September 17, 1991.
At 21 years old, Mariah Carey, coming off the enormous success of her eponymous debut album, has thrown herself into work for her second studio album. Expectations are high at Columbia Records: Mariah’s debut produced 4 #1 Hot 100 hits, all consecutive, and spent 10 weeks at #1 on the albums chart, selling over 4 million copies in the span of a year.
The label sends Mariah back to the studio with Walter Afanasieff, co-writer and producer of her second #1 hit, “Love Takes Time,” and the duo known as C+C Music Factory, David Cole and Robert Clivillés. For the first time Mariah is allowed not only to write her songs, like she did for her first album, but to also produce them. The result is Emotions.
We have compiled a list of the 25 most notable Emotions moments; 25 reasons (not in any particular order) why this underrated gem deserves all the praise and more on it’s 25th Anniversary. Enjoy, and please comment with your own!
Okay. Fine. It’s Mariah posing dramatically, it’s not Michael Jackson’s Dangerous or anything… but look at the artwork for her debut. A close up of her (beautiful) face and that iconic hair. It doesn’t say much about the album. But, on Emotions, we see Mariah in a low cut dress (on the top and bottom; albeit, it’s also made dark enough so we can’t actually see anything), hair blowing in the wind, readying to toss her arms up in the air to exclaim about all the Emotions she’s feeling. It just looks carefree and is the perfect cover for the album. However, if Sony could dig out the full-color, less-darkened version of the photo we’d appreciate it dahhhlings.
Mariah’s debut was varied in sounds, but ultimately it would be categorized as a pop effort. However, perhaps thanks to the success that yielded, Mariah took more creative liberty with Emotions and made an album that was much more true-to-heart for her. While it’s still “AC-friendly,” ballad-heavy, and hip-hop is nowhere to be found, Emotions makes up for that in its soulful qualities and R&B uptempos. The lead single is a clear homage to The Emotions’ “Best of My Love,” while the other two in the quartet, “To Be Around You” (also a 70s disco/R&B number) and “You’re So Cold” (a mix of a church bop and a pop song) would sound right at home at a 70s-inspired 90s house party. Rounding out the quartet is “Make It Happen,” a gospel-influenced inspirational jam. “If It’s Over” has one of Mariah’s most soulful vocal performances to date, and “Can’t Let Go” is the epitome of 90s quiet storm R&B balladry.
Like her debut before it and every album to follow, Mariah penned the lyrics of every song on Emotions. This time, however, the lyrics became a bit more personal in comparison to her debut. “Make It Happen” finds her recounting the struggles of her childhood and inspiring the listener to power through it all as she did. Meanwhile, the aforementioned “The Wind,” pre-dated “One Sweet Day” as her first song about the death of a beloved friend. The two songs opened the door to much more personal songs that came later in her catalogue. Aside from this, the lyrics on Emotions were a bit more mature than her debut and impeccable as ever. “If It’s Over,” for example, has some of the most gut-wrenching lyrics on the album.
Before Lady Gaga thought she was le unique artiste by recording a Jazz album with Tony Bennett, Mariah Carey made her first foray into the Jazz club in 1991, with Emotions’ “The Wind.” (Unfortunately, it was also her last… until she duetted with Tony Bennett in 2011.) Regardless, “The Wind” is such a unique, shining moment in her catalogue. The song is built on top of a 1950s Jazz instrumental by Russell Freeman. Of course, Mariah penned her own lyrics and melody to go on top of it. It is a song about the death of a young friend, and Mariah’s vocals drip in jazzy sadness. She is almost unrecognizable, proving her skilled vocal versatility. Just try playing “The Wind” for someone who’s not a big Mariah fan – see if they recognize who’s singing. We’re still waiting for the day when Mariah will take “The Wind” to the stage. Until then, we revel in her Jazz freestyle moments.
“Emotions,” the lead single, became Mariah’s fifth #1 single, besting the Jackson 5’s record (4) to become the only artist to have their first 5 consecutive singles be #1 Hot 100 hits. An important achievement indeed, it set the stage for Mariah to become the Queen of #1s and the 90s in terms of singles. She would go on to have a #1 in every year of the decade.
Speaking of “Emotions,” we must talk about the live intro. Beginning with The Elusive Chanteuse Tour in 2014, Mariah once again adds an epic, a cappella intro to “Emotions,” which she originally added to the song’s 12” club mix (a first attempt in a glorious list of re-sung Dance remixes). She performed a version of the song with this intro for the first time in 1992 for her MTV Unplugged special. Since then, the “Emotions” intro has become a staple in her setlists – from the All I Want For Christmas Is You Extravaganza, to her #1 to Infinity Las Vegas residency, this year’s Sweet Sweet Fantasy Tour, and even her set at the Essence Music Festival in July. The intro has found its place as a vocal showcase; a means for her to prove she’s still got it to her naysayers. Every intro is a glorious slay, and we praise the fact that she resurrected it. Talk about feeling emotions…
Really, this song is one of her classics. Like fine wine, it has gotten better and more renowned with age. Some of it has to do with the epic way she resurrected it with the aforementioned intro. However, most of it is because it is a phenomenal song. Melodically, it is the perfect singalong. Lyrically, it is one of those ever-relatable songs that are just fun to sing. Vocally, it is carefree and a downright slay. If elation had a sound, it would be Mariah Carey’s vocals on “Emotions.” We should all strive to have, in our own lives, the amount of joy in Mariah’s vocals on “Emotions.” Oh, and then there’s those got damn high notes…
Undoubtedly, for most people, their first thought about Mariah Carey’s “Emotions” will be the inconceivably-high high notes at the end of its title track and lead single. Why are they so iconic? Because they are the highest notes Mariah has hit to date, and she was able to replicate them and even go higher live at the VMA Awards in 1991. The “Emotions” G7 is iconic. While we can’t go on record as saying it is the highest note hit by any singer (because, really, who knows that definitively?) …none of her peers can challenge her in that department. Because, she not only hits the notes – she uses them in musically sensible ways. She can even sing actual words while hitting them. That’s why those high notes are so iconic. They cemented Mariah Carey as the indisputable Queen of the High Notes, the Songbird Supreme some would say. The use of her now-signature high notes became much more prominent on the Emotions album, and rightfully so. Emotions is also the only Mariah album to date where the whistle register is featured on every song. Check it!
To be frank, “And You Don’t Remember” is, by comparison, a weaker moment on the album. One of her collaborations with Walter Afanasieff, it’s pretty straightforward and, aside from a slight gospel-tinge to it, otherwise unremarkable as a song. However, vocally… it’s not surprise that Mimi slayed. Just listen to the climax! The whole last minute of the song is an impeccable showcase of vocal slayage. Like, it’s not even fair. It’s just gorgeous.
Speaking of “And You Don’t Remember,” did you know that it was supposed to be a single and Mariah even recorded a video for it? It’s true! However, its release was cancelled due to the success of “I’ll Be There” from MTV Unplugged. The MC Archives alleges that these screenshots are from the rumored video, which was turned into an ad for the Sony “mini disc.” To be honest, it looks like a terrible 90s commercial, so we (and Mariah) should be glad it stayed regulated to such and isn’t an embarrassing addition to her VEVO page. (Lord knows “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Auld Lang Syne” are enough).
Go ahead and turn on “Can’t Let Go.” Did you ever notice that, aside from the oohs and ahhs and saying “can’t let go, ooh baby,” the song takes a full 76 seconds to actually start? She lets it rock with the gloriously 90s instrumental and gorgeous background vocals. Not many artists before Mariah placed so much value in their background vocals. Hell, few do to this day. Mariah, however, is committed. She even penned a distressed letter from her bathroom floor when there was something wrong with the backgrounds when she dropped “The Art of Letting Go” in 2013. It all stems back to songs like “Can’t Let Go,” where she put her foot into those backgrounds.
