Music News: How's Mariah Carey in concert in 2019?

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State Theatre marquee advertising Mariah Carey.
Mariah Carey's name adorns the State Theatre marquee. (Jay Gabler/MPR)
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How's Mariah Carey in concert in 2019?
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Mariah Carey's Caution Tour is underway, and Jade and Jay checked it out. What's it like to see Mimi live in concert in 2019?

Jay: We are pushing aside our usual Thursday discussion of new music to talk about one of the true icons of the recording era, Mariah Carey. Last night, both Jade and I went to see Mariah at the State Theatre in Minneapolis.

Jade: The queen herself, yes!

Jay: It was, unbelievably, her Minnesota debut.

Jade: And at the State Theatre, which is a very ornate sort of theater to see someone. I thought she'd be playing one of our big stadiums but no, instead it was this really beautiful venue.

Jay: It was really interesting to see her on this tour because this is someone who maybe is not what she once was in terms of Top 40 popularity, but was not a one-hit wonder. We're talking about one of the most successful recording artists of all time. She still holds the longest-running number one hit of all time, her Boyz II Men collaboration, "One Sweet Day": number one for 16 weeks. She had a number one hit for each consecutive calendar year from 1990 to 2000, dominated the '90s. She has 18 number one hits, and she was a writer on 17 of those. Plus, you could argue she was more responsible than any other artist for obliterating the line between pop and hip-hop with her string of hits and collaborations in the late '90s. I feel like when she first started collaborating and moving into the hip-hop realm, in the mid '90s, you kind of had the two versions — you'd have the regular radio version to go on the Top 40, just Mariah, and then you'd drop a rapper, do a remix, and then it gets played on "urban radio." But by the early 2000s, hip-hop pretty much was pop music, and Mariah helped make that happen.

Jade: Yeah, and she definitely brought that energy: I am the queen, look at all of my hits, kind of showing that off. I go to a lot of shows and this was a very...there were some diva moments here, Jay, that I have never seen in a show before.

Jay: My friends were pointing out before we went yesterday that when you search any GIF application for "diva," the first GIFs that come up are Mariah, so she does have this diva reputation and she definitely was playing into it. There was completely what she described as a "diva moment" when she had a makeup artist and a hair person come out and help fix her up in the middle of the show.

Jade: I just have never seen that. I go to pop shows every now and then — Taylor Swift, the Miley Cyruses of the world — and yes, there was as much sparkle as I thought there was going to be.

Jay: I would say more sparkle than I thought there would be.

Jade: Really?

Jay: Well, because so she comes out in this short beautiful sparkly dress and performs her first song, "A No No," beautiful, and then goes to take a sip of water and you notice that her water bottle is also encrusted in sparkles.

Jade: I mean, that's what I expect from Mariah Carey. I also knew there was going to be at least a costume change. I mean, any time you go to one of these pop shows, there's always a moment when the singer needs to catch their breath, they've been dancing or whatever — even though Mariah doesn't really dance that much — but there's usually a costume change. I think there were at least four, maybe five costume changes throughout the show. It was more than I expected, but all of it had glitter.

Jay: And one of them had this LED light element, a sort of like snaking light that would change color, so you even had like a costume change within the costumes. She seemed to be having such a good time!

Jade: Yeah. There were some sound issues early on — which, because she is a diva, she doesn't mind pointing that out and saying this is not acceptable for Mariah — but, her voice! And I want to say that she was entirely using her live vocals. There were no sort of prerecorded things going on here, and her voice sounded beautiful! And if you want to talk about influence...I mean the "whistle" sound that everyone has been giving Ariana Grande lots of props for lately, that was all over the place and that is so Mariah. That was a happy moment for me.

Jay: That was the first sound we heard out of her mouth last night, right? Before the shrouds even dropped to reveal her, you heard the whistle. You know it's going to come because she kind of touches her ear and does that little thing. But it was just fun to see her basking in the adoration. As you said, Jade, it was a relatively small venue for such a massive star, but I feel like this really let her connect with her true fans.

Jade: Yes, and the fans were connecting. People were singing along...there was a cute moment, and I don't know if she does this in every town, but when she sang "Always Be My Baby" — which was kind of a highlight for me, quite frankly, because that's one of my go-to Mariah songs — but she brought out her babies to say hi to Minneapolis, and I thought that was cute.

Jay: She sounds great in this R&B movement — R&B is kind of in a comeback in the music landscape and she certainly is getting new recognition for her foundational role in contemporary R&B — but I feel like she's also loving this current moment of fandoms, right? Like, you have to have your fandom now and so she has her "Lambs," her "Lambily." Please say the hard B so you know what we're talking about. And she just seems so happy to be truly connecting with her fans in a way she probably couldn't have in the '90s when she was part of this big record company machine which was turning out huge hits for her...that she, of course, created, but where people would come up because she has this new radio hit, it's the thing to do, it's whatever. Now, I felt like the people who were there last night were the people who are embracing her entire career and really were there for Mariah as who she is.

Jade: Yeah! Even singing along to the newer stuff...which was, you know, as an old-school Mariah fan, I was less familiar with some of her newer stuff, so it was nice to see other people were like, "No, no, this is my Mariah, I'm very happy that this is what we're hearing right now." It did seem like she has this — and maybe that is part of being the elder stateswoman of the R&B pop world — but she did get to just strut across the stage in these beautiful gowns and just sing. She doesn't have to do any of those young pop-star things any more, and she was just basking in that.

Jay: There were four extremely attractive male dancers with, I couldn't even...I lost track of how many abs there are in their packs. Were they six-packs, were they eight-packs, were they 10-packs?

Jade: All the packs.

Jay: They had all the packs, yeah. So what was the biggest surprise for you, Jade?

Jade: You know, I like that she went back to the early days. "Vision of Love," that was cool because you never know what you're really going to get when you go to these shows where somebody has such a long career, but they also have a new album. You don't know if they're just going to go play the hits or if they're gonna play just their new stuff so it was just nice to kind of go back to early days.

Jay: I will say I was surprised...I don't know if this was a good surprised or a bad surprised, I really could have gone either way on this. I was really curious, having not looked at previous setlists on this tour — I like to be surprised — I really was curious to know whether we would get "All I Want for Christmas is You."

Jade: Oh yeah!

Jay: I mean, I'm all about keeping Christmas to Christmas and then really celebrating it hard in December but for Mariah...I mean, a little fake snow and "All I want for Christmas is You" in March, I wouldn't have been sad about it. But I wasn't sad about anything in this concert, it was super fun.

Jade: I thought she wrapped it up really poignantly and really beautifully. "Hero" was the last song, and it just felt like a nice wrap. She said, "You know, this is what I always do because it feels right," and it did!

Jay: I loved A Star is Born, the movie — well, I really liked it, we'll say that — but I feel like that was a movie that really wanted to reach for that big ballad moment at the end. I know that song was divisive — some people like it, some people don't — but Mariah just showed, she's got the song, she's got the pipes, she's got the presence, when she reaches for that big, bring-down-the-house ballad moment, there aren't that many stars in the history of the rock era that can own it like that. You think maybe like, Whitney Houston or Aretha, and Mariah is in that pantheon, as far as I'm concerned.


Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY SA 4.0)
Mariah Carey: "One Sweet Day"
Mariah Carey: "A No No"
Mariah Carey: "Always be My Baby"
Mariah Carey: "Visions of Love"
Mariah Carey: "All I Want for Christmas is You"
Mariah Carey: "Hero"
BoxCat Games: "Against The Wall" (CC BY 3.0)
Mariah Carey: "Heartbreaker"


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