Why No One Saw That Glitter Was a Defining Album For The Rnb Genre Twenty Years Ago?

Glitter/ Mariah Carey

Written by Victoria Kabeya/VKY. All Rights Reserved.

Even the greatest artists remain overlooked for their greatest traits. Though recognised as the greatest cultural symbol of the 20th century, a global legend, a king of dance, performance and music, Michael Jackson, in his grandeur, has not been recognised enough as the main foundation of male Rnb music. It is true that soul and rnb singers such as Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye among many others were the fathers of the genre, Michael Jackson, throughout his solo career has laid the modern foundations for male Rnb vocals. From R.Kelly, Jodeci, Bobby Brown, Usher, Neyo, Ginuwine, to the overrated Weeknd and many more, Michael Jackson’s adlibs, vocal harmonies and arrangements, powerfully represented by the album Invincible have been reproduced, copied and embraced as the modern standard for black male vocalists.

In the black or Afro descendant female realm of Rnb music, it is clear that the foundations were laid by Aretha Franklin. If other great vocal legends such as Chaka Khan (extremely versatile, thus a female version of Prince), Patti Labelle, Anita Baker, followed after Aretha, Whitney Houston was the one who brought a new twist to singing in the modern era. Until now, if Jennifer Hudson has been used by the industry as a (failed) replacement of Houston, no other black female singer has ever been able to reproduce what Houston delivered. The 1990s counted many modern black female vocalists who made the Rnb category richer. Faith Evans, Kelly Price, Keke Wyatt for example have been the products of church and were influenced by deep black American culture along with Whitney Houston. Yet, Mariah Carey would really represent a threat to Houston. Though the latter remains the best vocalist of the two, Carey wrote, produced and co-composed her songs. No, her lyrics would prove not to be as basic as that of a Beyoncé at all but enriched with powerful poetic content with themes evolving around spirituality, racism, social isolation, love and romance.

As women often tend to be exposed to more discrimination and disdain than men, especially in the music industry where the female artists have to deal with ageism, sexism and racism, it was true that in the 1990s, excellence was not an option. Like many other female singers of her generation, Mariah Carey had to be labelled and saw her music being reduced to trivial things such as Christmas, a diva-ish behavior as well as a love for excentricity and luxury.

As Whitney Houston symbolized the hope of an affected nation as she sang the 1991 US hymn, Mariah Carey was never seen as a mirror of American suburban history and cultural evolution. If not reduced to her high notes, diva behavior and love for champagne, Carey is, like the Jacksons, a historical representation of the New-York and modern black Rnb culture of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

First of all, Carey is, like Chaka Khan, a versatile singer and musician who can sing pop music as much as soul, rnb, gospel and funk. Yet, as her label under the domination of Tommy Mottola, attempted to reduce her to the ballad singer image, Carey tried to adapt her image and make it more modern by incorporating more hip-hop and rnb sounds in her music, thus escaping the whitewashing she was a victim of.

The attack on Glitter was planned and deliberate. Tommy Mottola had had enough of her it is true, but the 2001 downfall could not simply be explained by Mottola only. Carey had tremendously changed from 1990 to 1999 and 2001. It is clear that artists have the right to change and adapt as the 1980s and late 1990s had nothing to do with one another in music, politics, culture, fashion and many more. But one could say that Daydream released in 1995 would be the last album produced by the old traditional Carey, as Butterfly displayed a much more sexually liberated woman who undressed herself more and incorporated many more hip-hop and contemporary rnb sounds in her music.

A great portion of her fanbase did not recognise her in the later years of the decade at all. Those who loved the sounds of a Vision of Love, Love Takes Time, Emotions or Dreamlover did not recognise their loved one in the new sound she released. However, it is true, Carey always tried to maintain the same formula as she grew. Though her cds became much more hip-hop and rnb, they always contained ballads, or covers to satisfy her original fanbase which had been in love with Love Takes Time. Some of these fans were not ok with her becoming much more focused on her sensual liberation, diva behaviors as the believed she became a different person from the years 1990 to 1995-6. Yet, at the same time, Carey gained fans who did not like her earlier music but enjoyed the hip-hop and rnb fusion. With her earlier image, some black Americans had wrongly thought Mariah tried to whitewash herself, an opinion which changed by the end of the decade. To be honest, many white fans from the early 90s grew uncomfortable with Carey embracing her black American heritage. So yes, once again, Carey’s evolution mirrored the racial relations in America throughout the 90s and 2000s even if we had entered a multiracial and globalist era.

In that sense, as proven, the failure of Glitter was provoked by Tommy Mottola. Songs were illegally given to Jennifer Lopez whose earlier fashion style copied that of Carey, as she divorced Mottola, the latter did everything in his power to tarnish Mariah, sabotage her cds, projects and humiliate her in the media as she had been mocked and pushed to the edge. By 2001, after ten years of nonstop number ones, Mariah had been deemed a has been and was said to be replaced by Christina Aguilera. An insult.

As the media machine formula of the 90s and 2000s was similar to that of today, it functioned as a block with no efficient Internet as a counterpower to overthrow the reign and lies of television, Carey became the least important musical act at the time.

