Mariah Carey: Emotions
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
Mariah Carey’s love life doesn’t appear to be much of a source of joy for her these days. Lately she’s settled for love as a somewhat unhealthy obsession (“We Belong Together”), a source of nostalgia (“Don’t Forget About Us”) or just a mere nuisance (“Shake It Off”), but it’s been a long time since love made Mariah really want to climb on top of her kitchen table and announce it to the world. It makes sense: Mariah, now in the business over 15 years, is hardly a kid anymore, and until last year, her career this decade hasn’t given her much to shout about. What’s more, her most recent love songs have been some of the best around; if not necessarily giving us the full picture, her heartbreak is still all too palpable.
Still, it’s hard not to miss the old Mariah when listening to 1991’s “Emotions.” The title track off her second album, “Emotions” would be the most blissed-out, utterly delirious love song Mariah (or just about anyone else) would produce in the 90s. After a string of four #1 singles from her first album, mostly consisting of vocal-showcase ballads, Mariah wisely chose to lead her second album with a stylistic follow-up to her upbeat third single “Someday.” She wanted a hip-hop sound similar to the new jack swing of “Someday,” but her label insisted against it; instead, they enlisted the production and writing help of David Cole and Robert Clivilles, then on top of the dance world with their smash hit as C&C Music Factory, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).”
The teaming would prove to be a wise one. C&C knew how to touch the musical pleasure centers as well as any other dance producers of the time, and Mariah, despite being one of the biggest stars in the world at that point, was still a music nerd at heart. She had an idea for the song’s groove—a riff on “Best of My Love,” a #1 disco smash by The Emotions, one of Mariah’s favorite groups from the 70s. The reference of the title aside, C&C cleverly interpolated the “Best of My Love” groove into a 90s diva house format, never so blatant as to be a ripoff—though The Emotions seemed to think so in the subject of a ’91 lawsuit—but always sticking with the listener in the back of their mind, subconsciously (and deservedly) linking the song to a great history of dance music.
Lyrically, the song is deliciously single-minded. The main line of the chorus seems to take up nearly the half the song, as well it should, being all that really needs to be said. The way Mariah punches the words, “YOU! Got me feeling EMOTIONS!” perfectly embodies the song’s subject, expressing how truly unavoidable this one specific new person in Mariah’s life is and how he brings out feelings in her—good, bad, whatever—almost totally indiscriminately. The world “love” is only mentioned once in the song, the first verse’s great “I’m in love! I’m alive!,” and it never needs to be mentioned again, the range of beautiful feeling brought out by the one chorus line being far more powerful.
The best moment in “Emotions,” though, is wordless. During the song’s second bridge, Mariah breaks it down: “You know the way to make me lose control,” she moans, “when you’re looking into my eyes / You make me feel so…” And then, too overwhelmed with the thought of exactly what she’s made to feel, she emits a cry that can only be described as pure ecstasy, achieving in less than five seconds more than Donna Summer did throughout 17 minutes of “Love to Love You, Baby.” To drive the point home, she follows it up with a low, understated moan. That it comes in a similar point in the song to the similarly orgasmic, wordless cry in “Best of My Love” is obviously no accident, but “Emotions” one-ups even that song’s rapturous break.
Mariah would get happy several more times throughout her career in the similarly heavenly Tom Tom Club-sampling “Fantasy” and Music Box’s “Dreamlover” (which returned again to The Emotions; “Blind Alley” this time). As great as those songs were, and great as her heartbreak songs of today are, nothing can compare to this 1991 lozenge of love, where Mariah did, indeed, have us feeling emotions, and deeper than we ever dreamed of.