Year after year, Mariah Carey returns to her rightful place atop the proverbial holiday throne. Like clockwork, the artist’s seminal Christmas anthem, "All I Want For Christmas Is You," begins its annual rise on the Billboard Hot 100 just in time for holiday festivities. But this year, as we were just getting ready to stuff our stockings and as every drag queen dusted off their Mrs. Claus looks for upcoming performances of the timeless classic, the Elusive Chanteuse™ gifted us with something else.
On Friday, the Internet was set ablaze when Mariah’s latest, Caution, dropped across platforms. And for her loyal fans (or “Lambs”), the album was the holiday gift we had been waiting for. It is the ultimate vindication album — after years of public scrutiny of everything from her live vocals to her dance moves, Caution is a testament to Mariah’s ability to bounce back against a cruel and rapidly-changing industry. It is a return to a form you’d almost believe she invented — and in a way, she practically has. After her critically-panned film Glitter was released, Mariah returned, triumphantly with Charmbracelet that saw worldwide multi-platinum sales, despite mixed critical reception. Three years later, following a well-publicized divorce from music executive Tommy Mottola, she went quadruple platinum with the now iconic The Emancipation of Mimi, which housed bops like “Shake It Off” and even scored the legend another Billboard number one hit single (of which she has 18) with “We Belong Together.”
Even though Mariah’s legacy is enduring, nothing has quite yet lived up to the critical and commercial success of Mimi. Caution, in fact, is the legend’s first full-length project since Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse back in 2014. It comes after her divorce from rapper and actor Nick Cannon (with whom Mariah has twins), a called-off engagement to billionaire James Packer, and amidst her current relationship with backup dancer Bryan Tanaka. “Getting back in the studio is such a safe place for me and the right environment,” the singer recently told Genius Level during a public appearance in New York. “I had been outside of that environment for too long and doing too many superfluous things that I really didn’t need to be doing.”
The first song released on the album, "GTFO" is a simple but effortlessly entertaining bop. As Mariah puts it, “sometimes you just need to say, how ‘bout you Get The F*ck Out.” That kind of candor is a theme that runs through the album. The title track, Caution, is an R&B set of instructions on how to navigate a relationship with the pop diva that not only outlines expectations but also provides a delicate look at her sensitivities. The album boasts a collection of other great original tunes but provides us with incredible nostalgia in “A No No.” The song samples the immensely popular ‘90s song by Lil’ Kim and The Notorious B.I.G, “Crush On You” and combines all the best things about Mariah: a popular beat, lyrics that tell it like it is, and a way of giving everything you expect from her new life and meaning.
One of the highlights of Mariah’s music is her word choice. “Mariahphonics” as we like to call it, is a part of her everyday voice, and it thankfully appears throughout Caution, cementing her status as the SAT Prep Queen of Pop. In “With You,” she effortlessly riffs over ten-dollar-words, “she was so full of trepidation there in front of the whole damn nation.” On “Portrait,” she somehow manages to make use of the words “demoralized” and “desensitized.” Is there any word she can’t put into music?
Caution gives us more than we really deserve and a sweet taste of where Mariah Carey is in her life at the moment. A collection of R&B and hip-hop bops that maintain her status as one the best singer/songwriters in the game, but also eloquently displays her truth. She opens up about love, loneliness, and self-worth in a cautionary album that reminds us that she is still a force to be reckoned with after nearly three decades in the industry.