical accomplishments, and personal beliefs.

This has led Carey to attract some criticism, as recently reported by the New York Daily News’ Sashana Maitland.  Carey’s duet with Justin Bieber, “All I Want for Christmas,” aired on NBC at the end of November and garnered some negative publicity due to “some rather awkward moments” (Maitland) between the teenage pop sensation and the diva, who is over twenty years his senior.  While the video provided Carey with the opportunity to “show off her post-baby body in a sexy Santa-inspired dress” (Matiland), some critics complained that the video was overly sexualized and looked “more like a long commercial for Macy’s” (Matiland).

Carey’s desire to position herself as both a sex symbol and a wholesome mother-figure illustrates the difficulties often faced by female pop stars as they make the transition from youthful sensations into more mature musical talents.  As Donald Lazere points out in his investigation of pop culture and capitalism, American Media and Mass Culture, “as in real life, women stars are almost always judged by their ‘sex’ appeal,’ an image that sells with people from all backgrounds.  This presents a model for other women to envy and compete with, and a fantasy image for men to dwell on and possibly attempt to make come true” (Lazere 303).

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that much of the recent publicity surrounding Carey has moved away from a  focus on her difficult pregnancy and love of motherhood to emphasize her recent weight loss and other physical attributes.  As J.J. Anisiobi reported for the Daily Mail, Carey’s promotional tour for “All I Want for Christmas” revealed that the singer is “back to her svelte figure” after losing more than 70 pounds, a weight loss which “rolled back the years as [Carey] unveiled her curvy body.  Anisiobi’s article was accompanied by a series of candid photos of Carey to illustrate her new incarnation as a sex symbol for the 21st Century.  While such an approach may keep Carey firmly placed in the public eye, it raises questions of the star’s integrity and intentions in celebrating her weight loss as if it is her sole means of self-definition, especially given Carey’s lyrical emphasis on female empowerment and the value of self-acceptance.

Works Cited

Allen, Paul. Artist Management for the Music Business. Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2011.

Anisiobi, J.J. “The Emancipation of Mimi: Mariah Carey Shows Off Slim Figure in Tight   Red Dress.” The Daily Mail, 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.

Lazere, Donald. American Media and Mass Culture: Left Perspectives. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987.

Matiland, Sashana. “Bieber’s Christmas Duet with Mariah Carey Draws Criticism.” New York Daily News, 2 Dec. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.

Morison, Katie. “Exclusive: Mariah Carey on Marriage, Miscarriage, and Motherhood.” ABC News, 21 Oct. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.

Ramirez, Rauly. “R&B/Hip Hop Chart Juice.” Billboard, 10 Dec. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.

Shapiro, Mark. Mariah Carey: The Unauthorized Biography. New York: ECW Press, 2001.

Walker, J. Steven. “An Investigation of the Whistle Register in the Female Voice.” Journal of Voice 2.2 (1988). Web. 11 Dec. 2011.

Wong, Sterling. “Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey and Five Other Strange Musical Collaborations.” MTV Newsroom, 20 Oct. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.

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