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Mus306 - Mariah Carey

In: Film and Music

Submitted By GNNG
Words 1036
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With five Grammy Awards, two Diamond certified albums and selling over 60million albums in the U.S., Mariah Carey has demonstrated an undeniably strong appeal within the western world. The popularity of many vocalists extinguishes within several years, suffering from the changing tastes of the public which are deeply influenced by the dynamics of the “cultural industry”. However, unlike many talented performers, her fame lasted for more than 20 years. Mariah possesses talent; that is an irrefutable fact. As simplified answers like “talent” would be suffice to reveal why she is popular, it is necessary to ask questions that are more focused in defining the relationship Mariah had with the “cultural industry” as coined by Adorno and Horkheimer. To what extent was her work influenced by the culturally industrial views of record companies and as a consequence, how did she deal with the resulting conflict between self-expression and the industrial production of identity? The presence of a dynamic conflict between record companies and mainstream artists has long been acknowledged. Mariah was no exception to this problem. Issues had already arisen in her first album, Mariah Carey (1990). Prior to signing, Mariah had originally written 14 songs and intended her first CD to be produced without any editing of her tracks (Nickson 20). However, her record company insisted on transforming the songs before they were publically released; including her first Number 1 single “Vision of Love” (Nickson 30). “There is an agreement... of all [record company] executive authorities not to produce or sanction anything that in any way differs from their own rules” (Adorno and Horkheimer 32). Mariah’s songs had intentionally been tweaked to conform to the successful formulas of previous female singers like Whitney Houston. If she had refused to compromise her style in accordance to record companies, thereby denying to align herself with commoditized music, it is very likely that Mariah would have accomplished much less than she did. As opposed to a pseudo-individualist, Mariah’s behaviour had always been characteristic of an agonist. She was aware of the conflict between self-expression and the industrial production of identity generated through music commoditization. “For Carey, vocalizing is all about the performance, not the emotions that inspired it. Singing, to her, represents a physical challenge, not an emotional unburdening.” (Zuckerman par.13). With that said, the key ingredient for the long duration of her success is now unveiled: the ability to constantly change styles to conform to the cultural industry. This argument can be validated by comparing her recent live performances to the ones more than a decade ago. A 1992 Mariah performance can be found at and a 2004 performance at In 2004, she performed wearing underwear, which contrasts the modest selection of clothing she performed in twelve years ago. Through changing herself to better satisfy the demands of the public (and thereby abiding to her industry-produced identity), Mariah was able to keep up with the dynamics of music commoditization and remain competitive within the cultural industry market. The underwear example also brings about another issue. Mariah, when she chose to perform in underwear, validates the problem of “unsublimated forepleasure” related to objects of desire (“breasts in a cling sweater”) mentioned by Adorno and Horkheimer (36); we are taught to like being tortured by seeing things we would like to have, along with the sense that they are obtainable, but they generally are not within our grasps. Mariah Carey evidently contributes to this problem. Retaining her status within the public eye for more than two decades, Carey is one of the more capable musicians to adapt to the dynamic music industry. In the process of adaptation, however, a key conflict arises: contradiction between self-expressiveness/ individuality and the industrialized commoditization of music. In 1999, Mariah redirected her focus into creating songs that reflected a more personal side of her. Sony refused to promote the two singles, deeming them to be too weak for success (Shapiro 133). Mariah then countered through a post on her website telling fans to request her two “personal” songs on radio stations (Shapiro 134), thereby establishing a tense relationship with cultural industrialists. Carey’s display of agonistic actions consisted of a variety of techniques and was not limited to just that incident. Notably, in 2001, Mariah had confronted her record company regarding her autonomy by implicitly threatening to break her contract; “I’m trying to understand things in life right now and so I really don’t feel that I should be doing music right now. What I’d like to do is just take a little break...all I really want is to just be me.” (qtd. in Vineyard par. 5). Additionally, another prime example of Mariah’s confrontational actions can been seen in her comment regarding Virgin Records, where she bluntly identified her time at the company as being “a complete and total stress-fest” (Adams par. 15). Though revolutionary and enlightening, some of the ideas presented by Adorno and Horkheimer can be quite controversial. An important aspect which the authors have not taken account of is that everybody changes. Therefore, one’s sense of self is not as definite as the authors suggest and will evolve over time. Conflict between a musician’s constantly changing self-identity and their industrially commoditized identity may hence be much less problematic in reality than in theory. This may very well be the case for Mariah Carey.
Works Cited

Adams, Josh. The Fall and Rise of Mariah Carey. BBC News Online, 2006. Web. 22 Sep. 2012.

Adorno, Theodor, and Max Horkheimer. “The culture industry: enlightenment as mass deception”. The Cultural Studies Reader. Ed. Simon During. New York: Routledge, 1993. 29-43. Print.

BabyLamb01. “(Undubbed) Mariah Carey My All TAOM Tour”. Youtube. Web. 22 Sep. 2012.

MariahCareyVEVO. “Mariah Carey – Without You”. Youtube. Web. 22 Sep. 2012.

Nickson, Chris. Mariah Carey Revisited: The Unauthorized Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Print.

Shapiro, Marc. Mariah Carey: the unauthorized biography. Toronto: ECW Press, 2001. Print.

Vineyard, Jennifer. Mariah Carey Hospitalized For “Extreme Exhaustion”. MTV News, 2005. Web. 22 Sep. 2012.

Zuckerman, Mortimer. More Like a Screaming Mimi. NY Daily News, 2005. Web. 22 Sep. 2012.…...

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