Top of the Pops: Glitter

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September 6, 2016 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas



Very few albums are as universally reviled as Mariah Carey’s Glitter; for all intents and purposes, it’s the musical equivalent of Gigli, a possible career-killing move that nearly derailed the success of a superstar.  What adds to the dubious intrigue of Glitter is that Mariah Carey had been working on the album (and accompanying movie), in some form or another, since around 1997.  This move was supposed to transition her into the realm of film, while the album was supposed to cement her status as the greatest female artist of all time.  The whole project was intended as her magnum opus, a semi-autobiographical tale of a young woman struggling to make it big as a singer.  But instead of art imitating life, in the case of Mariah Carey and Glitter, life began to imitate art.

Glitter singlehandedly cost Mariah her contract with Virgin Records, a five album deal worth $100 million…Glitter was only the first album put out under her deal with Virgin, and after that one album the record label decided to terminate the relationship.  In fact, Mariah’s representative specifically told Virgin not to use the word “terminate” when discussing the aborted relationship—Virgin chose not to describe the relationship as being “terminated” anyway.  After the album flopped, Mariah went away for a while to recover both mentally and physically, as she had been touring and recording nonstop since 1990.  She was exhausted and Glitter showed that.

Now, Glitter isn’t the heap of audio garbage that most would lead you to believe.  It’s still a sub-par album, but it isn’t the Showgirls of albums.  Glitter was to Mariah Carey as Apocalypse Now was to Francis Ford Coppola—A beast of a project that literally drained both entertainers of everything they had.  Glitter is essentially what Apocalypse Now would have been if it wasn’t good.  There are elements of intrigue on the album, bright spots of enjoyment, but as a cohesive piece, the album is sorely lacking.

At it’s core, Glitter is supposed to be an 80s album.  It’s supposed to bring back musical trends of that era to help fans better connect to the film of the same name, which takes place in the 1980s.  This is the biggest weakness of the album however, and not how you would think.  It’s not that Mariah Carey made a bad 80s album that sounds synthetically dated to time period that ended 12 years prior to the release of the album.  Glitter is dated, but with very few exception, it’s dated to the early 00s, the worst era of American pop culture.  The songs on Glitter sound like exactly what they are: 21st century songs poorly glossed up to try and come off as 80s throwbacks.  The problem is that Mariah didn’t make an 80s album, but only made an early 00s album that tried and failed to make an 80s album.

Featured artists are littered on almost every track on Glitter, a trend specifically tied down to the early 00s.  Instead of operating as a piece of nostalgia, Glitter functions as a time capsule of forgotten early 21st century musicians who would probably wind up on The Surreal Life if that show was still around.  Artists who exemplified early 00s musical trends and stereotypes like Nate Dogg, DJ Clue, Fabolous, Mystikal, Ludacris, and of course Ja Rule all make appearances on Glitter which only further serve to make the album more reflective of the 00s than of the 80s as was the original intent of the album.  Glitter is too closely associated with one particular decade, but much to the detriment of the album, it clings too closely to the wrong decade.

Now, there are certain exceptions to this general trends; there are a few songs that do sound like they could have possibly been recorded in the 80s, and these are the best tracks on Glitter.  The reason why “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” and “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” sound like 80s songs is because they are actually covers of 80s hits.  Besides the onerous interjections by Busta Rhymes and DJ Clue, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” is a fairly successful club banger, while “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” is heavily influenced by the Minneapolis Sound and sounds like it could have very easily been produced by Prince himself.  It’s sassy, sexy, and playful and had Glitter featured more tracks like this, the album would have been much more successful.

Any song that features Ja Rule on it is automatically dated to the early 00s, and on “If We” the chronological illusion fades as the song itself sounds too much like “Between Me and You” another contemporary song that features Ja Rule.  “Don’t Stop (Funkin’ 4 Jamaica)” should really be Mystikal feat. Mariah Carey as the rapper ruins overpowers the song with his inane shouting.  Unfortunately, “Don’t Stop” isn’t the only time on Glitter that Mariah plays second fiddle as the opening track “Loverboy” is overstuffed with superfluous guest appearances by Ludacris, Da Brat, Twenty II, and about 9 others singers it seems.  The opening version of “Loverboy” is infinitely worse than the version of the same song without all the featured artists that closes the album.  The opening “Loverboy” sounds like a schizophrenic jigsaw puzzle glued together through disparate songs that were hammered together and forced onto one four-and-a-half-minute song.  The version of “Loverboy” that closes Glitter is the far more successful attempt, although half of that version is really just Cameo’s “Candy”.

It’s on the ballads such as “Reflections”, “Never too Far”, and “Twister” that Mariah sounds particularly exhausted.  Yes, she can still hit and sustain those inaudibly high notes that would make dogs go crazy, but her vocals sound like they took considerable effort to record instead of the silky grace that listeners had become accustomed to.  On these tracks it sounds like she’s trying to reclaim the magic of early hits such as “Vision of Love” or “Love Takes Time” but doesn’t have it in her anymore.

Glitter is not a particularly good album, but at the same time, it’s not the apocalyptical sign that everyone thought it was.  Realistically, it was just a bad album in an otherwise sterling career.  And that’s exactly how people remember it today.  Because she had major hits both before and after Glitter, the album can be essentially ignore, or at least relegated to a rather dark time in the singer’s life.  What many people don’t understand about Glitter is that there were numerous factors, both external and internal, that were working against its success.  For starters, the album was released on 9/11/2001, and no one was buying records on that day, or for the next few weeks.  Before fans could actually listen to the album and decide for themselves how they felt, the negative word of mouth had become so widespread that people who hadn’t even heard a single minute of the album had cultivated a vitriolic disdain for it.  Mariah’s erratic behavior such as her appearance on TRL prior to the release of the album, disjointed messages to her fans, delays in the album’s release, suicide scares, and finally a mental and physical breakdown all created a perfect storm which really took the wind from the album’s sails.  Glitter was her white whale and her dream project, and with such an ambitiously destructive combination, it became obvious when looking back, Glitter would claim some part of Mariah’s sanity.

Mariah Carey was the biggest artist of the 90s, not female artist, just artist.  Man or woman, there was no musician bigger, better, or more pervasive than Mariah Carey.  But by 2001, Mariah now had to contend with the new wave of female pop stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Christina Milian, Beyoncé, and Jessica Simpson.  They were all younger, newer, and comparatively speaking, more willing to show skin and be provocative than Mariah.  So the only way that Mariah thought she could fight against this was to fight fire with fire.  That’s where all the accusation of her being too sexual and selling out by showing skin came from.  Because it wasn’t expected of Mariah to be scantily dressed in her music videos, it became evident that she was trying to compete with the younger generation instead of just doing what Mariah does best.  To say that singers like Spears or Beyoncé didn’t have Mariah looking over her shoulder is just incorrect.  Like anyone holding the top spot, she was nervously watching for anyone trying to take her throne away from her.  On Glitter it’s just too obvious that she was paranoid.

Had Glitter come out in 1997, the point of its inception, not only would it have looked marvelously different than the 2001 actual product, but there’s a good chance it would have been another smashing success in a string of unprecedented dominance.  It was just the wrong album at the wrong time.  She picked the wrong time to pursue the Glitter project as she had already worked herself to the point of exhaustion by 1999, but still kept pushing along regardless.  Glitter may seem half-assed because that was all Mariah had left in the tank at that point.  Thankfully though, she was able to recover with a string of hits later on in the decade leaving Glitter behind as a relic of the worst era in popular culture.   Instead of the retro-homage to the 1980s that it was supposed to be, Glitter is just another example of why 2001 was the worst year ever.


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