15 Years of ‘The Emancipation of Mimi’
The year was 2005 and Mariah Carey was 15 years into her career. She had sold more albums and achieved more Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s — 15 at the time — than any woman in history. If she did nothing else, she would go down as one of the greats, but fortunately and unfortunately, Mariah still had a lot to prove.
Today in 2005, Mariah released her tenth studio album, The Emancipation of Mimi. The album is arguably her greatest triumph, but to understand why that is, we would have to examine the four years leading up to its release.
In 2001, MC released her biggest failure at the time, the movie Glitter and its accompanying soundtrack. The project was a monumental setback, but not just because of its relative commercial under-performance — it came with personal drama and endless bad press. In a single week during her promotional tour for the project, Mariah had a series of much-talked about public appearances, including her infamous TRL appearance that had people questioning her mental state. By the end of that week, Mariah would check herself into a hospital for exhaustion. At the time, there were rumors of a mental breakdown, which wouldn’t be confirmed for another 17 years.
Throughout this saga, Mariah rings the alarm about an ongoing sabotage being carried out by her ex-husband and former label boss, Tommy Mottola, with an assist from Jennifer Lopez. It’s all happening behind the scenes, so people write her off as crazy, but she was right.
On top of all of this, her record label, Virgin Records, paid Mariah $28 million to terminate their $100 million contract with her. She was officially the biggest pariah in showbiz.
Soon after Virgin gave her the boot, she signed with Island Records and released Charmbracelet (2002), which also under-performed. The album was only able to chart one of it singles on the Billboard Hot 100, and said single peaked at No. 81.
Mariah had essentially been counted out, but in 2005, we found out that you can’t keep a good woman down.
Mariah had been hard at work on a new album, and by the fall of 2004, she had what she though was a complete project — in fact, she had shortlisted “Say Somethin'” (produced by the Neptunes) and “Stay the Night” (produced by Kanye West) as possible first singles. As legend has it, label head L.A. Reid heard Mariah’s finished product and thought she needed to get into the studio with Jermaine Dupri.
Luckily, Mariah obliged.
The recording sessions with JD — which included Bryan-Michael Cox, Johntá Austin and Manuel Seal — produced four songs that would all become singles for The Emancipation of Mimi. “It’s Like That” was released as the first single, and while it was her highest-charting single in years, it failed to crack the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
And then came “We Belong Together.”
With “We Belong Together,” Mariah was officially back. The song became her record-extending 16th No. 1 hit, spending 14 weeks at the throne and becoming the biggest song in the history of American radio at the time. It was followed by “Shake It Off,” which only peaked at No. 2 because “We Belong Together” wasn’t done cooking. The fourth song resulting from the 2004 JD sessions, “Get Your Number” (featuring JD himself), was released as a single internationally but not in the States.
For the album’s reissue, Mariah got back into the studio with JD, which resulted in two new tracks, including Mimi‘s fourth single, “Don’t Forget About Us,” which became Mariah’s 17th No. 1.
The Emancipation of Mimi would go on to become the biggest album of 2005, selling over 10 million copies worldwide. It would also earn Mariah her first Grammys since 1991 — a triumph and yet a great malfeasance, but I digress. The album is a fan favorite and widely considered to be the greatest comeback in the history of show business.
Picking a favorite track from a classic album can be difficult, but in the case of The Emancipation of Mimi, “Shake It Off” is the clear winner. Join me in celebrating this history-making album.