Mariah Carey – Emotions

First Hit #1: October 12, 1991

Mariah Carey’s second album Emotions was released on September 17, 1991. It probably should have been released later.

It’s not because it’s ahead of its time, or because Emotions was too cutting edge for audiences of 1991. No, it’s because the album needed a little bit more time in the oven. Yes, I said that they ran out of singles from Carey’s first album, and Carey and her management team agreed, since this was released soon after. But the problem is that in rushing out a follow up they made music – and in particular, this single – that really needed a bit of sober thought and revising before it was released.

It’s not a bad song per se, it’s the start of a bit of fun dance music, a theoretically exciting way to launch a record. While I’m not as impressed by her journeys into the whistle register, it’s at least a fun song, and she’s still a dynamic singer. However, this is a song where the hook is “You’ve got me feeling emotions.” In a genre of music which isn’t necessarily a bastion of depth and complexity, this stands out as possibly one of the most meaningless lines ever sung. Yes, it’s followed up by other lines, which suggest a depth or height of these ambiguous emotions, but it’s still the kind of line that you put in a song in anticipation of putting in a better line later. That’s the problem overall, it’s something that’s good enough rather than good, a song that feels as though it is only on the album because they need a lead single quick and it’s basically done.

Carey’s game, she’s exuberant and suggesting meaning to the lyrics with her joyful performance that the lines don’t have on their own. Really, she’s let down by the fact that everyone involved could have probably used a few months to fine tune and make the songs actually mean something, instead of just plowing forward in the Mariah Carey money train. As a result, while not bad, is somewhat willfully generic. It isn’t quite a song that would inspire you to buy the entire album, which is probably why Emotions wasn’t as big as her debut.

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2 Responses to Mariah Carey – Emotions

  1. RBerman says:

    Ah yes, the infamous “sophomore slump” which has befallen many a musical artist. In the case of singer-songwriters, the cause is clear. Not only did they spend ten years writing the songs on the first album, but only ten months on the second album. But even worse, the ten years were spent out and about in the world, having relationships come and go, interacting with friends, living *life*. Whereas the ten months were spent in a tour bus, doing concerts, giving promo interviews to local radio stations, fielding the same dumb questions repeatedly at in-store meet-n-greets. Small wonder they have so little new to say, and haven’t had a chance to absorb any interesting new musical influences either, what with playing their own songs over and over and over.

    Carey’s first album contsisted of songs she co-wrote (one always wonders who did how much) with Ben Marguiles, Ric Wake, and Rhett Lawrence, whereas the second album’s co-authors were drawn from a different well including none other than Carole King. This should have insulated her from the dreaded slump, but audiences saw diminishing returns (8 million albums sold worldwide, vs. 15 million on the first album). Still, if that’s failure, can I have some?

    Mariah really doubles down on the whistle tones on this track, I suppose is her version of “taking it to the next level,” or perhaps just playing to her strength, even if it does turn into a crutch and a gimmick. Modern pop hates sopranos, so she hangs out in the Whitney Houston mezzo range for the most part.

  2. RBerman says:

    P.S. A few other hit songs which have been similarly lazy in the lyrics:

    “I get so emotional, baby, every time I think of you.” (Whitney Houston, “So Emotional”)

    “In the words of a broken heart, it’s just emotion that’s taking me over.” (Samantha Sang, fronting the Bee Gees, “Emotion,” which was also a big hit for Destiny’s Child)

    “Oh baby, I’m lost in emotion. Am I a fool? At least, my friends think so. Que sera, sera.” (Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, “Lost in Emotion”)

    Better songs use “emotion” more effectively: “Young emotions are mixed emotions, for it’s a world where love and confusion reign” (Ricky Nelson, “Young Emotions”). To her credit, Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” did rhyme “notion/devotion/ocean” but resisted the urge to describe love as an “emotion.”

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