Ranking Mariah Carey’s Hits: #27-11

Vintage Mariah

Vintage Mariah

This is a big week for Mariah Carey. Not only is she continuing to host American Idol, but she’s also singing “Almost Home,” the theme song for Oz the Great and Powerful. Since that movie opens Friday (and is going to make a squillion dollars), she will in everybody’s business for a while.

If we’re being honest, of course, then we know that neither Idol nor “Almost Home” is showing Mariah at her peak. The former’s ratings just aren’t what they used to be, and the latter has hardly set iTunes on fire, despite being available for several weeks. Still, for a singer who’s been around for 23 years, Mimi is still making it happen. (I guess she believed in herself enough and knew what she wanted.) So I figure this is a great time to remember why she’s so famous.

That’s why I’m ranking all 27 of Mariah’s top ten hits. It’s a list that includes 18 number one singles, some terrible clunkers, and some flawless diva genius. And if we don’t rank her hits, then we’ll never know which is which!

(Note: “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is one of Mariah’s best songs, but it’s never made the top ten, so I’m not including it here.)

Previously: I ranked Beyonce’s hits! And Pink’s! And Katy Perry’s!

(Here’s the end of the countdown: #10-1.)

The Bad

(27) “Don’t Forget About Us”
Hot 100 Peak: #1

Mariah’s released a lot of generic ballads in her career—more on that in a minute—but for me, this one is worse than generic. It’s a blatant rip-off of a better Mariah Carey song. It was added to a special edition of her comeback album The Emancipation of Mimi, and it sounds like that album’s biggest hit, “We Belong Together.” And by “sounds like,” I mean “essentially reuses the click-clack backing track and the fast-then-slow singing.” But then? But then? It adds this half-rapped bridge where it sounds like the sound is screwed up. Just listen to the madness at 2:31. Is a curse word being bleeped? Is that weird sound supposed to be cool? Who knows? And the fact that we can’t tell just underlines how bad the song is. It gets more points off for its laughably “sexy” video, full of cheesecake shots and tight lingerie and Mariah holding her mouth open like she’s going to stick a lollipop in there. I know she’s been working her hip-hop hoochie vibe since 1997—and I know she got those horrifying breast implants almost ten years ago—but this part of the Mariah Carey story has often made her seem like a joke to me. A joke who can still drop a hot single every now and then, but a joke nonetheless. It just all seems so forced and unnatural, you know? She’s performing sexiness, but she never seems quite settled in it, the way Rihanna or even Helen Mirren seem settled. And the result is a horror show like “Don’t Forget About Us.”

(26) “Loverboy” (featuring Cameo)
Hot 100 Peak: #2

Did you know that Mariah’s official video channels don’t include “Loverboy,” and that MTV’s site doesn’t have it either? I wonder why?!?!? Oh, this song. This glorious, terrible disasterpiece. In four and a half minutes, it sums up everything about Mimi’s implosion in the early aughts. It was the lead single from Glitter, one of the most deliciously awful movies I’ve ever had the pleasure to buy on DVD. It was the song she was supposed to promote the day she went crazy on TRL.And oh yeah, it was also one of her worst attempts to create music. I dare you to sing along. Can you find a melody? Can you understand what she’s saying in that damn falsetto? Can you predict when people are going to start randomly shouting? I mean… seriously. This is basically an impenetrable wall of noise over a drum track. But it also has the whiff of desperation—like Mariah’s throwing everything she can think of onto the track, mixing in some strawberry and raspberry and all those good things, and then hoping it all works out.

Fun fact: This song jumped to #2 on the chart because the single went on sale for 49 cents. That same week, though, “Bootylicious” was put on sale for the same price, and it leaped to #1. So the marketing ploy from Carey’s camp didn’t earn her another number one single. And then after less than a month, it was out of the top 40.

