11 Underrated Deep Cuts from Kelly Clarkson
You Found Me
This waste-of-an-opportunity from Kelly’s breakthrough album Breakaway was written by frequent pop collaborator Kara DioGuardi and produced by John Shanks. Just like the title track, “You Found Me” has soaring, full instrumentation that just feels like a breath of fresh air. Kelly ascends into the chorus and beyond without being too overbearing. The production fits perfectly with the lyrical content of the relief of finding someone worthwhile who will stay by your side thick-and-thin. “You Found Me” is pure, mid-2000s pop perfection. The song itself is a relief to hear after the heavier – in sound and content – tracks that preceded it.
I think the song “Maybe” from the album My December showcases Kelly’s ability to not only write a good track, but the general outpouring of emotion she can convey. The song is generally stripped back, with Kelly being accompanied by a single guitar through most of the track, although a full band kicks in during the climax as wells a piano during the outro. Kelly is vulnerable yet defiant; she’s not perfect but she’s not broken: “I don’t need to be fixed / and I certainly don’t need to be found / I’m not lost / I need to be loved / I just need to be loved”. It showcases the depth of personal loneliness she was experiencing at the time.
“Be Still” is a rather unassuming track nestled in the middle of My December, but a closer look would reveal its potential. This slow ballad, accompanied by a simple guitar beat and subtle strings, showcases Kelly’s gentler side. Kelly is often known for her belting vocals and aggressive break-up tracks, but “Be Still”, on the other hand, does not have a climax at all. Her vocals are small and gentle, keeping in her head voice throughout most of the track. The lyrics are composed almost like a letter to herself. Kelly has said while writing this album, she was at her lowest point in her career; broken, drained, and tired. The lyrics confide in herself, allowing her to feel this; “foolish one with a smile / you don’t have to be brave “
Two very different versions of this song exist. The first comes from Kelly’s debut, where it is an unassuming album track with a somewhat overproduced, chugging tempo. The second is a stripped back live version (accompanied only by piano) that was included on Breakaway. The nature of the latter version perhaps does better service to the lyrics, but the original is not to be thrown away either. The lyrics describe a female protagonist who is torn over how to deal with a troubled male lover: “A tragedy with / more damage than a should should see / and do I try to change him / so hard not to blame him”. The sensitive song is beautifully written, and Kelly’s tender delivery gives it its due in both version.
It’s a shame that most of All I Ever Wanted’s interesting tracks were stuffed towards the end of the album. The self-written “Ready” is upbeat with bubbly synths but with the heavier energy of a typical rock instrumental. Kelly challenges her object of desire to make a move, boasting some of her more delicious lyrics: “too much of your mouth is like too much sun / how I burn / how I burn” as well as pleasantly interesting imagery: “Fearless / with cape in hand / conquered / what I need to amend / little girls get so broken”. Although Kelly belts out her chorus, she allows her vocals to be sugary sweet in the bridge. Before the final chorus, the instrumentation suddenly falls away and Kelly whispers: “Come. Get. Me.”, and it’s difficult not to accept the challenge.
Can I Have A Kiss
This rock track is nestled towards the bottom of Kelly’s third album My December. It stands today as one of my favorite songs ever released from her. It has heavier instrumentation and is a little more upbeat than the other My December tracks featured on this list thus far, but still retains the same level of vulnerability and intimacy. Like all of the tracks from the album, “Can I Have A Kiss” is self-written, and Kelly croons her affection and praises to her person of interest while downplaying her worthiness of them: “I’m unworthy / I can see you’re above me / but I can be lovely / given the chance”. The song is tenderly chaste: “I tried to warn you / been a mess since you known me […] If I can’t hold you / can I have a kiss?”
“Yes I stumble into the night / we’re touching but I feel like you were still out of reach / the people here were buzzing like a bug on a light / I’m feeling like I always see them / but they can’t see me” are the opening lines to the funky rock track from Kelly’s fifth album Stronger. The lyrics seem to portray the incredibly isolating experience of being a big star. The upbeat, rugged tempo of the track disguises the more vulnerable content of the lyrics. The title itself is the artist calling out for anyone to prove she isn’t alone. It has some of the interesting flavor exhibited on tracks from her previous album, All I Ever Wanted.
Probably one of the most upbeat tracks on My December, the relatively short “Yeah” is full of “oomph” and swagger. In fact, I would say it stands as a precursor to the type of music she is currently making. Although a rock song, the addition of horns in the instrumentation and the layered vocals during the chorus give this track a classic quality to it. It’s soulful, and the chucking beat reminds me of the era of New Jack Swing. The lyrics aren’t anything to write home about – Kelly is challenging her ex-lover to stand up to the plate, giving her consent to give their relationship another go – but there are a few gems: “I got your back / I never wanted anything more than you and your sexy smile”. The energetic, whispered bridge is a particularly fun highlight.
You Love Me
This midtempo ballad is one of the shining tracks from the relatively mediocre Stronger. Although it sounds like a typical love/break-up song, Kelly later revealed that it was directed to her record company, who she had numerous struggles with. Kelly and her company often came to heads over differences in creative direction, and they would often double-cross her in order to gain success out of her star power, while pretending to support her as an artist. Kelly describes the manipulating pain in the self-written lyrics: “You just opened my eyes while breaking my heart / you didn’t do it for me / I’m not as dumb as you think / you just made me cry / by claiming that you love me […] I’m not good enough / I’m not good enough”
How I Feel
Like every other track from My December, “How I Feel” isn’t too positive in its lyrical content, but the beat is strong and infectious with rock instrumentation and a gentle keyboard melody-line running through. In fact, it seemed like a perfect contender for a single, but unfortunately was left by the wayside, most likely due to lack of promotion backed by the record company. Kelly has a relatively pessimistic view of her own life compared to others: “I’m not jealous / but I won’t lie / I don’t wanna hear about your wonderful life”. She’s annoyed with everyone around her telling her to buck up, wishing they would allow her to wallow in her depressive feelings: “and that’s how I feel right now / so just let me be”.