Glitter was far from being a flop. It was a very well produced album which was also a testament to Carey’s historical and cultural New-York legacy. Set in the 1980s, the plot has been inspired by Mariah’s own life. Born in March 1970, Carey was an 80s teenager and had been shaped by the freestyle, rnb and hip-hop vibes of her hometown. Without knowing it, Glitter was the avant-garde and ahead of its time as Carey had already understood that the 2000s would be marked, when it comes to Rnb, by a musical revival of the 1980s. Early on, by 1997, Carey had released several remixes of her songs which incorporated 1980s covers or influences. She knew as she always understood the trends to come. This understanding of music allowed her to quickly evolve from the early 1990s sound to that of a hip-hop/contemporary Rnb feeling.

The 2000s were a revival of the 80s in Rnb. First of all, the club house culture was still heavily played and present until the mid 2000s. The 1990s had been influenced by the 1970s especially in fashion and the 80s were seen as a thing of the past. Not for Carey who proved that the Rnb sound of the 80s was as timeless, avant-gardiste, innovative as any other one. It could easily be merged within modern sounds. Rnb was Carey’s culture more than pop.

For Carey, the idea of releasing both a movie and soundtrack followed the creations of Prince and Michael Jackson. Like the latter, she was ahead of her time it would become the norm in the 2000s with dance movies such as You Got Served for example. It is true that Michael Jackson had changed the formula of video and introduced this idea with the production of Thriller in 1983 (a short-film), Bad in 1987, Black or White in 1991-2, Ghost in 1996 but the idea of Glitter was far from being a laughing matter. As she became a backup singer in the 1980s, Carey evolved in the scene of freestyle music, dominated by Black Americans and Boricuas. There could not be any more 80s sound that this.

And contrary to what people thought as the new millennium emerged, Rnb would not sound like flying cars at all but would be a 80s renaissance until the end of the decade. Jennifer Lopez, though older than Carey and also a former 80s teenager had paid numerous homages to the decade in her visual and sonorities crafted by her black producers. In house music, 80s Miami sounds also made partially popular by Gloria Estefan were the basis of samples as symbolized by Mylo’s Drop The Pressure/Dr Beat released in 2004 . The same year in the Caribbean/club scene, the iconic New-York twins known as Nina Sky had followed the reggaeton/Latin pride movement created by Big Pun in the very late 90s as they released the song Move Your Body. As Nuyoricans, and 80s babies, they paid homage to Lisa Lisa and the Cult with the interpolation of the legendary freestyle song Can You Feel The Beat? released in the mid 80s.

Earlier, in her short rap career Angie Martinez had released a duet with Kelis which partially sampled Lisa Lisa with I Wonder If I Can Take You Home. In Rnb, singers like Usher (U Got It Bad), Beyoncé (Bonnie and Clide 03 ft Jay-Z), though still a part of the Destiny’s Child, all had incorporated lyrics or samples from Prince for instance. Aaliyah even in the mid to late 90s had paid homage to the 80s, a time when she spent the majority of her childhood (Choosey Lover). The 80s influence in Rnb would last until the late 00s as symbolized by Missy Elliott and Timbaland. As Nelly Furtado changed her image for the album Loose mostly produced by Tim Mosley (Timbaland) the cd was an 80s revival symbol. Promiscuous illustrates our point. The late 00s fashion was also marked by the re-emergece of the 80s hip-hop fashion.

Upon its release, Carey was mocked and her album Glitter was panned as being a pathetic 80s cliché, among many other unfair remarks. In reality, she was ahead of her time and had set the foundations for the female Rnb route. The release of newcomers at the time proved to be right. In 2003, Beyoncé released her first solo album, when Kelly had launched her first solo single, a duet with Nelly in 2001-2002. The ballads heard in Dangerously In Love also had an 80s vibe. Later on, in 2008, Knowles would also fall into the techno sound to remain relevant and not die in the traditional Rnb groove. In the contradiction, the 2000s were presented as the antithesis of the past but were the accumulation of that technological past, understand the 80s and 90s which re-emerged in the 2000s.

As she always claimed to have been rejected and isolated due to racism, Carey’s music is a symbol of her political strategy. The product of many racial heritages from South America, Ireland and the black American culture, she musically never settles in one genre at all. She is Rnb but not totally, for also soul, funk, pop, gospel and house. Her ability to never fit in one single box has allowed her to be ahead of her time, forge an identity in the margin in a very much brutally racialized society, set trends and remain stable through a constant musica navigation which is reminiscent of a Stevie Wonder or Chaka Khan. As she saw it, the 80s would be the blueprint for the image and sound of modernity represented by the 2000s. But why? In reality, the 1980s politically marked the beginning of technology and the first signs of globalism, through political treaties for example, date back to that era. The 80s saw the foundations of our modern heritage being laid by both politicians and artists. Michael Jackson was the first technological artist to have associated the technique with traditional music as he exploited tv in another manner to elevate art. Until this day, no other artist has been able to overthrow Jackson’s cultural patterns since 1979.

Yet, following the provoked downfall, Carey tried to distance herself from Glitter as she was made to become ashamed of it. (let’s not forget that the cd was released in September 11th, 2001) and released the gospel-influenced Charmbracelet in 2002-03. As if the 80s influence had been a mistake when not at all but an avant-garde. How could we not see it?

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