I wrote this review of Mariah Carey’s latest album in mid-May, and it was never published, so now I am publishing it here because I am awesome and correct. Its non-publishment (not a word) is even more of a bummer when you consider that I would have scooped my friend and colleague Sasha Frere-Jones on this essential concept by two months, but I guess that’s what kill fees are for. Holler at me. 

—
It takes a drag queen’s sense of chutzpah to title one’s album Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse. But with that one marquee flourish, on her fourteenth album in as many years, Mariah Carey reiterates her standing as one of pop music’s last, true-blue R&B divas—and a diva need only satisfy her own desires. The album, out May 27, is an airbrushed, champagne-soaked tour of Carey’s familiar octave-vaulting range, dotted with trademark club singles like her latest, “Thirsty,” and midtempo love songs like the underappreciated “Beautiful,” featuring Miguel. It is also her godliest album, on which several songs feature Mariah flipping cascading gospel harmonies upon heavenly choirs—even covering George Michael’s churchiest ballad, “One More Try,” in a faithful retelling, both underscoring Michael’s influence on black pop music while honoring the tradition of gospel influences on rhythm & blues. One song, “Heavenly,” is a tribute to the late Reverend James Cleveland, godfather of modern gospel, who is credited with uniting the genre with pop and jazz. Accordingly, Mariah puts gospel harmonies atop clamoring, trunk-thumping Jermaine Dupri kick drums, thus positioning herself as a successor to Cleveland, like a boss.
Beyoncé aside (because Bey subsumes all genres), vocalists of Mariah’s ilk, vibrato, range, and fame have been slowly trickling away, casualties of a fractured chart universe and fickle internet hype machines. Sure, there are R&B stars, Rihanna being the most obvious, and there are many ’90s-heyday divas with diminished pop stature—Toni Braxton, for one, whose recent (great) album with iconic singer/songwriter Babyface received considerably less press than her latest “abortion shame.” Several tracks on Me make throwback gestures, whether by sampling ’70s funk and disco classics or enlisting Nas for nostalgic word-wizardry—but it’s telling that the most retro-seeming song is “He’s a Wrap,” a “dump him, girl,” duet with Mary J. Blige. Their collaboration underscores that the pop landscape is virtually barren of divatude, and we are far worse for their absence.  
At issue is the changing nature of R&B and, accordingly, its audiences. Since Carey’s last release in 2010—a Christmas album, no less—niche, internet-informed interpretations of the genre have become de rigueur, loosely beginning with Drake’s Xanax-hazed protege The Weeknd, whose submerged, lethargic melodies have set the tone for an ensuing slew of vocalists whose seeming motivation is ennui. The larger, indie-and-electronic music trend of goth-referencing, skeletal production has set up many of these artists for popularity with fanbases that, traditionally, have had little interest in R&B. For example, emerging singers such as Los Angeles’ Jhené Aiko and London’s FKA Twigs have little in common on the surface, the latter a burgeoning mainstream starlet and the former content to flex her outré artistry, but both hew to melodies that tend to flatline. It’s not for lack of talent, but current underground trends equate torpor and minor keys with drama. Singers from The Weeknd to SZA to Grimes owe their respects to Mariah Carey’s gossamer ambiance, the high-sheen chrome with which her songs gleam. But as Me's perfect roller-skating jam “Money” shows, Carey's secret is indefatigable harmonies, something several newer artists seem to miss. Vocal tone counts, breathlessness too, but you don't reach transcendence resting your laurels on glossy yet gaunt production. Even Enya knew that.
Mariah, well, she does get by just being Mariah, but even though she can ride that eighth octave like a fucking unicorn, she’s maintained her relevance by keeping up with the times. At this stage in the game, there might be some temptation to adhere to trends, and to be fair, her disco jams catch glimpses of late-era Pharrell, while “You’re Mine (Eternal)” is subtly engineered for the ease of future EDM remixes. But ever since she freed herself from ex-husband Tommy Mottola and befriended Wu-Tang Clan in the mid-’90s, she’s been spry enough to drop at least one undeniable street hit. This time around, that is “Thirsty,” with a Southern trap sub-bass and verse from Atlanta rapper Rich Homie Quan, which lets a trifling dude know who’s running things: “Boy, you try to be a boss now, thinking you’re a chief now. Boy, you’re just fucking thirsty,” she sings. And, while you’re at it, please address her as Your Grace. 
What we’re missing most in the current dearth of divas is humor, a characteristic nearly as important as aptitude and attitude. In the past, some have made Carey a punchline, after her flop 2001 flick Glitter and a confusing, pantsless incident with Carson Daly and an ice cream cart. Even a decade later, it’s still remarkable how she’s wrested control of her image back, transforming her signature kookiness into an asset that keeps fans fiercely protective. On “Supernatural,” Carey lets them in with her most cherished vocal guests to date: “Dem Babies,” aka her fraternal twin three-year-olds Ms. Monroe [sic] and Moroccan Scott Cannon, aka “Roc N’ Roe.” Apart from the startling revelation that Mariah’s toddler progeny already have perfect pitch (because who on earth would autotune a baby?), Carey juxtaposes her fierce love for Dem Babies with high camp, their laughing and cooing adorable, but also a secret, meta-reference to her album title. In the liner notes of the physical copy, underneath the CD tray, she has hidden a message explaining it. “On the back cover of the album is a personal treasure,” she writes. “This is my first and only self-portrait. I drew it when I was 3 ½ and entitled it ‘Me. I Am Mariah.’ (Please don’t judge me for such a simplistic title… C’mon!! I was only 3 ½ haha.)… Along the way, there have been a couple of nicknames and I’ve inadvertently embodied many personas, :) haha! Lately, they’ve been calling me The Elusive Chanteuse.” Or, at this rate, the last diva standing. -Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