I Want You
“I Want You” sits back-to-back with “Ready” on the All I Ever Wanted tracklist and there couldn’t be a more perfect pair. “I Want You” is a bit more light and uptempo than the previous track. Again there are bubbly synths; summery and spirited. At closer inspection the rest of the instrumentation is a refreshing array of percussion, including what sounds like a harp, and calls to mind some of the softer tracks from Florence + the Machine’s debut Lungs. Her vocal delivery, on the other hand, is something more akin to Lily Allen. The lyrics are decidedly sweet: “Outta gas so you walk for miles / to pick me up in your worn out shoes / you never settle never take too much / you count on me just like I count on you”.
At first glance, the album cover for Madonna’s 1984 album Like A Virgin isn’t necessarily anything special. It does not hold the striking, emotional profile of her debut, nor the statuesque elegance of its successor, True Blue. Instead, Like A Virgin portrays an unsurprisingly seductive, sepia-toned portrait of Madonna. Even the font type used is a simple, unassuming serif in dull tones that sink into the colors of the rest of the cover. To give it its fair due, it could have been much worse: at least it did not go the typical 80s gaudiness route that befell many of her single releases. But, overall, is Like A Virgin as iconic compared to her other releases of the era?
When one delves into the dynamics of the cover, they would realize how all of the elements play off each other in a brilliant contradiction of title, name, and imagery.
Let’s start with Madonna’s namesake: “Madonna” is the original title attributed to the biblical Virgin Mary. As one could guess, Mary – the mother of Jesus Christ – is celebrated for retaining her virginity even through her immaculate conception. Because of Mary, the concept of virginity is sacred within Christianity. Girls and women are expected to remain abstinent until after they are married (because we can’t all magically conceive children of God and remain virgins forever). Brides wear white on their wedding day to signify their preserved purity – emulating the Virgin Mary.
By 1984 – just a year into her career – Madonna had already established she was an unabashed sexual creature with songs like “Burning Up” and “Physical Attraction”, firmly distancing herself from her religious namesake. Recording a song like “Like A Virgin” further toys with the aforementioned topic. Even Madonna first baulked at the idea of being like a virgin – as the song itself uses the phrase as a simile, likening the experience of falling in love after a brutal breakup to a virgin being “touched for the very first time”. But that did not stop her from grabbing hold of the concept and spinning it on its head with the imagery for her album cover.
Now as its getting clearer, let’s break down the album cover. Madonna is lounged out on a bed wearing a promiscuous, low-cut version of a wedding dress with the shadows accentuating her breasts. She sports a debauched head of hair while staring with a pout out into the audience. The look is brought together by the iconic “Boy Toy” belt; that title itself proudly claiming a licentious lifestyle. Each one of these elements contradicts the Christian concept of the Virgin Mary and the purity of brides. Even the title Like A Virgin paired with the name “Madonna” comes off as tongue-in-cheek; a lascivious joke poking fun of the entire strict, religious ritual Madonna spent her entire early life and career rebelling against.
At face value, the cover for Like A Virgin might not have the immediate aesthetic appeal of some of Madonna’s other records. But, for me, the levels of imagery playfully countering traditional concepts gives the cover interesting depth – and cements it as one of the best album covers in pop music history.
Now that Thanksgiving is over, I've begun to delve into my collection of seasonal music. I'm not a huge listener of holiday music, but
I figured I'd write a little something about the albums I turn to around this time of year!
Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas
Mariah Carey’s 1994 Christmas album has become a classic, cemented into pop culture by the holiday hit “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.
It is a songI’ve always loved and I enjoy it even more today. It is such a joyous and infectious song, so it isn’t difficult to see why .The album has two
more original songs, with the ballad “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)” being another highlight. The rest of the album is made up of covers of
classics and traditional ‘carols’. The upbeat, dance variation of “Joy to the World” is a personal favorite, and Mariah’s voice was made to sing a song like
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. Mariah does the songs justice while adding her own personal flair. She and Walter Afanasieff kept the production
simple and classic, which adds to the timeless nature of the music. The album slows down a bit at the end, but there is already plenty to enjoy.
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers – Once Upon A Christmas
Alright, before any of you judge me for this, this was the Christmas album for me when I was kid. Even without the nostalgia factor, this album
is enjoyable to this day – and I actually recommend it to anyone who enjoys holiday music. Even though both of these performers are
country artists, the album itself has a more traditional Christmas sound. The record is mostly duets between the two, but Dolly and Kenny also
have a few solo performances as well. Dolly’s medley of “Winter Wonderland/Sleigh Ride” is my favorite version of the classic. It is wonderfully
pastoral and gives the listener a sense of comfort and calming joy. The album features original material as well. The upbeat, infectious “With Bells On”
is a particular highlight for me. The title track is a dramatic, haunting tale of the first christmas. It has since become a classic radio holiday hit.
I understand that this might not be for everyone, but it holds a special place in my heart.
Enya – And Winter Came...
Now we’re moving away from the traditional “Christmas” tunes and more towards wintery, seasonal music. The New Age artist Enya had
released a few holiday music before finally releasing a full album dedicated to the season. There are only two covers of traditional classics,
one of them being a dark rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, which is partly sung in Latin; the other being an Irish Gaelic version of
“Silent Night” – “Oíche Chiúin” – which has become my favorite rendering of the classic. While a good portion of the album is made up of romantic
ballads that only barely fit with the winter theme, there are three tracks that have come holiday classics for me. “Journey of the Angels” is Enya’s
version of a Christmas hymn, “White Is in the Winter Night” is a jolly, 20th century style carol, and “One Toy Soldier” is like an inspiring children’s book.
The title track, a simple piano composition, is a particular highlight for me as well. I applaud Enya for not relying too much on Christmas
stereotypes and cliches, and gives the listener a unique experience.
Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas
As I’ve grown older, I have become less interested in the usual Christmas songs that crowd radio station during the holiday season. This is why
I really enjoy listening to Vince Guardaldi’s soundtrack for the 1965 cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas. The entire album is, for the most part,
instrumental in the piano-jazz variety. It is wonderfully comforting background music and perfect for a cozy day home in next to a fire with the
snow falling outside. The composition “Linus and Lucy” has become a holiday classic, but also has the appeal of not being inherently Christmasy.
Renditions of traditional music like “O Tannenbaum” and “What Child Is This” adds a certain familiarity to the music, while original tracks
like “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Skating” are easy additions to the holiday canon. The album is a must have for the holiday season.
Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
I wouldn’t really expect someone like Kate Bush to make a straightforward Christmas album, and neither should you. Even though
she tried her hand at a Christmas song in 1980, she returned to the concept in 2011 with her album 50 Words For Snow. The album doesn’t
have any semblance of Christmas cheer, however, and instead captures the season of winter in her own, strange fashion. Just like with
A Charlie Brown Christmas, these songs are mostly piano-driven with hints of jazz elements, which might be a reason why I am drawn to it. The tracks
are anywhere from seven to thirteen minutes long, making them perfect for moody background music. The opening track “Snowflake”
features vocals from her young son Bertie, singing from the point of view of a falling snowflake. The track ambles and drifts around wonderfully.
Every track on the album has hints of darkness to it. “Lake Tahoe” is a ghost story, “Misty” is about a woman who sleeps with a snowman,
“Wild Man” is a sympathetic look at the Yeti, and the title song is a poetic rambling of made-up words. It’s certainly not a holiday album,
but I think it’s perfect for Winter; which often isn’t so cheery as Christmas music makes it seem to be.
Bonus – Other Christmas Songs I Enjoy:
Last Christmas (Wham!)
Christmas Wrapping (The Waitresses)
Santa Baby (Kylie Minogue)
Christmas Day (She & Him)
O Holy Night (Celine Dion)
Step Into Christmas (Elton John)
Debut / Emotions
When Mariah debuted, her tone was very full and rounded – which was probably what lead to initial comparisons with Whitney Houston. But when it came down to it, Mariah’s vocals were very different than Whitney’s. The tone of her lower and mid chest range was husky and soulful, making her sound older than she was. This worked well for soul-inspired songs like “Vision of Love” and “If It’s Over”. Her lower and mid chest belts were technically very well-supported, resulting in great resonance and wonderful vibrato. (examples)
Mariah’s upper chest belts in this era, although seemingly technically sound, sometimes sounded tight or strained. (Grammy's '92) Mariah made little use of her head voice, ("Can't Let Go") and even rarely – or possibly never – used her falsetto. Her head voice had a similar husky tone to her chest range.
Mariah’s whistle register was extremely bright, sharp, and strong. She played around with it extensively, and showed great agility within the register. ("Someday") She often made impressive, several-octave, immediate jumps from her lower-mid chest register to her whistle register. ("Love Takes Time")
Mariah became well known for her use of melisma and her runs, which she usually contained in her chest registers.
There were few negative qualities hindering Mariah’s vocals in this era. She had not yet done extensive live work, so her voice had not been too effected. Her nodules did impact her singing on a few occasions when she was sick or overworked. ("Emotions")
Music Box / Merry Christmas
Like before, Mariah’s vocals during this era were very full and rounded, however, her mature husky tone was replaced by a tone that was more smooth and buttery. Her lower, middle, and upper chest belts were all supported and firm. This era is often noted for its vocal precision and lack of hindrances. The new, creamy tone is often lauded and is considered one of her strongest vocal eras. This type of sound paired well with her music, which was starting to take more of a pop and R&B style.
Mariah started using her head voice and falsetto ranges slightly more. ("Dreamlover") She began to use her whistle register less, and the quality of it changed. Instead of the very sharp and clear tone of her debut, her whistles started to become a little more airy and breathy in nature; which complimented their use as musical embellishments, as opposed to being a main feature. She did not experiment with octave jumps very often, but she seemed to be able to access her whistle relatively easily.
While her voice in this era seemed to have little downfalls, it is notable that because of illness, she sounded very hoarse and strained on a few dates of her first tour – as well as some performances in 1994.
The overall tone of Mariah’s vocals did not seem to change very much between Music Box and Daydream. It retained it's silky, creamy quality. She began to exhibit strong power and resonance during a few performances that arguably rivaled her previous eras. (Madison Square Garden) She strayed away from using her lowest registers most of the time, staying mostly in her mid and upper chest registers. Mariah seemed to exhibit excellent breath control during this era as well.
It could be argued that during this era, Mariah’s upper chest belts could yet again sound somewhat tight or constrained – not as rounded or supported than her mid and lower registers.
Mariah also began to use her voice differently during this era. Although she was always known for her melisma, she expanded this to new levels during this era. She often made complicated and extensive runs that traversed her many registers – including rapidly sliding in and out of her head voice. (Tokyo Dome) Her runs were considerably quick and agile.
The Daydream Era also saw Mariah making much more use of her head and falsetto registers. ("Underneath the Stars") She often traversed into these registers during her runs and when she was riffing with older material. It had a very smooth, breathy tone, but still supported and strong.
Beyond performing older material on tour that required it, Mariah barely used her whistle during this era. Although detectable in background vocals on the album, it was never at the forefront or used live.
Butterfly / #1s
1997 saw the first big major change to Mariah’s vocals – a change that many may consider to be a negative one. Mariah’s tone throughout her registers lost most of its smooth and silky qualities, and was replaced by a more raspy tone. The level of ‘raspiness’ or ‘hoarseness’ varied depending on performances, but it was a permanent change during this era. Mariah still exhibited control over her vocals, and although she was more prone to audible ‘breaks’ during performances, she still remained in-tune. This change also made it more difficult for Mariah to truly project. It is evident that Mariah was aware of the vocal change, as she would often pull the microphone far away from her mouth during belts to avoid amplifying this feature. One could argue that this new raspiness added a level of emotion to her vocal performances. (Patti Labelle Tribute)
Mariah’s lower and mid registers were stronger and more reliable during this era, although she still used her head voice quite often. Sometimes it was very strong ("When You Believe"); other times it was very flimsy, and her background singers had to support it. ("I Still Believe") Although she was able to accomplish it, it was obvious by her facial expressions that using her falsetto (or high head voice) was a difficult task at times. ("Butterfly")
This era saw limited to zero use of her whistle register. They were used as background vocals on Butterfly, but never at the forefront of the music. She performed whistles during her Butterfly Tour, but it could be possible that these were lip-synced.
There are a variety of reasons as to why Mariah’s vocals seemed to have changed so much by 1997. The long and difficult set-list of her Daydream Tour in 1996 overworked and wore out her vocals. She began recording her Butterfly album immediately afterwards, and the excessive use of her head and falsetto registers could have also contributed to the strain on her voice. Mariah was also going through a great deal of emotional stress with the separation from ex-husband and record label exec Tommy Mattola. The nodules on her vocal chords made her voice susceptible to such stress.