The Boring

(25) “Endless Love ” (duet with Luther Vandross)
Hot 100 Peak: #2

(24) “I Still Believe”
Hot 100 Peak: #4

(23) “Thank God I Found You” (featuring Joe and 98 Degrees)
Hot 100 Peak: #1

(22) “My All”
Hot 100 Peak: #1

When was the last time you heard any of these songs on the radio or even though about them at all? A hundred years? Never? Right. They were all successful, but they’re all boring. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through “Thank God I Found You” or “My All” without turning them off. However, “Endless Love” and “I Still Believe” rank lower because they are both covers, and the original versions (by Lionel Richie & Diana Ross and Brenda K. Starr, respectively) are pretty damn good. That means Mariah made good songs forgettable, which isn’t cool.

The Decent

(21) “Touch My Body”
Hot 100 Peak: #1

You guys, I know shouldn’t like this song. But I do. One reason I like Mariah Carey is that her best lyrics are really specific: With unusual words (or words that are unusual in pop songs, at least) and surprising images, she can make a basic love song surprisingly interesting. In “Touch My Body,” for instance, she makes sure the man she’s about to freak doesn’t have a camera stashed away in the bedroom, since she does not want the footage of their love showing up on YouTube. But if he does have a camera, it’s leaving with her. Amazing, right? You get the sense that she’s secretly hoping for a sex tape… she just wants to control who sees it. I know that’s trashy and a bit ludicrous, but it wins me over.

(20) “I Know What You Want” (duet with Busta Rhymes)
Hot 100 Peak: #3

This song sounds like 2003, right? Hip-hop was unstoppable in the mid-aughts, and almost all the hits sounded like this: Slinky beats and repeated loops from flutes or electric guitars. Low-key rapping and breathy singing fusing together like pretzels and peanut butter. “I Know What You Want” follows this formula to the letter, which is why it’s not higher on the list. You could swap it out with “I’m Real” or “03 Bonnie and Clyde” or “Always On Time” and never tell the difference. Still, Mariah’s whistle notes at least remind you you’re not listening to Ashanti, and a sweet groove is a sweet groove, even it’s not redefining music.

The Good

(19) “One Sweet Day” (duet with Boyz II Men)
Hot 100 Peak: #1

It’s crazy that “One Sweet Day” is the longest-running number one hit of all time. Back in the mid-90s, it was on top of the charts for sixteen weeks. In retrospect, that seems wrong. “One Sweet Day” is fine, but Mariah and Boyz II Men oversing the hell out of it and the tempo is so slow that it could put you to sleep. There’s some really nice lyrical stuff about missing loved ones who have died or otherwise left your life, but there’s so much showing off with a hundred vocal runs that it’s hard to appreciate the message.

(18) “Shake It Off”
Hot 100 Peak: #2

The follow-up hit to “We Belong Together,” “Shake It Off” is yet another song that relies on the fast singing and slinky beats, and it annoyingly name drops a lot of high-end brands. But then, just when you think you know what’s happening, Mariah namechecks a Calgon commercial. But the Calgon ads always said “Calgon, take me away,” and Mariah… doesn’t say that. At all. It’s so weird and awesome. Maybe I’d be hating on the lyrics if the beat weren’t hot, but the beat IS hot, so it helps the Calgon stuff seem knowingly campy.

(17) “Make It Happen”
Hot 100 Peak: #2

I cannot imagine Mariah Carey ever singing this song again. It’s all about how she used to be poor! And not have enough to eat! That story doesn’t fit her Louis Vitton image (and Louis Vitton implants) at all. But we can always remember when she was just a kid with curly hair and a dream. One of two hits she recorded with Cliviles and Cole (of C + C Music Factory), “Make It Happen” turns her inspirational story into a sweet gospel dance party, complete with the drum machines that were required on every hit of 1991.

