Who does pop personality quite like Mariah Carey? A beacon of excess with the voice of five octaves, she remains one the true few pop divas we have left, shrouded in butterflies and catty rumours that she shrugs off with all the effort of disrobing from a cashmere stole at the end of a fancy premiere. In many ways, she is stan culture before stan culture really existed; her legendary ‘I don’t know her’ comment about Jennifer Lopez has become meme folklore, as has the rumour that she simply ‘won’t do stairs’.
Her unapologetic approach to being a diva is partially a testament to her self-confidence, but also to her desire to entertain, to feed us titbits of high-maintenance comedy that sustain the image of celebrity as pure entertainment and glamour. If there is ever a joke, she is 100% in on it. For right or wrong, very few legends are born out of a passive personality – Carey is the living embodiment of pure show businesses, 365 days a year.
Given the events of 2020, you can imagine that Mariah has realised she might need to dig a little deeper than normal to give us the joy we so desperately need. It may only be October, but signs of Christmas are already creeping themselves onto shop shelves – Advent calendars next to the face masks, festive-scented hand sanitiser on gift box 2-4-1. With people self-isolating away from loved ones, it’s going to be a very different celebration this year, one fraught with sadness and introspection. ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’? More like ‘All I Want For Christmas Is A Vaccine, An Election Loss for Trump and An All-Inclusive Holiday With The Non-Racist Mates I Haven’t Seen In Six Months’.
Nonetheless, our Unofficial Mrs Claus has stepped in early to do her bit for morale. Tweeting an image of three directors’ chairs with a Christmas tree emoji, she sent fans into a tailspin, speculating who might have been blessed with the opportunity to join Mariah’s iconic collaboration list. Ariana Grande seems to be a given, but the ‘JH’ is still the stuff of delicious stan debate – Jennifer Hudson? J-Hope? Jools Holland skipping the Hootenanny to break out a piano solo?
In many ways, the actual song or event being alluded to is far from the most valuable bit – it’s the discourse, the fannish distraction and playful guessing game that Mariah is so very good at. By planting the seed in October, she gives us ages to giggle amongst ourselves and make memes of her competing with Ariana to secure the highest whistle note, or to whip up excitement in the notoriously attentive and sizeable K-Pop fandom. Will it be a female empowerment anthem to rival ‘WAP’, or will it be a moment of wholesome family fun? Cynical or not, she has ensured that her name will trend on Twitter from here right through to Christmas, no questions asked.
Of course, Mariah also knows when to get serious. If she isn’t trending over All I Want For Christmas’s 2020 reboot, it’s with news of her ‘undiscovered’ 90s alt album, or with the release of her long-awaited autobiography. Three years in the making, ‘The Meaning Of Mariah Carey’ is set to fill stockings aplenty this winter, but for those coming to it expecting pure dispatches from marble-topped decadence, they might find it a humbling experience.
The youngest child of an African-American father and a white mother, Carey is mixed-race but has been presumed white for a great degree of her career, despite her attempts to speak on the subject both in interviews and lyrics. As a result, the book is heavily indebted to conversations of race and music industry pressures, exploring topics of colour privilege that feel particularly timely as the world grapples with identity politics. In conversation with The Guardian, she explains that by writing ‘All I Want For Christmas…’, she was trying to contrast with the memories of years of miserable childhood holidays while in a neglectful and abusive household at the hands of her older siblings.
Though you might read it differently, she wallows in those misfortunes no more than you would expect from someone writing a book entirely about their own experience, tempering it instead with all the Mariah-brand caricature-humour you have come to expect – wind machines, sartorial choices, fleeting romantic encounters. All that glitter and all that decadence is a fight story – the hard-gotten gains of success from somebody who was never set up to make it, and who deserves to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Fans might ask ‘why now’. Mariah has long had enough stories to fill a #1 New York Bestseller, but somehow, the piece of herself that she shares with the world in 2020 feels more than appropriate for this year. There is pain and pulling oneself out of it, racial tension and learning to be comfortable with who you are. There is that magnificent grunge album reveal – perfectly timed as we begin to abandon the boundaries of genre and embrace multitudes. Hers is a story of hope and resilience, but when it all gets too much, there is also sweet, sweet fantasy – the glorious distraction of entertainment, of cocooning yourself in self-isolation and losing yourself in the pop-joy that will inevitably be that Christmas hit hinted at on Twitter. Whether we call ourselves fans or not, we all need a little joy this upcoming holiday season. A pop star who always knows precisely what her audience needs, Mimi delivers quite the present.