I wrote this review of Mariah Carey’s latest album in mid-May, and it was never published, so now I am publishing it here because I am awesome and correct. Its non-publishment (not a word) is even more of a bummer when you consider that I would have scooped my friend and colleague Sasha Frere-Jones on this essential concept by two months, but I guess that’s what kill fees are for. Holler at me.

It takes a drag queen’s sense of chutzpah to title one’s album Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse. But with that one marquee flourish, on her fourteenth album in as many years, Mariah Carey reiterates her standing as one of pop music’s last, true-blue R&B divas—and a diva need only satisfy her own desires. The album, out May 27, is an airbrushed, champagne-soaked tour of Carey’s familiar octave-vaulting range, dotted with trademark club singles like her latest, “Thirsty,” and midtempo love songs like the underappreciated “Beautiful,” featuring Miguel. It is also her godliest album, on which several songs feature Mariah flipping cascading gospel harmonies upon heavenly choirs—even covering George Michael’s churchiest ballad, “One More Try,” in a faithful retelling, both underscoring Michael’s influence on black pop music while honoring the tradition of gospel influences on rhythm & blues. One song, “Heavenly,” is a tribute to the late Reverend James Cleveland, godfather of modern gospel, who is credited with uniting the genre with pop and jazz. Accordingly, Mariah puts gospel harmonies atop clamoring, trunk-thumping Jermaine Dupri kick drums, thus positioning herself as a successor to Cleveland, like a boss.

Beyoncé aside (because Bey subsumes all genres), vocalists of Mariah’s ilk, vibrato, range, and fame have been slowly trickling away, casualties of a fractured chart universe and fickle internet hype machines. Sure, there are R&B stars, Rihanna being the most obvious, and there are many ’90s-heyday divas with diminished pop stature—Toni Braxton, for one, whose recent (great) album with iconic singer/songwriter Babyface received considerably less press than her latest “abortion shame.” Several tracks on Me make throwback gestures, whether by sampling ’70s funk and disco classics or enlisting Nas for nostalgic word-wizardry—but it’s telling that the most retro-seeming song is “He’s a Wrap,” a “dump him, girl,” duet with Mary J. Blige. Their collaboration underscores that the pop landscape is virtually barren of divatude, and we are far worse for their absence.  

At issue is the changing nature of R&B and, accordingly, its audiences. Since Carey’s last release in 2010—a Christmas album, no less—niche, internet-informed interpretations of the genre have become de rigueur, loosely beginning with Drake’s Xanax-hazed protege The Weeknd, whose submerged, lethargic melodies have set the tone for an ensuing slew of vocalists whose seeming motivation is ennui. The larger, indie-and-electronic music trend of goth-referencing, skeletal production has set up many of these artists for popularity with fanbases that, traditionally, have had little interest in R&B. For example, emerging singers such as Los Angeles’ Jhené Aiko and London’s FKA Twigs have little in common on the surface, the latter a burgeoning mainstream starlet and the former content to flex her outré artistry, but both hew to melodies that tend to flatline. It’s not for lack of talent, but current underground trends equate torpor and minor keys with drama. Singers from The Weeknd to SZA to Grimes owe their respects to Mariah Carey’s gossamer ambiance, the high-sheen chrome with which her songs gleam. But as Me's perfect roller-skating jam “Money” shows, Carey's secret is indefatigable harmonies, something several newer artists seem to miss. Vocal tone counts, breathlessness too, but you don't reach transcendence resting your laurels on glossy yet gaunt production. Even Enya knew that.

Mariah, well, she does get by just being Mariah, but even though she can ride that eighth octave like a fucking unicorn, she’s maintained her relevance by keeping up with the times. At this stage in the game, there might be some temptation to adhere to trends, and to be fair, her disco jams catch glimpses of late-era Pharrell, while “You’re Mine (Eternal)” is subtly engineered for the ease of future EDM remixes. But ever since she freed herself from ex-husband Tommy Mottola and befriended Wu-Tang Clan in the mid-’90s, she’s been spry enough to drop at least one undeniable street hit. This time around, that is “Thirsty,” with a Southern trap sub-bass and verse from Atlanta rapper Rich Homie Quan, which lets a trifling dude know who’s running things: “Boy, you try to be a boss now, thinking you’re a chief now. Boy, you’re just fucking thirsty,” she sings. And, while you’re at it, please address her as Your Grace.

