Mariah Carey has now been asked repeatedly why she signed up for her own reality show (though she’s adamant that it be referred to as a “docuseries,” as though that euphemism is for us, not her), though the answer is clear: Because she’s a natural spectacle. Though much of the early, mega-successful portion of her career in the ‘90s was spent under the thumb of her label head/husband Tommy Mottola, her persona flourished after they split and in the wake of the professional catastrophe that was 2001's Glitter. Workhorse Mariah had to die so that eccentric Mariah could live. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Though she’s no longer the chart queen she once was, I’d argue that her impact on culture has been just as strong on this side of the new millennium. She’s still making hits—as long as you expand your definition of what a hit is. It doesn’t have to be a song. A hit could be an incredible interview, a brave performance, or an extended show and tell of her Tribeca pad. The woman, she has moments, and she has them for days. It’s really all the same, ultimately, in an attention economy.
In advance of Sunday’s premiere of Mariah’s World, here’s a rundown of Mariah’s greatest hits, musical and otherwise, of the past 15 years.
15. When she said she regularly fired her nannies so her kids don’t get too attached
In this 2014 Breakfast Club interview, Mariah said she’ll fire nannies like this (snap) “if they try to make themselves more important in the baby’s mind than me.” If that sounds exhausting, it isn’t the half of it, according to a 2015 lawsuit from one of her former nannies that claimed she was made to work overtime without adequate compensation for it.
14. “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time”
A song of the summer that never was, this third single off MC’s 2008 E=MC² (I know) album should have been everywhere but it just never took off (perhaps because the single that came before it, “Bye Bye,” was wack enough to poison the well). As such, this feels like one that got away. It makes me want to write a Mariah-esque song about it. I’ll be lovin’ you long time, “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time.”
Mariah donned a prosthetic nose and no-makeup look for her turn as a dowdy social worker in Lee Daniels’ 2009 movie Precious. So brave. So, so brave. (But for real, name a better pop-star-turned-actress of Carey’s generation. You can’t!!!)
12. Her drunken speech accepting an award at the 2010 Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala
This is like one of those infamous Anna Nicole moments without the feeling of impending doom. (I think!)
11. “Shake It Off”
The part when her phone cuts out and you realize this woman is just talking to herself is a really great metaphor for a cautionary tale about fame in the event your audience dries up.
10. Her unveiling of her Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse album
Mariah discussed the back-cover artwork for her 2014 full-length, saying the “first and only self-portrait” of hers depicted was drawn when she was three. “Please don’t judge me for such a simplistic title, come on, I was only three and a half,” said the then-44- or 45-year-old diva (fun fact: sources vary on her exact age). “Me. I am Mariah,” was her story and she stuck to it. The heavily retouched actual cover for the album, incidentally, was no more realistic than her rendering of herself as a toddler.
9. “#Beautiful” featuring Miguel
Do yourself a favor and get reacquainted with this song’s greatness.
She didn’t strip, but she also didn’t not strip. This looks like fun, really.
7. The Nicki Minaj American Idol debacle
The 13th season of American Idol, on which Mariah appeared on the judging panel alongside Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, and Randy Jackson started so innocently, with Mariah and Nicki, former collaborators, playfully sparring and pretending like they hated each other. And then a standoff occurred (which initially seemed like it was staged when TMZ reported it months in advance of the season premiere), and they stopped pretending and just hated each other. For most of the season, they barely acknowledged each other’s existence. The feud peaked when Barbara Walters interviewed Mariah, Walters spit some lines at Mariah from Nicki’s “Hell Yeah,” (“I’m quick to check a bitch if she is out of line”) and asked, “Are you the bitch she’s singing about?” “Don’t know,” Mariah responded. “Don’t know what she’s saying. I didn’t know she sang. I thought she rapped. Or whatever. [Marge Simpson-esque groan.]”
6. “Touch My Body”
This song is the epitome of the mincing, piano-plunked snap&B signature sound of its producers The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. It’s called “Touch My Body.” And most importantly, its video features a unicorn, perhaps riffing on a hilarious observation made by Rob Sheffield’s in his 2001 Rolling Stone review of Glitter (“Mariah Carey called her last album Rainbow and the one before that Butterfly. So many Mariah fans will probably be disappointed that she didn’t decide to title this one Unicorn. (Or how about Kitten? Maybe Koala?)”). Self-awareness is a dish best served on the back of a unicorn.
The “dahling”-ing. The self-parodying diva behavior that was just a smokescreen for the actual diva underneath. The directing she did from the couch. Home-shopping gigs are goldmines for celebrity voyeurs as they offer live, uninterrupted feeds of stars having to talk for sometimes hours at a time. Why don’t more celebrities do this?!
Mariah Carey has a Mermaid Room and a chaise lounge in her kitchen and a Moroccan room that she named her son after and Marilyn Monroe’s piano (but you can’t see it) and a lot of Hello Kitty shit and is a person who loves dolphins and and and... If she never writes a memoir, it’s because she doesn’t have to after Cribs.
3. “We Belong Together”
A triumphant comeback, and the finest No. 1 she ever crafted. The complexity of the delivery in the second verse, her positioning herself alongside her audience as a passive listener (Bobby Womack and Babyface are on her radio, as she is on ours), the deep knock of her and Jermaine Dupri’s bass. Everything about this is a reminder of how shrewd a pop-music composer Mariah is at her very best.
2. “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
No matter the state of her music career, Mariah Carey is completely relevant at least one month out of the year, like clockwork. It is a perennial moment.