30 Years of ‘Emotions’
Today in 1991, Mariah Carey released her sophomore set, Emotions, which came just 15 months after her self-titled debut album. She was fresh off a four-No.1 streak on the Billboard Hot 100 and had sold 15 million copies (and counting) of Mariah Carey. She had also won two Grammys earlier that year, including one for Best New Artist. In summary, Mariah Carey had arrived.
After the success of her debut album, Carey was granted a little more creative control. As she did on the previous album, she co-wrote every single track on Emotions (and was the sole lyricist), but this time around, she also produces all of the album’s 10 tracks. On this album, we see a deepening of Carey’s partnership with Walter Afanasieff, with whom she had first worked on “Love Takes Time,” which he produced. The two co-produced half of the album’s tracks — four of which Afanasieff also co-wrote — including “Can’t Let Go,” the LP’s second single. Four of the remaining five tracks were co-produced with Robert Clivillés and David Cole (together known as Clivillés & Cole), the latter of which inspired the writing of “One Sweet Day” after his passing in 1995.
Emotions is by no means a gospel album, but there are gospel influences on a number of tracks, most audibly on the Carole King co-write, “If It’s Over,” and the decidedly religious “Make It Happen.” Sonically, the album leans heavily on older, more traditional styles of R&B, and even samples a few songs from the ’70s, including Alicia Myers’ “I Want to Thank You” (on “Make It Happen”) and The Emotions’ “Best of My Love” (on “Emotions”), the latter sample was initially uncredited and the subject of a lawsuit, which led to an out-of-court settlement.
The throwback style of Emotions indicated a somewhat impressive disregard for what was happening on the radio in 1991. However, in the midst of all the throwback-ness, MC keeps it very current on two standout tracks: “To Be Around You” and “Can’t Let Go,” which samples Keith Sweat & Jacci McGhee’s “Make It Last Forever.” On these tracks, we are reminded that — despite the very mature-sounding voice — we are listening to a 21-year-old woman.
Speaking of vocals, Carey is generous with the whistle notes on Emotions, most notably on the album’s lead single and title track. “Emotions” would become her fifth No. 1 in a row, making her the first artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 with their first five singles, breaking the previous record set by The Jacksons in 1970.
While Emotions bears similarities to its predecessor, MC shows a willingness to chart new creative territory with the freedom she was granted. And in doing so, she allows us to gain a better understanding of her musical identity. Conventional wisdom (courtesy of white music journalists) may suggest that Emotions was one of her many pop albums before she did the “Fantasy” remix and discovered R&B, but the truth is that it is arguably one of the most soulful albums in her catalog.
Carey suffered the dreaded sophomore slump on Emotions, but one artist’s sophomore slump is another’s best seller. The album sold over eight million copies worldwide and spawned three top 5 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (include the aforementioned “Emotioned,” which topped the chart).
I want to sit here and lie to you that the best song on the album isn’t “Emotions” (because that would be too obvious), but dammit, she ate that.