What we’re missing most in the current dearth of divas is humor, a characteristic nearly as important as aptitude and attitude. In the past, some have made Carey a punchline, after her flop 2001 flick Glitter and a confusing, pantsless incident with Carson Daly and an ice cream cart. Even a decade later, it’s still remarkable how she’s wrested control of her image back, transforming her signature kookiness into an asset that keeps fans fiercely protective. On “Supernatural,” Carey lets them in with her most cherished vocal guests to date: “Dem Babies,” aka her fraternal twin three-year-olds Ms. Monroe [sic] and Moroccan Scott Cannon, aka “Roc N’ Roe.” Apart from the startling revelation that Mariah’s toddler progeny already have perfect pitch (because who on earth would autotune a baby?), Carey juxtaposes her fierce love for Dem Babies with high camp, their laughing and cooing adorable, but also a secret, meta-reference to her album title. In the liner notes of the physical copy, underneath the CD tray, she has hidden a message explaining it. “On the back cover of the album is a personal treasure,” she writes. “This is my first and only self-portrait. I drew it when I was 3 ½ and entitled it ‘Me. I Am Mariah.’ (Please don’t judge me for such a simplistic title… C’mon!! I was only 3 ½ haha.)… Along the way, there have been a couple of nicknames and I’ve inadvertently embodied many personas, :) haha! Lately, they’ve been calling me The Elusive Chanteuse.” Or, at this rate, the last diva standing. -Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

I don’t hate women whatsoever. It’s a misinterpretation. But honestly, when someone has an opinion, it’s really hard to change his opinion,” he says brusquely. “If this chick thinks that I’m misogynistic, it doesn’t matter even if I start a political party and the five first picks will be chicks, she’ll still think I’m misogynistic.
Borgore, about me, doing damage control at Buzzfeed after i wrote a 150-word blurb of his show at EDC. HA. i have been seeing Borgore perform since ca. 2009, when he played at tiny-ass Coco 66 in Greenpoint, his first NY show, so i’ve had a lot of time to think about this. “The first five picks will be chicks.” HAHA. 

Have not thought of this song in ages, but it popped in my head and I will love it forever. The timing is a little weird (production needs to be quantized?!), but the simplicity of it, the way it showcased Keyshia Cole’s range (vocal, emotional), sweetened an album about fucked-over malaise, and let us glimpse her vulnerability from a different angle. Kinda like, let this poor dumped girl have a booty call, you know? It’s a little melancholy because that album held so much promise… and now we have… “She,” which is a fine enough generic strip club song with a bi-curious theme and three-years-ago dubstep wobble (sorry, Mustard), but also it just feels like Cole gave up on something along the way (read: album number two). Sigh. 

Anonymous asked:

I know you're a big fan of Ty Dolla $ign (at least "Beach House 2"), but I haven't been able to find anything you've written about him. I also love Ty as a songwriter, but the misogyny does bother me a bit sometimes. Can you maybe share a bit about what you like about him?

Amazingly, you sent me this ask as I was midway through writing a long reported piece on Ty Dolla $ign, and couldn’t answer it then cause, you know, still writing. But now that it’s been out: many of my thoughts are in this cover story for the FADER, which is a profile but also delves into the essential conundrum of his person, his persona, and his lyrics. For a long time, right after Beach House 2 dropped, I imagined the women in “Paranoid” colluding with one another, both understanding Ty’s freak-out but also knowing each other, maybe friends nodding across the club at one another like… “yeah, we’re playing you, too.” I think this is something he has considered, but I do think that he is savvy, and that he has distilled his lyrics to the most basic relatable-at-a-party concepts that he can imagine, for reasons I detail in my story. Also, for what it’s worth, I generally don’t think he is singing the words “bitches” and “hoes” with any malicious intent other than he grew up on West Coast gangsta music and that is the slang—obviously they are not respectful terms but I don’t think he means them to be necessarily *dis*respectful—anyway, we talked about respect and women, much of the rest is here

***OH BUT ADDENDUM, before I wrote this story, I’ve loved Ty for his insane musical talent and also for the puzzling wtfitude of his lyrics, see above

It just blasted my mind open! You can be free!
I had the opportunity to interview Janet Mock for Rookie. The above is the pull quote, but she emanated gems: on girlhood, on teenhood, on writing, on reading, on Bey and Clair Huxtable and on Zora Neale Hurston. I say this a lot when I’m inspired by interviews, but I will reiterate it: we are so lucky to be living in this time, in this now, in this moment, when Janet Mock exists. No hyperbole.