Mariah Carey, heartbreaker that she is, has a set of rules. One of them, explicitly stated to the camera in her new docu-series “Mariah’s World,” ordains that Mariah Carey will never be seen in fluorescent lighting without sunglasses. It also appears that she doesn’t sit in chairs, like a horrific normie. Her talking head interviews are instead filmed wide, her body carefully positioned horizontally across an extravagant sofa and her unnaturally perfect head propped up on a stiff elbow in a transparent attempt to make it look good. Lest we forget that this is a woman whose last album was titled Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse, the new show is a constant reminder that for Mariah, it’s like that.
Let’s get this out of the way first, though: I am fully on board here. As I type this, a “Daydream” poster looms over my head like a subtle invitation to write something nice. Mariah Carey is preternaturally talented and supernaturally attractive; when she sings, the angels cry. Mariah Carey is, without a doubt, the single greatest recording artist in music history, and if you disagree we’re throwing hands behind the dumpster at an Applebee’s where $20 can get you two delectable entrees and an appetizer at participating locations.
So, unless she firebombs a bus full of orphans or is secretly a J. Cole fan, Mariah will always be my baby. But objectively, “Mariah’s World” doesn’t offer much to the average viewer.
It’s a transparently managed “look” at her inner life, and only the parts she’s comfortable showing. Whatever the requisite quota for manufactured drama is for an E! show, here it is ginned up to uncomfortable levels, landing in the awkward valley between actual issues and overreactions to being unable to set up an Apple TV. And I’m here for it.
The music, unfortunately, takes up only a small role in “Mariah’s World;” outside of “Fantasy” roughly 37 times in the opening 10 minutes, the show is less concerned with Mariah the Artist than it is with Mariah the Vision Of Love. Indeed, there isn’t a single moment on camera in which she isn’t impeccably dolled up, adorned with what I assume is ridiculously expensive jewelry and garbed in an assortment of dresses that scream, “I don’t know Jennifer Lopez.”
The rare moment of honesty, however, pierces through the otherwise stuffy series like a meteorite. Occasionally, Mariah allows herself to be unguarded and vulnerable: her interactions with her children, while obviously staged, are clearly loving and full of emotions, and she occasionally flashes a witty self-awareness, only to shake it off moments later to complain about a piece of choreography.
And it’s in these moments that one might come to consider the possibility that this all may be one huge joke. You get the sense that she’s much too smart and self-conscious to be producing something so inert. The transition montages of the singer posing in outrageously exaggerated fashion, an uncomfortable yet ludicrous scene in which a prospective assistant has to dump her boyfriend, bizarre interludes from a cartoonish alter-ego named “Bianca Storm” — is Mariah Carey, master of the public image, pulling a fast one on us?
Intriguingly enough, however, Mariah prods at the heart of our devotion to her right off the bat. “They want me to be grand, then they want me to accessible. Can you guys make up your mind?” she exclaims, waving her hands in exasperation.
What, really, is the point of our collective obsession with Mariah Carey? Emphatically brushing aside idiotic questions of whether or not she’s still relevant (please get, as they say, up out my face), one can read “Mariah’s World” as a tongue-in-cheek interrogation — perhaps unintentionally — of the public desire for celebrity. We applaud the faux-relatability of stars like Anna Kendrick or Jennifer Lawrence, but also the lush extravagance of a Beyoncé awards show set. There’s a fine line the average celebrity must traverse to remain likable, but our subject here, of course, is not the average celebrity.
Watching Mariah Carey frolic around her fiancé’s yacht in Italy isn’t accessible, but isn’t that what we signed up to see? Do we really want to watch her wake up in the morning, groggy, sans makeup and immaculate hair, complaining about the mundane absurdities of normal life, like the rest of us?
Of course, “Mariah’s World” is not interested — at all — in some probing critique of the American culture industry. It’s a frivolous look into the life one of the most towering figures in the medium, a person whose contemporary status has become inseparable from the concept of “diva.” Mariah Carey as abstraction is a complex, distinctly American phenomenon, and an honest look into her day-to-day life might have been truly liberating, but this is not an emancipation of MiMi.
I’m not sure I would have wanted that, and, most importantly, I don’t think she would have either. Hers is a carefully manicured image, somehow freed from the constraints of hackneyed ideas like “relevancy.” Perhaps, one sweet day, the cipher of Mariah Carey will be unlocked. Until then she will remain eminently opaque and intimately present; it seems, plainly, we belong together.