Whitney Houston was my Michael Jackson. Hers was the first — and only — celebrity death that brought me to tears.
I was snuggled in the corner of my bus seat lost in a book. It was Valentine’s Day weekend and we were headed to D.C. to explore the city. The interruption from my then-boyfriend was met with annoyance. Apparently people were tweeting that Whitney Houston had died. He’d wanted me to check Twitter for myself to see what all the hoopla was about. It was true — Whitney had been found dead in a hotel bathtub. I sobbed uncontrollably the rest of the way to D.C. For weeks, TV commentators, artists and fans revered her in a way that they hadn’t when she was still breathing. Her addiction and subsequent denial of it made her the butt of jokes and fodder for salacious headlines. The scorn was ruthless. After she passed, many of those people, a la Wendy Williams, were singing a different tune. In front of a live audience, Williams partook in performative grief complete with faux tears. This is the same woman who, as Whitney put it, “talked about [her] like a dog” while she was alive. I wondered if Whitney felt like she had gotten her flowers while she could still smell them. And I hoped she knew that for black girls like me, she was everything.
Mariah Carey comes second only to Whitney.
I was in kindergarten when Mariah released her first single, “Vision of Love,” in 1990. Her music would continue to be the soundtrack throughout my childhood, staying with me through those awkward teenage years into my early 20s, where I learned about the pains of womanhood. When I first fell in love, experienced my first heartbreak and finally understood what it meant to feel like someone would “always be my baby,” her voice was there. In all its ranges, from F2 to G7, it was a source of comfort. Mariah knew what it was like to be a broken woman, repair that brokenness and find love again. I wasn’t the only one who deeply felt her music, because while I only saw her as an artist whose music showed she understood, she was busy becoming a legend. Her chart-topping, history-making career is too vast to consolidate, but a few highlights include 18 No. 1 singles (second only to the Beatles), 79 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 100 (the only artist in history to do so), the best selling Christmas album of all time and over 200 million records sold worldwide.
A bad performance or two is par for the course when you have 27 years of receipts. Unlike other fans who seem unable to critique their faves, I understand why Mariah was the number one trending topic on New Year’s Eve. Her now viral performance on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest was disastrous. Her refusal to sing with the backtrack, the onstage meltdown, being unwilling to give the kind of “the show must go on” performance we expect from entertainers, had no redeeming qualities. And the internet was swift with its memes, pitchforks and jokes.
Dick Clark Productions vehemently denies that producers sabotaged Mariah’s performance in any way, which was initially insinuated by persons on her team. In an official statement, Dick Clark Productions calls the claims “defamatory, outrageous and frankly absurd.” Anonymous production sources claim Mariah skipped rehearsals, but the singer’s manager, Stella Bulochnikov, says Mariah did rehearse and that the faulty performance boils down to a glitch ear piece where she couldn’t hear her backtrack. As far as the lip-syncing claims, Bulochnikov wants people to understand what singing to a backtrack means, telling Entertainment Weekly:
“No. It’s not lip-syncing. Lip-syncing is when people don’t sing at all. This is what people should understand. Every artist sings to a track, especially in circumstances like that when it’s really loud and impossible to have a great musical performance.”
No matter the technical difficulties, the internet is relentless and unforgiving. For nearly three days, people’s tongues have been wagging with absurdities like “Mariah Carey just ended her career” and “Mariah Carey hasn’t been able to sing for years” and shade from lessors like her archenemy J. Lo, who has never been able to carry a note, on any stage, at any time. Please.
Listen, the performance was not cringeworthy. And it’s not the only one in recent years. On social media, nobody is exempt from slander. But what we’re not gonna do is act like Mariah can’t sing anymore. What we’re not gonna do is act like your fave’s catalogue is even worthy of comparison. What you won’t do is act like Mariah didn’t mother your faves — every single one of them will tell you she did. What we’re definitely not doing in the year of 2017 is act like Mariah’s career is over. Honey, Mariah could not release another song as long as she lives and still sell out shows. That’s what you can do when you’re a legend who has nearly 30 years of work to stand on.
Do not try it, OK?
No artist is above critique (although stans of other hives may believe otherwise). The critique is not what’s unsettling. It’s the mockery and joy people get from seeing someone mess up that I find unnerving. Happy people don’t get delight from other people’s failures.
Remember when folks said Mariah was done after the Glitter and Charmbraclet era? I have a long memory, so I do. Then she came back with Emancipation of Mimi and the industry was shook. You can’t count out a woman whose talent has kept her relevant for almost three decades.
This moment takes me back to Whitney. We tuned in to her broadcasted homecoming with tears in our eyes as we said goodbye to The Voice. It was bittersweet. Here we were celebrating the life she lived but only after she was done living it. Although Mariah has many, many, many years before we’re talking about her in past tense, I hope she gets her flowers now. That when the memes are old and the jokes tired, we get back to appreciating the art.
Original by Bené Viera