Celebrating Mariah Carey’s Underrated Glitter Album, 15 Years Later

For the last 15 years, grouping the terms “Mariah Carey” and “Glitter” together has typically resulted in conversations and recollections of “flop”, “disaster”, and “train wreck”. Today, that ends. While the film still stands on shaky ground, it has evolved to develop something of a cult following. We’re not here to talk about the film. We’re here to focus on the one thing Mariah has been consistent with: the music.

Due to the reception of the film, and the comparatively mild success of the album (it didn’t yield a Hot 100 number 1 nor did it reach number 1 itself, and went platinum, which was considered low sales compared to Mariah’s at-the-time recent releases), it was heralded as both a critical and commercial flop. However, looking back at this body of work and the reputation it received, it’s perplexing. What the Glitter album really is, is a misunderstood, brave attempt at bridging gaps and merging genres as only Mariah can do.

Scanning through the critical reception of Glitter at the time finds the album received in a variety of fashions, from cautiously optimistic to down right negative. Comments range from “a big step forward” and “quite good” to “a minor misstep in a stellar career” all the way to “a mess” and “the pop equivalent of Chernobyl”.

Billboard got closest to describing the album, when they analyzed the album’s styles as follows:

First, there’s the ’80s-hued material reflective of her imminent film debut (after which the set is titled). Then, there are the ballads that are an essential element of her every album. Finally, she indulges in her fascination with hip-hop culture – a move that should continue to confound fans who pledged allegiance to the diva during her early pure-pop phase.

They almost hit the nail on the head except for the final classification of the hip hop songs on the album. If anything, this piece of Glitter is the most important. It showcases Mariah’s continued status as a musically visionary who can both identify and create trends based on the direction popular music is moving. These songs are not merely hip hop tracks erratically juxtaposed with ballads and ‘80s-hued material: They are, by enlarge, updates and interpretations built on 80’s songs and would-be hip hop breaks.

Take “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” for example. The song (original and Mariah version) relies on a loop that would have, and could have served as a killer hip hop break in the 80’s. It fits perfectly amongst the early 2000’s musical landscape with updated instrumentation (including Randy Jackson on the bass) and more hip hop-based, hard-hitting drums. It’s both an extension and an update: with furthering contemporary hip hop elements, such as the verse from a young Fabolous and adlibs from producer DJ Clue. Busta Rhymes serves as the song’s hype man, another example of paying homage to the structure of 80’s hip hop groups. In retrospect, the song foreshadows the 80s throwbacks that would become musically ubiquitous in the years to come.

There are similar comparisons to be made with the “Loverboy” remix (which was also included on the album), along with “Don’t Stop (Funkin 4 Jamaica).” Both of these songs find themselves to the left and rely heavier on contemporary hip hop to incarnate them. Both versions of “Loverboy” rely on an updated loop of Cameo’s “Candy” to drive their instrumentation. While the remix is slightly reconfigured to include two rap verses (one where Ludacris and Shawnna trade bars and the other where Da Brat and Twenty II do the same), the original is mapped out like a standard pop song. All sampling drama aside, Mariah went as far as to invite Cameo into the studio to re-sing parts of “Candy” which serve as a bridge on the original version of the song.

“Don’t Stop,” on the other hand, is built with many of the same elements as the original “Funkin For Jamaica,” but instead tweaks minor pieces to form an update. Furthermore, the included elements are reconfigured to structure a typical 2000s rap song with full-fledged verses from Mystikal and Mariah playing hook girl (along with a vocal bridge that is an album highlight). Mariah and Mystikal create a brilliant marriage between an 80s funk jam and 2000s rap.

Only “If We” featuring Ja Rule and Nate Dogg refuses classification in the aforementioned trio of categories. It sits perfectly as a time capsule and blueprint of early 2000s hip hop/pop collaborations that broadened Ja Rule’s mainstream appeal (most notably being the blueprint for the Jennifer Lopez/Ja Rule “I’m Real” Remix). The song has a west coast rap influence and is driven by a toy piano, lush strings, and particular guitar licks that recall early 90s Dr. Dre productions. While it doesn’t fit perfectly, as a single it would have been a great hood ornament to help tie everything together for the 2001 audience and display the progression of music that adorns the album.