To Be Continued…
Song by Song Rating:
...Ready For It – I’m still pretty split on this song. There are quite a few lines that are pretty cringe-worthy, especially the delivery of them. I can’t really enjoy her “rapping” delivery in this song. It sounds pretty forced. That being said, I like the production. The chorus and the bridge are nice. It’s also the perfect track to open the album, I think. – 6/10
End Game – This song actually isn’t all that bad. The production is much more hip-hop as opposed to electro or trip-hop. I’m not a huge fan of modern rap, but Future’s verse was alright. Ed Sheeran was okay, too. It’s still kind of funny to me how both Ed and Taylor have been trying to ‘rap’ a lot lately. Taylor’s ‘rapping’ feels less annoying in this song, for some reason. Maybe it’s because it fits better with the vibe of the song. Her flow is quicker and slicker, with well written lyrics and a better delivery. I like the chorus a lot. A good next single choice. – 7/10
I Did Something Bad – I quite like the instrumentation and production of this song. It’s definitely much more electronic and dubstep-like. I wish it was a little more catchy. The chorus is fine enough, but I feel like this song could have been bigger with some changes. I don’t mind this song, but it’s not that infectious for me to come back enough times. I don’t like the bridge, the phrase “they’re burning witches even if you aren’t one” is very sloppy sounding and I don’t like the excessive autotune. – 6/10
Delicate – This song is kind of middle of the road for me. It has a very smooth instrumental and vibe. However, it’s very sonically uninteresting. It feels like every other downtempo pop song on the radio in the past year or two, so Taylor’s not really doing anything all that special. That being said, this song has some of the best lyrics on the album. The phrasing isn’t disjointed and it flows rather well. The lyrics aren’t cringey or too self-obsessed, although I do feel like Taylor sort of reuses a lot of the same themes, ideas, and observations. Despite being somewhat boring, I feel it balances out some of the low quality songs on the album. I think it’ll be a grower for me. – 8/10
Don’t Blame Me – I think this is the only song on that album that got me really moving. I was already singing along to the chorus by the end of my first listen. A decently good pop song with a groovy, electro beat. I don’t really have much else to say, other than I really liked it. – 9/10
Look What You Made Me Do – I was very unimpressed by this song when it was first released, but listening to it now, it’s obvious this one of the better composed songs on the album. It still has some cringey moments here and there, and the chorus is a little bit of a letdown after the build-ups of the verses/pre-choruses. I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy the uppity, self-obsession running through this track – and most of the album – but like I said, it’s well-structured and decently produced, so it’s one of the better songs on the album – 6/10
So It Goes... – I take back what I said about ‘Delicate’ being a “middle of the road” song. This song describes that much more. Very typical production and I can’t really dictate any interesting lyrics. I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t really grab me. – 6/10
Gorgeous – I know that everyone really hates this song, and I admit that the lyrics are pretty dumb in places. But it makes up for that by being catchy and having a fun, bubbly production. I honestly don’t think it’s any better or worse than the other singles. If I could carve out the “go home to my cats” line, I would feel much better about this song. – 6/10
Getaway Car – I don’t really know what the fuck the narrative is supposed to be in this song, but that doesn’t really matter. It sounds good. There are some poor rhyming attempts in the pre-chorus. But, this is probably the best chorus on the entire album. The instrumentation and production on the chorus is also really great. I really like this song. I hope it grows more on me, but I get the feeling that it might have the opposite effect. – 9/10
King of My Heart – Oh my god, what a fucking letdown. The verses and the first part of the choruses are all really nice. But the instrumentation and production on the pre-chorus is so disrupting and ugly. It’s literally because of the pre-chorus – and the latter half of the chorus – that make this song so disappointing. I don’t know why they had to add such an annoying trip-hop element to the song, when the other parts sound so good. – 4/10
Dancing With Our Hands Tied – I was impressed by this song the first time I heard it, and listening a second time, I really, really enjoy the instrumentation and production throughout the song, especially the verses. I think the phrase ‘dancing with our hands tied’ doesn’t really make sense and is kind of stupid, but that is overshadowed by the better elements of the song. I think this will be a grower. – 9/10
Dress – This feels like ‘Delicate’ and ‘So It Goes…’ for me. I like the higher, breathy vocals that she’s using on this song. I actually really like the phrase “I only bought this dress for you to take it off”. Sexy! I don’t really have much else to say about this song, other than I do enjoy it. – 8/10
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – The only thing this song has going for is the title. I don’t like the verses at all. I really cringe at the whole ‘party-thuggery’ of the whole first verse. The choruses are actually pretty infectious, I can’t lie… I found myself singing along to “did you really think I wouldn't hear all the things you say about may-ay-ay-ay-ay-ayyy”. I don’t know, I’m very torn on this song, I’ll just give a middle rating for now. – 5/10
Call It What You Want – The production is really nice and I do enjoy the tone of it. Like I said when it first came out, I’m not a big fan of the “fuck the haters, they don’t understand us.” theme of the lyrics. However, I found myself enjoying the song overall the second time listening to it. – 6/10
New Years Day – Okay, the first thing I need to say about this song is that it feels like they recorded this with an old piano where some of the keys kind of scratch/check next to each other. I know this sound because my mother’s piano had a few keys like that. Please let me if yo guys know what I’m talking about. It’s either that, or I can hear the foot pedals being pushed. But anyway… the lyrics are very nice and pleasant. There is a soft, and even a somberness to this song that I really enjoy. I feel like Taylor is finally showing her vulnerable side. It’s sad that a ballad would be so typically shoehorned in at the end of the album, but its songs like these this I enjoy from Taylor. Even with that weird sound to it, I really like the piano. It’s tone feels something like Regina Spektor. “Please don’t ever become a stranger who’s laugh I could recognize anywhere” is a really nice lyric. – 10/10
Overall, I didn’t hate this album as much as I thought I would. All of the singles were mostly letdowns to me, and the album provided some better tracks, but nothing that really blew me away. There were plenty of songs on her past two album that really caught my attention upon first listen, while this album was pretty moderate through and through.
