The enjoyment viewers get from ‘Mariah’s World’ depends on how much they click with its star
Before we proceed any further, let’s make one thing perfectly clear – when Mariah Carey sings, the Earth rises, the heavens open up and the world soars to the sound of her voice. She is the woman that Pygmalion chiseled. God made Mariah in Her image – and Mariah has no Adam, for Mariah does not need an Adam.
A decent singer (the average “American Idol” finalist, for example) has the right pitch and can hit the right notes. A great singer injects her voice with such emotional power that it can enkindle the fullest extent of our love, rage and lust. It topples dictatorships, and allows the listener to grasp the sublime. Mariah is such a singer. These understatements fail to do justice to the power of her craftsmanship.
Yet even with all the Grammys, platinum-selling, critically acclaimed records and legions of fans who would jump into a shark-infested volcano if she commanded it, it seems as if Mariah Carey still has not received the respect she deserves. In the wake of her unfortunate New Year’s performance (something that stemmed from a series of technical glitches that Mariah had nothing to do with, mind you), the snarky vultures predictably swarmed in to get in their licks.
As her new reality TV show, “Mariah’s World” demonstrates, Mariah is dismissive of these jabs as the envious grumblings of no-talent roaches that they are, yet occasionally flashes signs of a gnawing insecurity that they may be right all along. For this reason, “Mariah’s World” acts as a unique analysis of celebrity psychology, with far more insight than even Oscar contenders like “Jackie” can offer.
Even for a dedicated Mariah fan like yours truly, it’s hard to exactly file “Mariah’s World” under the “quality television” category. Billed as an opportunity for fans to discover the ins and outs of “the real Mariah,” the show confines itself to many of the tedious clichés of its genre.
Since the show is of zero interest to those not already invested in Mariah the Performer and Mariah the Person, it seems curious that the producers would pad the runtime with obnoxious subplots that center around dilemmas such as, “Will Mariah’s airheaded assistant get the right coffee?”
Still, one reality TV cliché refreshingly absent from “Mariah’s World” is the empty, banal soundtrack. Viewers of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” or “Jersey Shore” are more than familiar with the omnipresent piano keys (with an occasional electronic jazz groove to spice things up) played over and over and over again throughout every episode to the point where it seems that that mediocre drivel will be what they play when they lower your casket into the dirt.
In a nice change of pace, “Mariah’s World” loads itself with the titular diva’s greatest hits, which span across a near-three-decade career. From the bouncy whimsy of “Fantasy,” to the sensual cooing behind “Vision of Love,” to the unabashed vigor of “Honey,” to the velvety splendor of “Beautiful,” it’s an international disgrace that Mariah can cultivate an extensive, diverse body of work on the level of Kanye West or Radiohead, yet never receive the same slobbering puff pieces from Pitchfork or NME – not that she needs them anyway.
Under the school of new criticism spearheaded by literary theorists like Cleanth Brooks and T.S. Eliot, authorial intent does not have – nor should it have – relevance to one’s analysis. What matters is how the text is interpreted. It’s unlikely that a reality show about a famous pop star on E! was pitched as “the next Mad Men.” While it’s unclear if “Mariah’s World” acts as an intentional exploration on how celebrity image is meticulously designed (and how said celebrities decide which moments of vulnerability to display to the public), it certainly has become one regardless of its original creative goals.
A hallmark of a genius is their ability to make the work they do seem effortless, while clearly the result of enormous labor. If there’s any insight that can be gleaned from “Mariah’s World,” it’s that its star puts in the work. Various sequences across all eight episodes feature Mariah and her backup dancers going through grueling rehearsals of the extensive choreography that comprise her concert performances. “Don’t film me right now,” she says to the cameras, “This is where I’m learning.”
The ostensible auteur of the show, what Mariah chooses to include in her reality series, is as important as what she leaves out. We see the genuineness of her affection toward her children, the performative enthusiasm that she displays with record execs, the veiled annoyance at the incompetence of her subordinates, the exasperation that comes with handling her lunk-headed soon-to-be-ex-fiancé (only Mariah Carey could postpone her wedding via phone and still look classy), her obvious enjoyment as she entertains her fans (particularly her queer fan base, who Mariah has always counted amongst her most loyal followers) coupled with occasional flashes of fear that one day they may grow tired of her, or, even worse, abandon her should she reveal herself fully to them.
“It’s always my fault,” sighs Mariah – a statement eerily predictive of her New Year’s snafu. Sure, it may come across as needless self-pity from someone whose income likely rivals the GDP of several countries, yet it does hint at what Mariah Carey is “about” beneath the glamor and pizzazz. Mess up, and the whole world watches. Imagine being used as a vessel for every onlooker to project all of their wishful fantasies onto. Imagine being used as punching bag once that ideal self is revealed to be but a calculated extension of the real self. Everyone loves you as an idea, yet no one loves you as a person. As amazing as Mariah may be, that unimaginable loneliness is something that I do not envy.
Nate Taskin can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @nate_taskin.