Today we remember the legacy and impact of Glitter, the legendary Mariah Carey film, originally released in September 2001 and the subject of both unfair derision and cult glorification for a decade and a half since.
On September 11, 2001, Mariah Carey released what was likely the most expensive album of all time. In 2000, Carey signed a mammoth $100 million contract with Virgin Records for five albums. Glitter, a soundtrack record to accompany her first major role in a feature film was the first of the deal.
Most of us can fill in the details. The film bombed and the album was met with disappointing (but not terrible!) sales. In a panic, Virgin paid Carey $28 million to release her from the contract. Her next two albums with Island Records were the moderately successful Charmbracelet—selling over a million units in the United States—and The Emancipation of Mimi, which went on to sell 12 million units worldwide.
Looking back, Virgin’s decision to cut their losses after one flop from a singer who trailed only Elvis Presley and the Beatles in Number One songs seems short-sighted to say the least. In 2016, it’s difficult to imagine thinking of Mariah Goddamn Carey as that much of a liability. Then you watch Glitter, and maybe it made a wacky sense at the time. The soundtrack, however, is a different story.
While the album was generally panned by critics and received Carey’s lowest first-week sales up to that point, it was still certified platinum with over 650,000 albums sold. I also maintain that Glitter isn’t quite as bad as it seemed at the time and as many of us vaguely remember it to be.
So join me. Stroll with me. Let’s revisit a whimsical, slightly misguided but well-sung moment in time—one Mariah Carey almost certainly wants us all to forget.
“Loverboy”/ “Loverboy (Remix)” featuring Da Brat, Ludacris, Shawnna and Twenty II
“Loverboy” was Glitter’s lead single, and though it failed to reach Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 (it fizzled out at second), it was still the best-selling song of 2001.
The most important things to remember about Loverboy are that Mariah, even on her worst days, is still outselling everybody else. More importantly, Loverboy is also famous for sparking the feud between the Elusive Chanteuse and Jenny from the Block.
The song heavily samples Cameo’s “Candy” but Carey and producers had originally planned to sample Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker.” Reportedly, Jennifer Lopez and Mariah’s ex-husband, music executive Tommy Mottola, also licensed the usage of “Firecracker” (for “I’m Real”) knowing that Lopez’s album would be released months before Glitter. As a result, Mariah had to change the sample. (Though, honestly, “Candy” was probably the better move anyway.)
If that wasn’t rude enough, according to Irv Gotti, founder of Murder Inc. Records, after hearing Ja Rule and Nate Dogg on “If We” from Glitter, Mottola asked them to do a song “in the same style” for Jennifer Lopez. That song would become one of the greatest songs ever, the “I’m Real” remix. (However, I find claim this slightly more dubious, if only because how many different sounds does Ja Rule really have? He sounds the same on a JLo record as he does on a Mariah record as he does on a Ashanti record, etc.)
As a song, “Loverboy” is sweet and catchy and was probably helped by the video, which is quite possibly the best Carey has ever looked. It’s also a great example of one of the issues that plagues Glitter as a whole, wherein Mariah plays second fiddle to her guest rappers. It’s more than a minute before we hear her singing anything other than background vocals and even after, it’s as if no one realized they had one of the greatest voices in the history of voices sitting in the studio.
“Lead the Way”
Since Glitter the film was set in the ‘80s, the concept of the soundtrack was ‘80s-style sounds—which we’ll get to later—and classic Mariah Carey ballads. This was a solid strategy largely because even if a Mariah Carey ballad isn’t great, it will never truly be bad. The voice won’t allow for it.
The problem isn’t that she doesn’t sound good, but an incredibly boring supply of lyrics. Carey described “Lead the Way” as a “’Vision of Love’-type record” and one of her favorite songs from the album. It’s a little breathy, even for Mariah Carey and the message of the lyrics aren’t particularly compelling. Still, put this on the soundtrack of a late-’90s black romcom like The Best Man, and I’m guessing you would have had a much more successful second single.
“If We (featuring Ja Rule and Nate Dogg)”
This is the kind of shit that just was never going to work for this album. It doesn’t really jibe with the ‘80s dance sound and it’s not a ballad. Mostly it sounds like Mariah is trying to sing a lullaby while Ja Rule keeps interrupting.
“Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”
Here we have the best example of what may have been Glitter’s greatest downfall. The film is set in 1983. My bold contention is that no movie should ever be set in the 1980s unless it is absolutely necessary—i.e., it was literally made during the ‘80s or historical accuracy depends on it.
The decision to make Glitter an ‘80s film was supposedly Carey’s idea—one in which she lauded herself for being ahead of the curve as she told Elle in a June 2001 interview:
“I had this idea four years ago,” Carey says. “And people said, ‘’80s? Nobody’s ready for ‘80s.’ I said ‘I really feel strongly about the ‘80s, ‘cause it’s nostalgic.’ Some of the executives were concerned that it was too soon, and people weren’t ready to go there. And I said “Trust me, they are.”