The trio of ‘80s-inspired material is a prime showcase of Mariah’s continued musical versatility. She has never been shy about her admiration for the era, and over these upbeat tracks, she doesn’t hold back. Samples and interpolations aside, “Didn’t Mean To Turn You On” is the sole straight up cover on the album. Produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (who also wrote the song), Mariah actually sings over a shortened version of the original instrumental that Cherelle used in 1985 (with some additional drum programming).

“All My Life” is a stellar period piece. Mariah wanted authenticity with this project, and reached out to the legendary Rick James, who was more than up to the task of contributing to the project. Strings and funky synths adorn the Mary Jane Girls-esque instrumental as Mariah coos and fills the breaks with airy conversation between Mariah and Rick James.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were so determined to achieve an authentic sound while working on this album that they went as far as to dust off their old synthesizers from the 80s. This is most apparent on “Want You,” a duet with Eric Benet. The synths are a time machine, as are the keyboards, guitar and is the programmed drum loop.

As far as the ballads go, Mariah always excels when she releases some emotion and throws in a few melismatic runs. Even here, when she steps a bit out of her typical writing process and writes from the perspective of another person, she showcases her writing strengths, especially when it comes to her diverse adjective use. Though most of the soundtrack leans heavily on the 80s, these ballads have a distinct Mariah sound of the time.

Mariah started writing music for this project years before it came to fruition: So many, that Walter Afanasieff (whom Carey stopped working with after Butterfly in 1997) gets not only a writing credit but also a credit as an instrumentalist on “Lead The Way,” a momentous Mariah love song. It details her character’s unforeseen romance with the film’s love interest, Dice. The song also contains the longest note Mariah has ever held, clocking in at 21 seconds (though some argue that she also does not take a breath for the 12 seconds prior to this run and is actually going for over 30 seconds without a breath). This stands as one of Mariah’s most beautiful and poignant love songs to date.

The two ballads that are performed in the film both focus on heartbreak and loss, as opposed to love. “Reflections (Care Enough)” is a gut-wrenching ode to Billie’s mother, who abandons Billie at the beginning of the film. Mariah digs deep as a songwriter and laments Billie’s emptiness without her mother in her life. She questions whether the mother ever cared and even goes as far as to suggest that she “could have had the decency to give (her) up, before (she) gave (her) life.” “Never Too Far” is the driving ballad of the film. Placed as the final musical performance of the film, Mariah’s character Billie reflects on love torn away too soon. She declares that she “won’t let time erase, one bit of yesterday” and that “nobody can take your place.”

“Twister” has heartbreaking significance to Mariah. All of the other ballads are written from the perspective of her character Billie, but “Twister” is a tribute to Mariah’s stylist Tonjua Twist. Twist worked with Mariah for years, most notably being responsible for the cut-waistband look in the “Heartbreaker” video. She tragically took her own life in the spring of 2000. It’s the shortest song on the set, clocking in under 2:30, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in honestly and vulnerability. The song remains one of the few compositions that Mariah has revealed the meaning of. Eerily the song took on a perceived autobiographical meaning from the outside looking in when weighing all of the tabloid drama surrounding Mariah leading up to the project’s release.

Through and through Glitter may not have accomplished what it was supposed to, but the impact it made is undeniable. It remains as a stellar body of work amongst Mariah’s catalog and continues to highlight her singular forward-thinking creativity and ability to both see and influence trends.

 

At this time Glitter is unavailable to stream, but it is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

 

PS: Mariah, if you’re reading this, it’s been 15 years. PLEASE let us hear the original “Loverboy.” We know it slays. We know it sits over “Firecracker” perfectly (we have proof of it from Brat’s verse in the remix). It’s time.

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