What can really be said about the legend, the diva, the high-note-hitting extraordinaire Mariah Carey? She’s got the voice of an angel and has been holding it down in the music industry since 1990—do you hear me? 1990. That’s 27 years. She’s had countless fine moments, and she's made history along the way; in 2008, the classic anthem of promiscuity "Touch My Body" became Carey's 18th No. 1 single on the Hot 100, making her the solo artist with the most number ones in the chart's history. Between her forever-relevant hip-hop collaborations ("Me and Mariiiiiah, go back like babies with pacifiers"), powerful ballads and monstrous pop hits, Carey's success and impact are undeniable. She also has adorable kids, whom she brought up onstage to help her sing during a recent date from her All the Hits tour with Lionel Richie.
But something ain't right these days. To keep it a buck, I'm starting to get concerned. It all started back in late December, when Mariah was tasked with performing on ABC's annual New Year's Rockin' Eve showcase. Production issues made things go horribly awry, with Mariah claiming she couldn't hear and "didn't have a sound check" for certain songs. Instead of going along with it, asking to start over, or even singing a line or two, Mariah just walked around the stage, awkwardly, until the performance finally came to an end. The last thing she said was, "It just don't get any better," before walking off stage unceremoniously.
The moment everyone will be talking about. Mariah Carey's performance on NYE. pic.twitter.com/Au0I8z68Bl— iHeartRadio (@iHeartRadio) January 1, 2017
Technical glitches were reported on set, so most fans took the botched show with a grain of salt, with some of them even getting a few jokes off in the process. But as of late, Mariah's been a little... off. And she doesn't seem to give a shit. A few videos have surfaced on social media recently, showing the singer doing the absolute least onstage during her performances.
Someone else out there in the internet world is apparently as concerned as I am, because they took the time to make a video comparison of Mariah performing in the late '90s versus today.
Nobody is saying Mariah was serving up intricate choreography back in the day—she’s got those fucking pipes, so she technically doesn’t have to do anything but stand there and sing. (Adele does it on the regular, and you don’t hear anyone complaining.) But Mariah at least had a little shimmy in her back then. During her Vegas residency at Caesars Palace, which ran from 2015 to this summer, she was a little less fluid—which, duh, it's been more than 15 years—but she was still willing to generally move her limbs. Here she is in 2015.
So what happened? As it turns out, there might be a pretty simple reason for the change in Mariah’s recent shows. In January, almost immediately after the New Year’s Eve fiasco, Mariah fired Anthony Burrell, her now-former choreographer and creative director. In a phone conversation, Burrell said he’s been busy since then with Breaking Barriers Dance Intensive, a program in its fourth year that provides professional dance education and world-class training to youth and adult dancers in inner-city environments. (He's also been quite occupied with his role as a dancer and choreographer for Parkwood Entertainment—you know, Beyoncé's camp.) But he’s had a couple of free moments to view the recent videos of Mariah’s performances, and he’s not surprised by the dip in… we’ll call it quality of show.
"It's just typical Mariah," Burrell said. "Mariah is clear: when she doesn’t wanna do something, she doesn’t do it. She’s performing with lackluster and no fucks given, and it’s taking away her star."
As her choreographer, Burrell said he was focused on making sure Mariah was comfortable onstage as not just a singer, but an all-around performer.
"Working with an artist like Mariah, who’s not a mover first, it’s always a challenge to get them to think physically and not just vocally," he said. "You always have to keep in mind that they’re a singer first. The priority is not teaching them 100 counts of 8, or endless routines. I wanted to give Mariah a modern push to revamp her, give her a fresher, more modern feel, make her more aware of her body and her lines, and not look like her feet hurt when she’s walking."
Burrell had been working alongside Mariah for four years before they parted ways in January. Throughout that time, he says, Mariah had come to trust and depend on him heavily for show design and physical awareness while performing. Now, Burrell says, there's no one guiding her, and it's showing.
"You're a legend," Burrell said. "But you don’t care, your team doesn’t care. They’re not guiding and directing her. She’s back to where she was before. It's not like she's never looked this bad before; I just stepped her game up."
Burrell said that during his time in Mariah's camp, he got the sense that her team was flat-out inexperienced. "It felt like they were so new at their jobs, and had no direction," he said. "When you’re green, you’re playing things by trial and error, and there were a lot of errors. I was very vocal about things that weren’t right. When you try to take a shortcut and you don’t know the clues, you’re bound to get fucked up or screwed, because you don’t have the experience of running a tour or a billion-dollar empire. Some of the dancers her team hired are great dancers, but they’re not choreographers or creative directors."
Overall, though, Burrell said Mariah is a "world-class artist" and "a great person to work with." But his experience—and his departure—definitely puts things into perspective.
Let’s not get it twisted: I’m here for Mariah, until the day she decides to retire that crystalline voice of hers. (Well, 99% crystalline. Hey, nobody's perfect.) So are many, many of her dedicated fans, who refer to themselves as her "lambs" or "lambily."
But as much love as there is out there for Mariah, there's no denying the fact that she's scaled back on the amount of effort she puts in onstage. Then again, Mariah's longstanding status is that of a queen. And when you're a queen, you do as you damn well please. Just don't do it at the expense of your loyal subjects, Mimi—that's all I ask.