I just don’t think I enjoy the musical direction Taylor’s been going in. The genre is moving towards a weird electro-dubstep with trip-hop elements. The delivery of her vocals turned to talk-rapping in a few of the songs and I don’t really enjoy it. I actually think working with all of these pop producers has depleted the nature of her songwriting. It’s gotten worse. I wasn’t ever truly impressed by any of her lyrics on Reputation, and there were plenty of times that I rolled my eyes at them. The album is all attitude, coyness, sultriness, and other fuckery. There isn't much vulnerability or emotion available from Taylor. The production and the themes are pretty cold and shallow, and it’s even a disappointment that we don’t get to hear any real instruments until the very last song.
Anyway, I did like some of the songs. I rated each song pretty liberally, but there are plenty of them that I probably won’t go back to.
Songs that I will use: End Game, Delicate, Don’t Blame Me, Getaway Car, Dancing With Our Hands Tied, New Years Day
Songs that I will probably use: Gorgeous, Dress
Based on my song ranking, I give this album a
Similarities Between Madonna and Mariah Carey
Madonna and Mariah Carey are two artists that stans here seem to compare a lot. It always ends up being such an ugly squabble about sales and talent.
As a fan of both of these artists, I started to think about things that they had in common – if any. Although it may seem odd to think that these two might
have any parallels, but I was able to make a list of statistics about both their personal and professional lives that seem to align.
- Both were married two times
- Both married when they were relatively young
Madonna: (1985) 27 years old
Mariah Carey: (1993) 23 years old
- Both first marriages were short-lived
Madonna: (1985–1989) 4 years
Mariah Carey: (1993–1997) 4 years
- Both first husbands were abusive
Madonna: Husband Sean Penn was known at the time for his short temper, having physically lashed out at paparazzi and being arrested for altercations during Madonna’s Who’s That Girl World Tour. It was reported that he physically abused her – hitting her and tying her to a chair – but no charges were brought to court. Madonna’s song "Till Death Do Us Part" and her music video for "Oh Father" both hint at marital abuse.
Mariah Carey: Husband Tommy Mattola was very controlling of Mariah’s personal and professional life. He dictated what she could wear in promotional videos and controlled who she worked with. It was reported that he listened in on her phone conversations and had her followed when she left their house – which she allegedly nicknamed “Sing Sing”. There was no reports of actual physical abuse.
- Both second marriages were more successful than their first
Madonna: Guy Ritchie (2000–2008) 8 years
Mariah Carey: Nick Cannon (2008–2016) 8 years
- Both second marriages produced children
Madonna: Rocco Ritchie (2000, biological) David (adopted 2005)
Mariah Carey: Moroccan & Monroe Cannon (2011, biological)
- Both achieved their most recent – and thus far their last – Number One around the same time in their careers:
Madonna: “Music” (2000) 17 years after debut (1983)
Mariah Carey: “Touch My Body” (2008) 18 years after debut (1990)
- Both achieved successful comebacks not long after major dips in their careers.
Madonna: In 1992, the release of Erotica and the coffee table book S.E.X. saw a major backlash in Madonna’s public image. The album and its subsequent singles failed to reach the top spot on Billboard charts. She was scrutinized and panned for her raunchy artistry. In 1994, the release of Bedtime Stories saw the singles “Secret” at #3 and “Take A Bow” at #1, retrieving her success public approval.
Mariah Carey: In 2001, the film project Glitter was a commercial and critical failure, with the soundtrack album also performing poorly. This was followed by a personal breakdown in which Mariah was hospitalized for exhaustion. Her following effort, Charmbracelet, did not fare any better. In 2005, The Emancipation of Mimi saw the singles “We Belong Together” at #1, “Shake It Off” at #2, and “Don’t Forget About Us” at #1, returning her former success and appeal.
- Both aforementioned ‘comebacks’ saw them achieving their longest-running Solo Number One hits of their career
Madonna: “Take A Bow”, #1 for 7 weeks
Mariah Carey: “We Belong Together”, #1 for 14 weeks
- Both released what are arguably their most personal and critically praised albums of their careers around the same time
Madonna: Ray of Light, March 1998 (#2 Billboard 200)
Mariah Carey: Butterfly, September 1997 (#1 Billboard 200)
The Bodyguard (1992)
Starring Kevin Costner & Whitney Houston
Directed by Mick Jackson
Written by Lawrence Kasdan
So lately I’ve been familiarizing myself with some of Whitney Houston’s music, and after listening to her music from the The Bodyguard I decided to actually try watching the movie. I had quite a few thoughts about it while watching it so here’s a very sloppy review of 1992’s The Bodyguard!
Because people are always obsessed with how successful (or unsuccessful) pop girls are at acting, that will be the first thing I want to talk about. Overall, Whitney did really well. I feel like she added some personality to the character, even though I feel like she was playing just a slightly different version of herself. That being said, the script didn’t give her much to do, and the film didn’t really challenge anyone’s acting abilities, in my opinion. There aren’t too many high emotional moments for the actors.
As a film itself, it isn’t all that impressive. Most of the time the mood and tone of it all felt very flat. Like I said, there aren’t really any high emotional moments, and the entire premise just seemed to be played a little too safe. I think because the entire plot of the film is about a pop star being both followed by a pervy stalker and is being hunted by a hit man, it could have been amped up a bit and made more gritty. I know this is technically a Romance, but even that aspect wasn’t pulled off well. It doesn’t help that the whole film is absolutely ordinary to look at. The cinematography was balls, and it had that typical early 90s grain feel to it, which works for some genres, but just makes this look a bit shoddy.
Honestly the entire film was rather boring – with one of the reasons being that Kevin Costner is the most uninteresting screen presence ever. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
I’m going to start running through some of the scenes and plot points that I noted – mostly stuff that irked me – so minor SPOILERS ahead.
Whitney Houston plays a pop star/celebrity by the name of Rachel Marron, which is by far the dullest name for a star. Kevin Costner’s character’s name is Frank Farmer, which is dumb so I’m just going to refer to him as Kevin Coster. But I digress. One of the main issues for me about Rachel is that there is hardly any build up of character. It’s never really established if she’s both a pop singer and an actress. It seems like acting is her main schtick, since half the songs she sings in the movie are related to a fictional movie-within-the-movie; but she also just sings "Run To You", which Kevin Costner watches the music video of in the film. Her entire celebrity just isn’t explained. I feel like she’s supposed to be like, the biggest star in the world, but I couldn’t really feel it, tbh. She’s also a mother to the worst actor in the film a little boy, yet it’s never established or even inquired as to who the father is, which I feel like is a bit of information that would eventually slip at some point. Rachel just isn’t a fleshed out character.