(16) “Heartbreaker” (featuring Jay-Z)
Hot 100 Peak: #1

So many Mariahs fighting each other! This video is essentially burned into my cerebral cortex, as is the chorus, which successfully uses the word “incessantly.” The only reason it’s not higher on my list is because Mariah has recorded a lot of great songs that use a bubbly, synth-y, early-80s-R&B beat. “Heartbreaker” is the weakest of that bunch, if only because Mariah sings so much of it in her breathy upper register. But still… I’m not mad about hearing it again. (And seriously: This video! It may be Mariah’s best. I had forgotten about the opening scene, where Mariah’s girls say they’re going to kick Evil Mariah’s butt.)

(15) “Can’t Let Go”
Hot 100 Peak: #2

I have such a soft spot for this ballad! I used to love it back in the early 90s, and I remember being so sad that it was Mariah’s first single not to reach #1. (Her first SIX songs topped the charts, which is still the record for a debut string of hits.) It sounds pretty dated these days, what with the synthesizer waves rolling in and out, but there’s no stopping that chorus. Plus, this was back when Mariah’s voice was still at full power, so lines like “Just cast aside/You don’t even know I’m alive” get the added spice of her incredibly delivery. Low notes? High notes? How about ALL OF THE NOTES?!?

(14) “Hero”
Hot 100 Peak: #1
For those who don’t remember, Mariah Carey spent the first part of her career as the global ambassador for adult contemporary inoffensiveness, traveling the world with her gentle ballads of heartbreak and uplift. “Hero” epitomizes that reign: Is it about returning military vets? Strong women dying of cancer? Children with dyslexia finally learning to read? Good news: It can be about ALL of those people! Just pick your fundraiser, and this song will be your theme. Does that make it a little disingenuous? Yeah… probably. But damn, it’s pretty. I know that Mariah’s ex-husband (and former record label boss) Tommy Mottola was pretty controlling and that the “ho Mariah” phase began as a rebellion against him… but I still kind of miss this version of the diva. She seemed more grown up in 1994 than she did in 2011, when she was sexing Justin Bieber in that Christmas video.

The Great

(13) “I’ll Be There” (featuring Trey Lorenz)
Hot 100 Peak: #1

Trey Lorenz. (Sing.) My friend Joe said this to me today, and I almost passed out with joy. Because that moment is the shit! I can’t even explain why. It just is. Maybe because I’ve heard her call Trey to the mic so many times? Because I’ve listened to this song more than I’ve listened to the sound of my lover’s breath? The point is: Before Mariah made her MTV Unplugged special, she hadn’t done a lot of live performing. This concert demonstrated that she could make all those sounds live and not just in the studio. And even though her version of “I’ll Be There” doesn’t sound wildly different from the Jackson 5 original, she still slays the vocal. Especially at the end, when she growls out “yeah yeah yeah” like a beast.

(12) “Obsessed”
Hot 100 Peak: #7

This may be a controversial choice, since my sense is that I’m the only person in America who truly loves this song. But my heart must speak its truth! I love the line “You’re a mom and pop/I’m a corporation/I’m the press conference/You’re a conversation.” It’s clever, dammit! And it’s great how the production builds the backbeat out of Mariah’s famous whistle notes. She’s accompanying herself! The voice is an instrument! And the stuttering in the chorus—uh-uh-uh-obsessed—is great for bobbing your head. Released in 2009, this is Mariah’s most recent top ten hit, and it may very well be her last. But if this is how she goes out, then she’s leaving in good shape.

(11) “Someday”
Hot 100 Peak: #1

The whistle note at the end of this song is what made me a Mariah Carey fan. She had other hits in 1990, but the eleven year-old me wasn’t interested in your ballads and love songs. I wanted hot beats and sass! And I got it with “Someday.” It’s been widely reported (even by Nick Cannon, Mariah’s husband) that Carey herself doesn’t care for this song, but I think that’s crazy. This song is the bomb. It is fire. It is Christmas. It is a million kisses from a million angels. That beat is sickening. That rap section near the end is flawless. The running man that she does in the video is a gift from god.

Here’s the end of the countdown: #10-1

Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship.