Once upon a time, there was a young multiracial, multi-talented girl from Long Island, New York. Born to an Irish-American mother and a Venezuelan/African-American father, she would grow up to have one of the best voices the music world would ever hear, a witty way with words and a masterful gift of melody. Despite having 500 hours of beauty school, she ventured off to New York City to pursue a music career. At age 18, she was signed to Columbia Records by an old, controlling Italian man, and released her debut album at age 20.
On her self-titled debut, Mariah Carey introduced the world to her miraculous voice and her ability to write hit R&B songs that could crossover to the pop charts. She scored four #1 hits in the process. However, one of those hits also showcased another talent of Carey’s: “Someday” provided our first introduction to what has now become legendary – her artfully flawless ability to throw shade. “Someday” seemed like your standard, cute girl-hates-boy sort of shade, but as the years went on, it intensified. And, indeed, that same album had two more rather shady cuts: “Prisoner” (a song the very existence of she likes to shade) and “You Need Me” both were rather feisty assertions of girl power and sass, even featuring Mariah delivering her first ever rap verses.
Perhaps the controlling Italian wasn’t here for all the shade on her debut and, for whatever reason, her sophomore album, 1991’s Emotions, only had one shady moment: “You’re So Cold,” a bubbly C&C Music Factory production on which Mariah proceeds to read a, you-guessed-it, cold man his rights for being so damn cruel. She downright calls him “heartless.” Ouch.
Unfortunately for fans of Carey’s shady sass, it was absent from her next three albums, not reappearing until 1999’s Rainbow. One, “X-Girlfriend,” found Mariah doing a rare read of another female for trying to steal her man. Co-penned by former Xscape member Kandi, the song fit right in alongside similarly shady anthems by Destiny’s Child and TLC that same year. “Did I Do That?,” though, found Carey ethering an unidentified (but not too hard to figure out) suitor who was, apparently, not the brightest bulb. In a song littered with biting shade, the shadiest bit of all is when she sings, “Conversations painfully weak, you were much better off when you didn’t speak.” Welp.
In 2001, Mariah had a particularly unfortunate year. As we already detailed extensively, one particular shade-inducing conflict was born, yielding one notable bit of shade on an otherwise festive 80s-themed album: Da Brat’s rap on the “Loverboy” remix. Mariah eagerly sang along, to the tune of the song’s originally intended sample stolen by Jennifer Lopez, taunting her imitators: “Hate on me, as much as you want to, you can’t do what the fuck I do, bitches be imitating me daily” OOP!
From this point on, Ms. Carey began to own her shadiness in all it’s eternal glory. In 2002, she penned her finest, shadiest composition to date, for the Charmbracelet album: “Clown.” So eloquent, witty and downright ego-shattering, “Clown” is a clear attack of Eminem, who prefers to pick fights with pop divas rather than fellow male rappers who he must fear might actually hit back. Unfortunately for him, Carey is a hip-hop artist at heart, with a knack for witty rhymes and a penchant for shade. “Clown” is her most artful shade to date because of how sheerly pitiful it renders its victim: “Consequently now your ego’s fully overblown, you don’t want the world to know that you’re just a puppet show and the little boy inside often sits at home alone and cries, cries, cries, cries.” Consequently, indeed, Eminem attacked her incessantly over the years to follow. “Your pain is so deep-rooted, what will your life become? Sure you hide it but you’re lost and lonesome, still just a frail shook one.” Hit dogs certainly do holler! Yet, “Nobody cares when the tears of a clown fall down.” Poor thing. On that same album, she served up yet another sliver of shade with a bop called “You Had Your Chance.” It’s nowhere near as scathing as “Clown,” but a good, light read nonetheless.
While her 2005 comeback was not a beacon of shade, one of the album’s singles “Shake It Off” served up a bit of shade and was yet another smash hit for the diva. “Shake It Off,” as you likely know, is a now-classic break-up anthem for that less-than-stellar man in your life. Mimi motivates the ladies to shake ‘em off with a quick 1-2-3 shake. Oh, and honorable mention to “It’s Like That” for the line “them chickens is ash and I’m lotion.” Werq, honey.
Never fear, though, for she returned in 2008 with a few more songs of scintillating shade on E=MC2, the hottest of all being “Heat,” on which she points her shadlescope at some ho who tries to steal her man. It is a ratchet read that leaves hypothetical wigs strewn across the flooring. In a rare moment of aggressive violence, Mimi vows to “come out these heels and make it clear,” and “fuck up my hair and take it there, bitch.” For anyone who thinks she is all butterflies, rainbows and unicorns, think again. She “sholl ain’t the one.”
