How Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged silenced her critics

In 1992, a 22 year-old Mariah Carey had much to prove. A mere two years into her career, she already notched 5 consecutive #1 singles, starting with her debut single “Vision Of Love“. She also collected 2 Grammys Awards, including Best New Artist. Despite all this success, she didn’t take her act on the road.

She made numerous TV performances and appearances, but there were no signs of a full-length show or tour in the works. Of course, this incited the critics to question her abilities as a live performer. However, her performance on MTV Unplugged in June of 1992 shut them all down. Mariah’s MTV Unplugged proved that she could deliver a flawless, full-length performance. It even found her making history.

“I feel like that special really helped my career… It was like my first concert”- Mariah Carey, 2001

Now I’ll keep it real, I was 2 in 1992, and 6 years away from discovering Mariah Carey. However, MTV Unplugged is a crucial developmental moment in Mariah’s career. As she says before her closing number “Can’t Let Go,” “you know I’m not used to doing this.” The only other multi-performance show was The First Vision, released in 1990. However, that video is intercut with interviews, so it isn’t meant to feel like a show. Her MTV Unplugged EP is nothing but music, with a few spoken interludes/introductions.

Below, I dig into a few of the seven tracks which compose Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged EP. Let me take you back…

“I’ll Be There”

The most important moment from Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged is “I’ll Be There.” It is a bit of an MTV Unplugged tradition to include a cover song in the set. Mariah includes the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.” The song is a classic amongst the Jackson 5 and Motown catalog. Everyone knows “I’ll Be There.” Mariah performs it here as a duet with longtime background singer Trey Lorenz. The two are magic together.

“I’ll Be There” makes such an impact that fans demanded it receive release as a single. Upon the single’s release, “I’ll Be There” shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a feat almost never achieved by live songs. It was also only the eighth song to have crowned the Hot 100 as both an original release and a cover. To this day, it remains as an iconic moment in Mariah’s career

“Someday”

Notorious for being a song Mariah “hates,” “Someday” was her 3rd number one single. Clearly it was an easy choice for inclusion on MTV Unplugged. Due to the plugged-in nature of the studio version of “Someday,” it is a great opportunity for Mariah to strip down a song. That is, after all, a good part of what MTV Unplugged is all about.

“If It’s Over”

Perhaps the least well-known song performed at MTV Unplugged (outside of Mariah’s fan base), “If It’s Over,” was used as the EP’s second single after the monstrous success of “I’ll Be There.” With lyrics written by Mariah and the music written by her in collaboration with the iconic Carole King, the song is a vocal show out for Mariah. She had recently performed the song on Saturday Night Live and at the 1992 Grammy Awards, to much acclaim.

“Can’t Let Go”

Finally, the closer of the show stands out to me especially, because this was the first version I ever heard. “Can’t Let Go” is regarded as a fan favorite amongst Mariah’s lambs. Unlike “If It’s Over,” there’s still a chance that Mariah includes the song in a setlist these days. I love the way the piano takes center stage here, as opposed to the synth-centered studio version. Mariah always sounds great vibing off a piano (case in point, “Vanishing”). Her vocals on this version are more raw and earthy. When she hits the bridge and key change, she goes all the way off. It is the perfect finale to an iconic moment in her career.

 

What’s your favorite cut from Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged EP?

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