At the beginning of the film, Kevin Costner is hired as Rachel’s bodyguard and drives to the gate of her mansion. Her doorman is literally an imbecile and everyone is so messy and inattentive I’m surprised she isn’t dead yet. All of her intercoms/doorbells look like garbage, too. Isn’t she supposed to be famous? Y'know, with money? When Kevin Costner arrives they’re rehearsing for a music video – in her house, which is ridiculous. Rachel’s initial reaction to him is one of intrigue, although she doesn’t really seem to like him all that much when his bodyguarding gets in her way and annoys her. While performing at a club, she gets knocked off the stage and the crowd attempts to crowd-surf her without consent (IN WHAT UNIVERSE would a famous artist of this caliber have such shit management & security team) and after Kevin Costner pulls her out and drives her away, she asks him out the very next day. This man is so uninteresting and plain-looking. His main beverage of choice is orange juice – like, at every hour of the day, he wants orange juice. This guy is such a dweeb, I am not convinced Rachel would be into him. Whose type is “Kevin Costner” anyway? Ech.
Anyway, he takes her on a date to see fucking Yojimbo and they have a drink at a country bar. (Actually, he has one beer and she has water. Yawn.) I actually enjoyed this scene a bit, cause it’s about the only real moment where they have some time to build chemistry. They dance to some 99 cent version of "I Will Always Love You" – did they even try to get Dolly’s version? – and they go back to Kevin Costner’s basement house or whatever. Rachel swings around a blatant phallic symbol katana like a fucking idiot, and they have sex. Kevin Costner is supposed to be an uptight, “don’t mix work with pleasure” guy, but after minimal flirtation he just gives in and swirls it up. What a weak bastard. He doesn’t even try. And through all this I still don’t see why she likes this guy. At all. And then they get into a fight, and at a huge party later on, she flirts with the ugliest guy to try and get back at him. They couldn’t find a more appealing person? Holy shit.
Some more shit happens. Whitney is absolutely terrible at lip-syncing her songs and Kevin Costner drinks more damn orange juice. (this is such a stupid quirk that is never explained)
This movie is absolute garbage at trying to recreate Hollywood. All of the other Best Actress nominees look like plain housewives, and the actual Oscars ceremony is lowkey shitty and messy. So many things just didn’t make sense to me. Rachel is there because she’s nominated for Best Actress (for what I’m assuming is a movie called "I Have Nothing") But, the titular song is also nominated for Best Song. Except, some Rachel wannabe performs it during the ceremony while she’s backstage – which make no goddamn sense because if they already had Rachel there they would have taken the opportunity to have her sing it. It’s her song after all. And then Rachel also announces the Best Song award, and I’m quite certain the Oscars would not put a singer of one of the Best Song nominees as the announcer.
There also seems to be a glaring continuity issue. Early in the film, I’m quite certain it is established that Rachel is up for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her part in "I Have Nothing". The announcement is shown on TV while she sings the titular song. As I said, "I Have Nothing" ends up winning Best Song at the Oscars later in the film. However, when she wins Best Actress, she wins for "Queen of the Night" – a song she performed earlier in the film in a scene that made it seem like it was a new song/music video she was releasing. But it’s a film now? What?
Anyway. She wins Best Actress, the fugly guy she was flirting with earlier attempts to assassinate her but Kevin Costner stops it all. The movie ends on a freeze frame that is not deserving of a freeze frame.
Thank you! That’s it.
Even though you probably all already know, Walter Afanasieff was Mariah's "main"
writing partner in the 90s, proving to be her main collaborator for record-breaking ballads. The two parted
ways in 1997, but left us a beautiful library of work to look back on.
A few notes and rules! First of all, when I was choosing this list, I did not use any of the original Christmas
songs they wrote for Merry Christmas (1994). It was just a rule I thought I'd adhere to, and focus instead
on their non-holiday works. (This, in turn, got rid of All I Want For Christmas Is You, which is possibly their
most famous song written together).
Secondly, this list is a combination of my own personal opinions as well as an attempted unbiased look at their
work. Obviously, since I am creating this list, it will be biased in some way. However, quite a few of my favorite
tracks of theirs did not make the list because I strived to look at their work objectively. So, what you will see is
what, in my personal opinion, is their best work.
“Lead the Way” is the last Mariah-Walter track to be released (in 2001, 4 years after they officially stopped working together) The ballad is probably the strongest on the soundtrack album “Glitter”, despite it’s relative simplicity. The lyrics are hopeful and indicative of a typical ballad, and the composition isn’t entirely complicated. The mixing of the track is quite gorgeous, though. The piano is very firm and clear, just like Mariah’s vocals, which start off light and airy in her higher register. Her tone is absolute silk throughout. The momentum of the track builds with a few added instrumentation and Mariah gives a more robust vocal performance. Her belts are strong and clear, and we are treated by intricate runs – including a sustained one that lasts for 18 seconds.
This track was sadly only an international bonus track for Music Box (a b-side for “Hero” for us stateside folks). It expertly creates a moody, interesting atmosphere that most tracks on the album failed to do. Despite a few belts from Mariah and the embellished background singers, the track keeps a pretty mellow tone throughout, avoiding the bombastic explosions a lot of 90s ballads favored. The production reminds me of some of their work on Emotions, but with the gospel sound on Music Box tracks like “Anytime You Need A Friend”. The lyrics aren’t anything upbeat, as Mariah, with great burden, somberly pleads with her lover to let their relationship finally “fade away”. We are even treated to a rather dynamic “call and response” during the bridge when a ghostly male voice takes over (Trey Lorenz maybe) and tries to convince Mariah to stay: “oh baby give me one more chance/I know that we can make amends/just let me love you one more time”. It’s only proper that a sulky song such as this were given a quiet, slow outro of gorgeous harmonizing vocals.
