She’s 45. Her voice isn’t 25.
Can we agree that, regarding new Vegas headliner Mariah Carey, this is a fact of time and nature—not a war crime punishable at The Hague?
Can we agree despite The New York Times—while granting she’s “one of the greatest pop voices of the last three decades”—likening her once-golden pipes to “decaying manufacturing machinery” and declaring she’s “in decline and trapped in a cage of her own making”? Despite Internet hyenas—whose bitter drivel isn’t worth repeating—who wouldn’t know a G-sharp from a G-string?
Blather over Carey’s vocal quality erupted anew with last week’s debut of her residency at Caesars Palace, a solid diva showcase.
While Mariah #1 to Infinity won’t go down as supreme Vegas spectacle, there’s enough production pop to flatter the pop star: giant butterfly-emblazoned panels framing the stage; energetic backup dancers; and inventive multimedia, including animation videos (highlights being a balloon-festooned carnival for “Fantasy” and a projection of her manse on “Touch My Body”). Although she’s never airborne a la Britney or Shania, she arrives onstage via a pink convertible (“Dreamlover”), a Jet Ski (“Honey”) and a round bed (“Touch My Body”).
Mostly, it has Mariah, in a neat conceit, performing her 18 No. 1 hits in order, kicking off with “Visions of Love” and climaxing with the recent (but non-No. 1) “Infinity.” Often, the five-octave chanteuse nails it, notably those shatter-notes that make dolphins even greener with envy. … But not always.
No, the pipes aren’t pristine. They’re huskier, even sometimes skidding off into pitchiness. Should anyone record the show and conduct comparisons with the original tracks, they’d likely find sections sung at lower keys.
That’s not decline. That’s accommodation—which has compensations.
Young Mariah awed me. Seasoned Mariah intrigues me. And now I have a rooting interest—I was pulling for her to pull it off, tapping something more emotional in me than the dog-whistle-level squeals climaxing “Emotions” ever could.
Once she was a perfect instrument. That trilling was thrilling. Perfection is beautiful—and a bit boring. In imperfection, there’s character. One reason I’ve admired Sinatra-era singers is that over decades, their vocal suppleness and virtuosity cede dominance to depth and richness. Their artistry arced as they did. Though subtle, there’s an edge now in Carey’s voice, albeit in an intolerant genre.
Sadly, the pop world doesn’t suffer maturing performers gladly—by definition, it’s an immature form. Prospects for Carey’s career endurance are threatened by twin obstacles: One is surviving show-biz middle-age, as she’s still boxed in by fans’ demands to revisit their youth by revisiting hers, but far from more generously viewed elder-stateswoman status. Also, she built stardom atop astonishing vocal abilities that time and nature would inevitably whittle to something approaching normalcy. Given the enormity of her gift, normal can seem subpar.
Fascinating to watch will be whether Carey embraces new material befitting a more textured, nuanced sound—her voice of tomorrow—and whether the media and online yowlers let her untether herself from the surface perfection of yesterday.
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.