Let’s talk more about “Can’t Let Go,” shall we? Yes; because it’s that damn good. It’s heartbreakingly good, actually. If you’ve ever been there, then you understand how damn good this song is. Like we said in #3, the lyricism on this album was just next level. That’s why, to this day, “Can’t Let Go” is a favorite of the lambs and Mariah’s alike. Unfortunately for us all, it peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and thus is not “allowed” to be included in the #1 to Infinity setlist, but boy do we wish it could be. In fact, “Can’t Let Go” was the first of five Mariah songs to peak at #2 and be blocked from #1; though, fans agree, “Can’t Let Go” is the best and most criminal instance of them all. Everything about the song is flawless; the lyrics, the vocals, the instrumentation… it is 90s perfection. But who’s surprised, honestly?
While it may have “only” peaked at #5 of the Hot 100, “Make It Happen” is still a very notable song in Mariah’s catalogue. Not only is it one of Mariah’s favorites, and the fans’, but it’s also the first explicitly personal song of her career, and her first gospel-inspired track. Both of these aspects would go onto become expected within Mariah’s albums… more often than not, her albums feature at least one very personal song and gospel song. “Make It Happen” was the first song to, well, make that happen. It’s also one of the most authentically inspirational tracks in her catalogue. Not only that, but clearly its appearance in her Jenny Craig campaign is iconic in its own right.
There is, however, another important aspect of “Make It Happen” – its live performances. She began adding a new refrain to the song for the performances, “don’t let go, don’t ever ever let go” which has become a beloved moment for fans. In general, “Make It Happen” became a staple in her setlists over the years; it was a song that even in moments of vocal weakness, she was able to shine with. It became an anthem of sorts for her, after all she had been through, and by performing the song at high profile promotional events; such as during The Emancipation of Mimi events, she sort of vindicated the song and made it one of her classics despite not being a #1. The “don’t ever let go” mantra indeed has become quite symbolic.
Long before hit singer-songwriter Carole King had a Broadway musical about her career, Mariah Carey managed to be afforded the privilege of writing a song with her for her sophomore album. To put that into perspective for the young folks, it’d basically be the equivalent of if Mariah Carey wrote a song with Adele for her 2008 debut album. As expected, this pairing of female musical geniuses resulted in one of the best songs in Mariah’s catalogue. King had originally suggested that Mariah cover the Aretha Franklin classic she had written “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” but she declined the offer and opted to write a new song with her instead. Musically, it recalls the greatness of “Natural Woman,” except it’s lyrically the total opposite. “If It’s Over” is a ballad of rejection that will make you want to hug her. “If it’s over, just let me go…” she sings desperately. It’s one of her most simple yet effective lyrics, delivered via one of her finest vocal moments.
That fine vocal moment was only magnified by the flawless performances Mariah gave of the song at Saturday Night Live and the 1992 Grammy Awards. As if the album version did not harbor enough Earth-shattering soul, she went even further live. “It isn’t fair, it just isn’t right,” she sang… while she wasn’t talking about her vocals, she should’ve been. Just watch, honestly…
Moving on from Ben Margulies and, well, everyone else she worked with for her debut except Walter Afanasieff, she enlisted David Cole and Robert Clivillés to co-write and co-produce the uptempos on Emotions, which included the title track, “Make It Happen,” “You’re So Cold” and “To Be Around You.” The collaboration was magical; each of these songs is a standout on Emotions and, while the latter two are severely underrated within her catalogue, the singles have become classics.
Now, everyone knows Mariah Carey is no stranger to a shady comment or even a shady song. Both have become commonplace in her world as of late, culminating into shady songs like “Obsessed” and “Thirsty.” In fact, we have a whole article about her shady songs. “You’re So Cold” falls under the category of her “early shade,” alongside “Someday,” “Prisoner” and “You Need Me” from her debut. People like to act like her shadiness is a new phenomenon, but really… it’s not. It was all just under the guise of a few cute bops back in the 90s. “You’re So Cold” is a scathing read of a “cold” lover, she is literally reading his soul. It is a priceless gem with flawfree vocals and a club ready beat. Actually, it was originally slated to be the lead single, until apparently somebody wised up to the fact that “Emotions” slays harder. Anyway, go press play and get your life.