The problem is you’re only ahead of the curve if it actually works. In Glitter’s case, they overshot it by seven to 15 years.
In 2001, I was 13 years old and a huge Mariah Carey fan. Much of the millennial generation at the time—AKA a huge bloc of movie ticket buyers—was between the ages of about 11 to 21. I remember being unable to relate to the style and sound of the ‘80s and I’m guessing many age felt the same way.
The decade wasn’t long enough ago to feel particularly retro and we hadn’t yet hit the nostalgia boom that you’re seeing literally right now as you read this post. In 2001, for much of the young, movie ticket- and album-buying audience, the ‘80s simply weren’t cool yet. The complicates things because the soundtrack is full of covers and ‘80s-inspired jams like this Cherrelle cover.
“Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” isn’t bad. It’s cute and boppy and received a slick Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis production job. I think the timing just wasn’t right.
“Don’t Stop (Funkin’ 4 Jamaica)” featuring Mystikal
This is a great song, I don’t care what anybody thinks. Every few months I remember Glitter exists because of this song. Is it a lot of Mystikal (as in, you don’t hear Mariah’s voice for the first 40 seconds)? Yes it is, but this is 2001 Mystikal so there’s nothing wrong with that. Is he pretty much just repeating the lyrics from “Shake Ya Ass” over and over? Sure, but “Shake Ya Ass” is a great song so again, I see no problem with that. This is basically a Mystikal song with a Tom Browne sample and Mariah Carey hook, meaning Mystikal backdoored his way into what I have to assume was the most expensive production of his career.
“Don’t Stop” is probably the only successful story for that ‘80s-style song/early ‘00s rap sound that they were going for. It’s the third single off the album and failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 because everyone is stupid.
“All My Life”
“All My Life” was written by Rick James and boy does it sound like it. The track is sexy and Mariah delivers great silky controlled vocals that might be difficult for 2016 Mariah to reproduce. This is, objectively, a strong ‘80s R&B jam.
“Reflections (Care Enough)”
“Reflections” would become her last single under Virgin Records. It’s a well-sung, generic ballad that would probably spawn countless amateur covers on YouTube if released today.
Again, the biggest issue is with the lyrics, which tie too closely in with the film and aren’t captivating enough to really stand on their own. “Reflections” also includes the bizarre “abortion line,” as Mariah’s character sings about being given up by her mother.
A mother’s love/ You could have had the decency/ To give me up/ Before you gave me life
I mean, yikes.
“Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” featuring Busta Rhymes, Fabolous and DJ Clue
I’m not a music producer or a scientist but there has to be some formula or theorem explaining why exactly rappers and post-disco music don’t mix.
This is a cover from the one-hit-wonder group Indeep and I’m not mad at it— other than the presence of Busta Rhymes, Fabolous and DJ Clue, who sound like a rapping comic strip. What she should have done is covered the song sans Busta yelling in the background and delivered more powerful, less breathy vocals.
In an attempt to mine the ‘80s sounds, all they really did was speed them up a bit, pull out a synthesizer and throw on two or more rappers, which clearly didn’t do the trick. Just let Mariah Carey pull a Mariah Carey on the song, update the drums and you’ve got something the people can get with.
“Want You” featuring Eric Benét
Did you remember that Halle Berry’s ex-husband is in Glitter? Probably not, and there’s absolutely no need to other than in this moment because he’s featured on the song we’re talking about.
Sorry, this just isn’t great. Not a lot to say here. I blame Eric.
“Never Too Far”
In Glitter, Mariah’s character Billie sings “Never Too Far” at the end of the film after she learns her ex-boyfriend Dice has been shot and killed.
Please allow me to go on a brief tangent. I need make note of what I consider to be a pretty major plot hole in the film. Dice owes Terrence Howard’s character $100,000 for releasing Billie from a bad record contract. Dice goes on to produce a hit single for Billie. Terrence Howard shoots him dead because Dice hasn’t paid him back yet. First of all, that’s sort of an extreme reaction to what, in this scenario, is not a massive amount of money. Also, since Dice has a hit song under his belt, how does he not have enough money to start paying back at least part of the debt. He can’t even make a few payments? Come on.
Anyway, this was meant to be THE ballad of the album—it’s the second single—and as the strongest one, it shows. “Never Too Far” was a flop, I would argue, for reasons outside of anyone’s control. The release of the song as a single directly coincided with Carey’s nervous breakdown. She was unable to film a music video and did little promo. It also probably would have helped if the movie wasn’t terrible.
This should have cut this in half and made it an interlude. Problem solved.
Have you changed your mind about Glitter? Is it, actually, worse than you remembered? I doubt it, because it really isn’t a bad album. The circumstances surrounding its release were both tragic and impactful. Still, breakdown or not and the 9/11 attacks or not, Glitter probably wasn’t going to work either way.
Maybe Mariah was ahead of of us all and the time is now, 15 years later, for us to enjoy the fruits of her vision. Give it a consideration. But don’t bother heading to her official YouTube channel, Spotify or your streaming service of choice to give Glitter another listen. Mariah had that taken care of.