The titular track from the album of the same name. At first, this might sound a little sappy with the lullaby, music-box tingling in the intro. Much like the previous song on this list, “Music Box” keeps the same tone throughout but with enough subtle ups and downs in Mariah’s vocal performance to keep it interesting. The tone is dreamy, soft, and warm; the lyrics about true and utter devotion. I always thought they sounded like wedding vows; perhaps inspired by her recent marriage. There are few songs in Mariah’s catalogue that sound quite like this, so it stands out as something especially sincere and special.
Another title song and a truly gorgeous composition indeed. Like many of Mariah and Walter’s songs, it begins with a clear and defined piano melody, but otherwise the production is rather typical of their other 90s ballads. The background singers add lush vocalization to the choruses, influenced more from R&B ballads rather than gospel. At a vague first listen, the lyrics sound very typical, but they yield something truly personal upon further listen. Mariah’s vocals are vulnerable and full of emotion; starting in a delicate upper register in the verses before giving an explosive climax of belts and runs at the peak of the song. Although it wasn’t a commercially released single, I feel like it’s a quintessential ballad in her catalogue – especially considering the butterfly has become her symbol.
This song sounds so early 90s; but in that charming kind of way that stands the test of time. I really like it when Mariah and Walter take their time with their songs , and “Can’t Let Go” gives listeners a dreamy minute of fluffery before the beat drops and the track actually “begins”. The instrumentation is rich, full, and layered. One might say it’s overproduced in that way, but it’s more compositionally interesting than some of their other efforts on Emotions. Mariah gives us the full range of her vocal capabilities as the song builds up and up before quickly mellowing out with a trademark whistle note. The lyrics themselves are much like Mariah’s other early work. They aren’t as sophisticated as they will be in later eyars, but they get the job done.
This song gets major props because it encapsulates a lot of Mariah and Walter’s individual talents. The actual composition doesn’t necessarily go anywhere; the tone stays pretty much the same throughout – with only slight variation towards the the bridge – and Mariah doesn’t go for any big vocal moments. Ultimately, these decisions support the vulnerability of the song. The melody is solid. Walter’s piano composition and playing is superb, the mixing really bringing out the warmth and richness of the instrument. Of course Mariah’s vocals are gorgeous as they stay in a sort of melancholic, dreamy whisper. But it is her lyrics that really shine. Deeply personal and breathtakingly sophisticated, it is one of those songs that prove what a writer Mariah truly is. This song supposedly took three to four years to write and finish, and the craftsmanship definitely shows.
Mariah and Walter wrote twenty-six songs during their time as collaborators. Most of these songs are good in their own right, but the reason why many of them didn’t make the list was because there wasn’t anything special that made them stand out amongst one another. Many of them followed a similar formula, and beyond Mariah’s vocal range and styling, they weren’t all that interesting to be considered their “best”. One song from Daydream shines through, though. “I Am Free” is a rather short, gospel-inspired song that shows Mariah and Walter are more creative than the typical verse-chorus-repeat recipe most of their ballads entailed. “I Am Free” follows various motions and “acts” – starting with a few normal piano-and-drum verses that build with gusto, before throwing us into a sudden luscious and dreamy midsection that swerves back into a powerful climax. Mariah provides her own backup vocals, having composed beautiful harmonies with herself. Her lead vocals, on the other hand, are some of the most soulful she’s ever performed, providing some impressive belts and runs throughout. The piano here, too, is subtly stunning (pay attention to its intricacies and deviations from the main melody during the explosive last verse).
In “Forever”, Mariah and Walter compose a relatively simple melody but embellish it to the point of perfection. The time signature embraces a sort of back-and-forth waltz rhythm to it – something you can slow dance to. (It seems like they explored something similar in an earlier track, “So Blessed”) The production is nostalgic, the strings and guitar arpeggios calling to mind ballads from the 50s or 60s. These genre-defining qualities are part of what makes “Forever” such a stand-out track. Mariah’s performance on the song is nothing but astounding. From the wistful “shoo-da-do-whop” background vocals to the overpowering main vocals, Mariah masterfully glides through her transitions, seamlessly exploring the many registers her voice has to offer. “Forever” is full of power and emotion, lyrics that aren’t necessarily “sophisticated”, but phrases that truly portray the sentiment of the music: “never be ashamed/call my name/tell me I’m the one you treasure.”
“My All” is reportedly one of the last songs Mariah and Walter wrote together, and the devastating tone definitely portrays the time in which it was composed. The usual piano-led melody is switched out for a steel acoustic guitar, giving the track a unique Latin flavor. “My All” is the epitome of what Mariah and Walter did best in their time together. They were able to truly master a beautiful pop ballad. The concept of the lyrics are simple enough, but are embellished by some of Mariah’s gorgeous phrases (“And I’ve drowned in you”) and interesting vocabulary (“Vividly emblazoned in my mind”). Her voice is undeniably expressive, giving probably one of the best emotive performances from any powerhouse vocalist of her time. The song is full of sorrow and yearning, and you can truly feel that within Mariah’s performance. The stars truly aligned with this one, giving Mariah and Walter their last number one hit together – and of her most timeless tracks as well.
I feel like Mariah and Walter’s creative powers truly converged with “Underneath the Stars”, showing a musical growth on both of their parts that really expresses both of their talents. Lyrically, it has been hailed as one of Mariah’s best moments. In 1995, it was one of her earliest , true attempts at eloquent, poetic lyrics that portray some type of narrative. Its wistful, romantic nature is captivating and incredibly effective, putting some of her earlier writing to shame. Her vocals match perfectly with her writing; full of soft texture and richness. On the musical side of things, Walter uses a keyboard instead of a piano, which, along with the drum beats and subtle guitar grooves, gives the song a nostalgic, 70s soul vibe. There are star-like twinkles hiding here and there underneath the main beat that really embellish the song’s composition. As evident by the rest of this list, Walter was the go-to man for Mariah’s pop balladry. The production on “Underneath the Stars”, however, has a more R&B feel to it, which I credit to Mariah’s influence. And there what lies the magic of the track and why I believe it is their best collaboration. It pulled out a true combination of their talents, as well as an evident growth and evolution of both of their artistry.