And the intro once again deserves its own moment. It begins with some dramatic piano lines followed by Mariah singing “Lord, holy Lord” in her lowest of registers, eventually hitting her lowest recorded note of A2. Yes, Emotions is home to Mariah’s highest note and her lowest note! From there, she scales up the octaves to eventually serve us an effortless read in her high register… capping it off with a high note, and then drops back down again. Some of her peers might be able dip it low or drop it like it’s hot or whatever, but Mariah does that vocally.
Yet another Afanasieff collaboration, “So Blessed” recalls the 50s sway of “Vision of Love,” and is tailor-made for AC radio (though, it was never sent). It’s a gorgeous, subdued song, for the most part…until the end. For the bridge, her blessings come to helm and she explodes vocally into a magnificent bridge filled with vocal acrobatics that’ll leave you breathless and feeling blessed in your own right. The clarity, power and effortless skill of her vocals is a trend on Emotions.
Severely underrated, “To Be Around You” is one of the more fun songs in Mariah’s catalogue, and a nice pick me up within the album, after the slowness of “So Blessed.” The song pulls from 70s R&B and disco but finds its home in the realm of House and New Jack Swing moment that was all the rage in the early 90s. The runs on the chorus, the background vocalists, the energetic production, the cute lil’ breakdown toward the end, and Mariah’s final guttural ad-libs, all pack punch after punch for this ultimate, undeniable, underrated BOP.
Yet another song that places significant importance on its background vocals like “Can’t Let Go,” is “Til The End of Time.” This spiraling cascade of buttery vocals and fluttering lyrics rises in dramatics, passion and octaves over the course of its five-and-a-half-minutes. As she builds toward the climax, she grows in fervor; comparing the beginning to the end and you may think it is two different songs. Serving as the capstone of the album, before the Jazzy closer “The Wind,” it is gorgeous and glorious, with just the right amount of each element that makes Emotions a phenomenal album.
At the 1992 Grammys, Mariah Carey became the second female – ever – to be nominated for the Producer of the Year, thanks to her stellar production work alongside Walter Afanasieff on Emotions (the first, coincidentally, was other EST. 1997 favorite Janet Jackson in 1990). Ironically, Afanasieff went on to be nominated for his work with her every year after that, but suspiciously, the Grammy committee neglected to nominate Mariah for the award ever again despite the fact that she co-produced all of their work together.
Mariah, on multiple occasions, has complained about the fact that she didn’t receive production credit her debut album, despite having been a producer. However, that changed with Emotions, and she received co-production credit for every track… thus, allowing for that nomination to even happen.
Finally, one of the most significant moments of the Emotions era is the very thing that effectively ended it. Mariah’s 1992 MTV Unplugged special was intended to be a promotional tool for the Emotions album and its singles, but it ended up becoming an album and era of its own. The setlist included hits from her debut as well as the Emotions singles, but the game changer was the last minute addition of a cover. Mariah’s version of The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” became an immediate hit following her special; radio requested a single edit of the song and thus prompted the label to release the song and the MTV Unplugged EP. While “I’ll Be There” brought Mariah her 6th #1 hit, it also ended promotion of her sophomore set in favor of the live album. Emotions is certified 4x Platinum, while Unplugged, too, is certified 4x Platinum, off the success of only one single. Combined the two releases nearly replicated the 9x Platinum certification of her debut. So, while some may write Emotions off as evidence of “the sophomore slump,” we must not forget that MTV Unplugged was merely an extension of that album. If such a similar event were to happen today, her label merely would’ve re-released the album itself with a bonus live disc, and the totals would have likely been combined.