Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Over the "Rainbow"

A tale of two Mariahs

By Alex Pappademas

NOVEMBER 22, 1999:  So sneakily derisive you wonder how it got past the handlers, Jay-Z's guest verse on Mariah Carey's new single "Heartbreaker" is Mariah criticism better than I could ever scribble. The rest of the song -- audaciously revisiting the hook from Mariah's own "Dreamlover" and the Tom Tom Club-derived bizounce of her "Fantasy" -- is a bubbly sigh about mean boyfriends. Inside-baseball followers will no doubt read it as "The Ballad of Derek Jeter," as in the Yankee shortstop who (it's reported) spurned Carey before she could get to first base.

But Jay-Z's contribution -- the first of many clock-punching rapper cameos on Mariah's new, hip-hop-besotted Rainbow (Columbia) -- is satirical enough to make me rethink my whole stance on Jigga's flossed-out prose. "She wanna shop with Jay," he chuckles, "play box with Jay. . . . She wanna drive my Benz with five of her friends. . . . She wanna answer the phone, tattoo her arm/That's when I gotta send her back to her moms."

You couldn't pin down Rainbow's tone more concisely. Like the rest of the country, Mariah's infatuated with rap, still pound-for-pound the late 20th century's most action-packed vernacular tradition (and the only '90s genre that can match her record of Billboard supremacy -- as her absurdly stats-heavy press bio points out, she's had a #1 hit every year this decade). And she's not new to the bandwagon -- way back in '93, she had Ol' Dirty Bastard on her "Dreamlover" remix, where he memorably rhymed "Mariah" with "pacifier." The problem is, Mariah, like the space-crowding groupie Jay clowns, is never gonna be cool enough to steer the Humvee.

It's not that she doesn't try to, uh, represent. The inside cover of the Rainbow CD tells us, "This album chronicles my emotional rollercoaster ride of the past year. If you listen closely, there's a story here with a very happy ending." It's a bald-faced attempt to position the collection as the kind of diva-diary soul baring Mary J. Blige excels at. But unlike Mary, who routinely gets down in the psychic wreckage of city life with MCs like Method Man and Ghostface Killah as her equals, not her escorts, Mariah's an inveterate consensus builder, and she tries so hard for cross-platform dominance that it undermines any street cred she might otherwise scoop up.

The "Heartbreaker" video features two Mariahs, a honey-blonde Britney Spears replicant and a malevolent dark-haired hoochie, both catfighting over Scream 2 fratboy Jerry O'Connell (don't ask) in a cineplex ladies' room. Rainbow's so schizo that this second-Mariah theory explains a lot: Mariah-A is the one who slums glamorously on the BET network, whereas Mariah-B sings about chasing your dreams on the Disney Channel.

On Rainbow, Mariah-A laces a "Heartbreaker" remix with guest raps by Missy Elliott and Da Brat and production by personality jock DJ Clue; she paraphrases Tupac; she pays Master P and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs (of Destiny's Child fame) to bring last month's beats. Mariah-B prefers dropping spotlight-dance bombs on the prom, so she covers Phil Collins's "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" and employs adult-contemporary arranger David Foster (who adds his waxy build-ups to "After Tonight") and songwriter Diane Warren (whose soapy ballads are chicken soup for the soul singer). This Mariah also favors Kathie Lee dippiness in the liner notes ("In a perfect world human beings would co-exist harmoniously, like a rainbow. A multitude of colors . . . in unison, boundless, breathtaking, celestial"). Meanwhile, hip-hop Mariah poses for David LaChappelle's album photos in a rainbow tanktop she apparently had custom-airbrushed at the mall, with matching Daisy Dukes.

"Heartbreaker" aside, only two cuts really work, both of 'em making good on the album's otherwise unfulfilled promises of confession. "Petals" introspects candidly -- apparently referring to her ill-fated marriage to music-biz shot caller Tommy Mottola (who gets a chilly liner-note recognition for running "an outstanding company"), she admits, "I gravitated towards a patriarch/So young, predictably/I was resigned to spend my life within a maze of misery." And the song's probably unintentional allusion to co-dependent bisexual love ("A boy and a girl befriended me/We've bonded through despondency," not to mention that title) makes Mariah seem more intriguing than she actually is.

On "Crybaby" Mariah wanders through her new man's house at night thinking about her ex-man. She chases Nytols with Bailey's Cream "by the stereo, trying to find relief on the radio," an image that puts her embrace of hip-hop's bluster in a perspective of heartfelt escapist longing. You feel her pain while it lasts, but the image of too-sweet alcohol is too apt, and eventually the CD washes out with some more yak about rainbows and a slushy duet with 98 Degrees, as if to remind us that Mariah can still be our pacifier. And that's when I gotta sell it back to the store.


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