Mariah Carey’s 1997 album Butterfly is heralded as her greatest effort, and is certainly her most emotional and personal album. Within, fans find many favorites tracks that are often praised for exuding vulnerability. Songs like “Butterfly”, “Close My Eyes”, and “Outside” deal with topics ranging from her difficult upbringing to her recent split with husband and Sony CEO Tommy Mattola. But one song in particular seems to be praised to high heavens – enough so to be considered overrated by some fans. That song is “The Roof”, the fourth track on Butterfly. Even though Mariah thinks – quite obliviously – that no one cares about her obscure non-singles, die-hard fans appraise the song as one of the greatest she’s ever composed. Even though they often cite its lyrical depth as its strongest attribute, I find that too few actually relish its deeply intimate details or explain what makes it so astounding. Unlike much of her work, where the writing simply explores a specific feeling or emotion, “The Roof” actually tells a narrative; an excerpt of a novel or memoir with the lingual intensity of poetry.
Before we delve into what “The Roof” exactly entails, I think it’s pertinent to talk about Mariah’s relationship with Tommy Mattola. It didn’t take long for Tommy to be labeled as the “bad guy” – most of the public saw him that way even back in 1997. Today, most fans just write him off as a huge mistake in Mariah’s life: someone who manipulated the young songstress for his own needs and locked her up in their Mall-of-America-sized mansion. Now, I can’t sit here and defend the guy who married an employee twenty years his junior, but I think we have to look at Tommy from Mariah’s perspective. I wholeheartedly believe that Mariah definitely loved him at one point in her life – if not for all the wrong reasons. Tommy had showed support and belief in Mariah’s music when they first met. She was allowed to write and produce all of her own music – a freedom not many young singers were awarded from a big record company. For a girl with such deep passion for music, it was reassuring to her that someone was so encouraging and devoted to her career. Tommy was older, wiser, and more experienced than her. “Daddy Issues”, I hear you say? – Unfortunately true. Mariah herself admitted that because she didn’t have much of a male parental figure growing up, she was subconsciously looking for someone who was mature and would take care of her. She was someone “prone to disfunction”, and this was not a healthy relationship. But, that doesn’t mean there weren’t actual feelings of “love” involved. I even believe that Tommy genuinely thought he loved Mariah – even if it was a veil for his own selfish ends.
Mariah details the rainy evening in “The Roof” as occurring in November. Since Mariah and Tommy eventually separated and divorced in early 1997, the events of the song most likely took place in November 1996, when their marriage was already in a state of shambles and dissolution. The lyrics detail a casual setting where Mariah broods about her pain, pondering escape from her loveless marriage and restrictive life:
(And my heart was pounding / my inner voice resounding / begging me to turn away)
But then, her husband walks into the room, and despite her depression, she finds she is still filled with the resounding love and passion she once felt for the man, yearning to feel those emotions once more. She is wrapped up in confusion and contrary thoughts: the desire to be free and the desire to be in love once again. She eventually gives in to her more passionate craving, hoping the intimacy would clue her husband of her inner suffering:
(And I was twisted in the web of my desire for you / my apprehension blew away / I only wanted you / to taste my sadness as you kissed me in the dark)
The second verse finds the couple minutes or hours later, ravished in each other’s arms. Their inhibitions are lost after finishing a bottle of champagne, and Mariah yields, possibly both her body and mind, to her husband. (I think it’s important to remember here that Mariah was a virgin when she married Tommy, and he was her first sexual experience):
(And so we finished the Moët / and started feeling liberated / and I surrendered as you took me in your arms)
Although Mariah seemingly becomes lost in the heat of the moment, the fact that she is severely unhappy still weighs on her mind. She spent much of her marriage feeling dejected and unloved. “Slipping Away” , a song written in 1995 or 1996, seems to suggest that Tommy was the one who became cold and distant. Because of his behavior, Mariah learned to repress and quell any yearning feelings of intimacy and love that she was so desperately trying to grasp onto.
During this moment of liberation, Mariah finally allows herself to indulge in those feelings of lust and affection that she forced herself to keep at bay:
(I was so caught up in the moment / couldn’t bear to let you go yet / so I threw caution to the wind and started listening to my longing heart) (And then you softly pressed your lips to mine / and feelings surfaced I’d suppressed for such a long, long time)
This tender moment is enough to make her forget about her husband’s controlling and heartless nature, her unhappiness, and how she severely needed to release herself from her passionless and constricting marriage. The two of them are simply enraptured, falling into each other in a way they haven’t in a long, long time:
(And for awhile I forgot the sorrow and the pain / and melted with you as we stood there in the rain)
The bridge seems to suggest that this night was an unsuccessful last-ditch effort – the final moment of love and affection experienced within her marriage. The night pretty much signaled a farewell to their relationship; the ultimate indulgence before the end:
(Last night I dreamed that I / whispered the words “I love you, boy” / and touched you so very subtly / as we were kissing goodbye)
Finally, the chorus explains that Mariah is looking back on this night in retrospect. She seems to realize now what it had signified in the context of her relationship. Still, she reminisces on it with a certain fondness. She yearns for the spectacular intimacy and sentiment that night held: what her relationship was – or what it possibly could have been:
(Every time I feel the need / I envision you caressing me / and go back in time to relieve the splendor of you and I)
Of course, many of these details I’ve given are because I’ve researched Mariah’s life beyond her music, but it is not hard to deduce this narrative by looking at lyrics from other songs before and after. Beyond this, “The Roof” is immensely clever and intelligent in how it is written. Not only does Mariah use interesting, descriptive words: (November, resounding, casually, apprehension, splendor, liberated, surrendered, suppressed) but she also uses poetic phrases to clue us into the emotions she felt and the situation she was in at the time: (“But I just had to see your face to feel alive”, “And I was twisted in the web of my desire for you”, “I only wanted you to taste my sadness”, “So I threw caution to the wind”, “Feelings surfaced I’d suppressed”, “And for awhile I forgot the sorrow and the pain”).
The song is indeed masterful, in that it offers multiple layers for the listener to latch onto. The production, instrumentation, and how it is sung gives the gloomy and melancholy atmosphere of autumn rain and a longing memory. The lyrics paint the intricate and involved web of emotions and expressions; the dichotomy of wanting to go in one direction but being plagued by the desire to go another. It quite perfectly combines lyrical language of poetry and the narrative essence of a story. Mariah Carey is a very skilled writer, but she has not often achieved the flawless blends that make up “The Roof”.