No one is safe when Carey’s shadeometer is set on high, not even her siblings. “I Wish You Well,” from that same album, is a different sort of shade, though. It is in a class of its own; it is Bible-thumping, Holy Spirit-ed shade. The song talks of the manipulation done unto her by her siblings who have hurt her over the years, and she uses the words of the Bible to wish them well, a.k.a. excrete them from her life and conscience. It is just behind “Clown” at the pole position of the intelligent, high-level, damn-near-Holy shade spectrum.
That same year, Mariah got married, and the following year, released Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Perhaps out of a desire to rid herself of the negative energy as she entered her new marriage, Mariah took to her pen to once again shade the lessers of relationships past. Unsurprisingly, Memoirs is one of her shadiest albums. It was kicked off with “Obsessed,” a hip-hop track that once again is a clear response to Eminem (a connection she denies hilariously) and incited a predictably bitter response from the Obsessed-one who proved just how obsessed he truly is with his response track “Warning.” The album featured plenty more succulent shade, though. “Standing O” is a bitingly sarcastic number offering a round of applause to a failed lover, while “Up Out My Face” is a hilarious (and albeit cheesy) breakup anthem. Its most famous line is perhaps when she says that “If we were two Lego blocks, even the Harvard University graduating class of 2010 couldn’t even put us back together again.” Other slightly shady bops include “It’s a Wrap,” “Betcha Gon Know,” and “H.A.T.E.U.” – but those are more so angry or upset than downright shady.
Following Memoirs, Mariah’s longest hiatus to-date ensued: it was nearly 5 years before she released her next studio album, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse. In that time, she unfortunately gathered a wealth of inspiration for yet another shade-filled album. On Chanteuse, she was a wife scorned, yet still trying to work through the problems in secret. On “Faded,” she chastises him for being “always somewhere but not there for” her and fading away, literally and metaphorically. Similarly, “You Don’t Know What to Do” finds her giving a witty read to her fair-weather lover, “you love me more than you love sunny summer days … now all you can do is listen to me sing” she chides. The cruelest of all, though, is downright diss-track “Thirsty.” Featuring lines like “you used to be mister-all-about-‘we,’ now you’re just thirsty for celebrity, best thing to happen to your ass was me, pull down them Tom Fords and act like you see.” Funny as that is, it’s actually quite sad. She utilizes her high level vocabulary and metaphorical skill on the chorus, singing “Thirsty for a dream, leaving me drowning, ain’t no SOS, filled with discontent, fire you can’t quench, why you try so damn hard?” The worst bit of all? She changed her number and he has to hit her on Twitter, because he “can’t get the real math.” Keeping with that same theme, “The Art of Letting Go” is self-explanatory, and features the line “Go to Mimi on your contacts; press delete.” It seems said moment might’ve come before “Thirsty”?
Possibly inspired by her experience on American Idol, “Meteorite” is a disco-inspired jam that is directed toward aspiring starlets. However, it’s not a supportive sort of “you can do it!” moment you might expect. Actually, it is an honest and all-too-real perspective on fame, laced in shade. She warns that shooting stars, or meteorites, will burn out quickly. She compares fame to a flame, saying the public watches you “burn up” as you “turn up.” It’s a cautionary and shady tale of fame.
Finally, we arrive to Ms. Carey’s latest offering in her catalogue and, coincidentally, her most recent bit of shade: “Infinity.” Released in 2015 as a capstone for her latest collection of #1s and to promote her Las Vegas residency, the song seems to be inspired by her divorce. Its antagonist, similar to that of “Thirsty,” is seemingly broke, mad, and simply not on MC’s level. She reminds him: “you lost the best you’ve ever had.” This time, though, she’s not mad or upset. She seems to recognize that it’s alright that things have come to an end, and “that’s the story, ain’t no happy end.” Yet, “Infinity,” despite its layers of shade, does on a positive note: she still believes “infinity is more than just a made up dream,” that one day she can still find infinity. Just not with that one. So is there a happy ending to her story? Yes.
So, where does that leave us with the Queen of Shade? Is she still shady? Of course! However, it’s probably more likely for future music to be a little less shady given her current state of affairs (and engagement!). Still, one thing is for certain: no diva in the business can throw shade like she can, whether in an interview or, even better, in song. So, beware… you never know when she might come for you. But don’t worry too much, this is her attitude toward most people she doesn’t like: