Earlier this month, Noisey celebrated the tenth anniversary of Mariah Carey’s tenth studio album, The Emancipation of Mimi. My kneejerk reaction to this was, “Oh shit, Mariah Carey is really old.” Not totally true—she’s only 45, which seems remarkably young for someone who’s used a Glitter pen to check off nearly every musical accolade imaginable, from her monstrous debut record Mariah Carey album: she scooped Best New Artist at the Grammys and Billboard’s “Song of the Decade,” twice. However, it was when Mariah was 27, about eight years before The Emancipation of Mimi, that things began to take an all-too-infamous, weave-first tumble down Hollywood’s Hills.
At this point, Mariah Carey was recording her sixth album, Butterfly, while simultaneously getting a divorce from career mentor and Columbia Records titan Tommy Mottola. The timing made for a curious artistic period in Mariah’s life, one that was in fact so formative she refers to the work as her “magnum opus,” or masterpiece. The first single, “Honey,” introduced a freshly sexualized Mariah to an audience with polarized opinions, unsure if the new provocative look might be covering diminishing vocals or hiding an emotionally fraught pop diva on the edge.
The flurry of interest and hype was further exacerbated by the song’s accompanying video—it had people talking about Mariah as if she was the Second Coming while taking a sly side-swipe at her ex-husband. Kicking off with the singer kidnapped and locked away in a colossal, Puerto Rican mansion, followed by a stealthy escape, the video sparked rumors that Mottola had physically bolted Mariah in his house—or had at least kept her emotionally incarcerated. After their divorce, Mariah was free. In an artistic sense, this was definitely the case; her break from Mottola and eventually Sony as a whole allowed Mariah the creative power over her own career she’d craved for years. The Emancipation of Mimi has more in common with redemption, whereas Mariah’s pivotal moment of occurred eight years prior.
In continuing the jubilation of this month’s Mariah-thon, let’s take a look at the fashion tricks that allowed Mimi to break out of her artistic, marital, and sartorial bonds to become the provocative pop icon steering her own speedboat.
TELL OTHER PEOPLE THEY’RE UGLY
A brief intro informs us that a “ruthless counter-intelligence organization known only as D.U.N.C.E” has captured Agent M (our girl) right before she completed a mission code-named “Honey.” Because this is a Mariah Carey music video from 1997, let’s make a mutual agreement to not waste time focusing on the farfetched and implausible details here. Presumably, Carey caught a James Bond flick while on a plane and texted her manager that she wanted to be the next Bond girl, resulting in this shit.
The scene opens on a lavish mansion in San Juan. Two possibly Puerto Rican mobsters with Bruno Mars’ hair enter the room and begin messing with her. Unfortunately for Mimi, the mobsters got her to sit still the same way American Idol finally got her to judge alongside Keith Urban: by tying that bitch to a chair with handcuffs. Wearing a snug black dress and astronomically high heels, Carey enlightens our asses on how to keep it cute while in captivity, making sure to not be overly-inviting, she proceeds to make fun of the mobsters’ hair. Mimi practically pulls a muscle throwing this level of shade, especially because the shaded could kill her dead any second. Like finding the yin to your yang, it’s not all about looking good. It’s partially about making sure others know they look bad.
Taken from one of her personal security cameras, this clip shows Mariah’s actual reaction to discovering a then three-year-old Ariana Grande. The film crew said “What the hell!” and decided to throw it in for good fun. As far as we know, the public breakdown known as Mimi’s Shades of Cray never reached jump-off-my-roof-into-my-swimming-pool levels, but here’s a gif of what that would look like.
After escaping her captors, Mariah shows the first glimpse of an ongoing fashion theme throughout the video: versatility. That little black dress we mentioned earlier? Perfect for wearing during forced captivity, and perfect to wear when jumping from high places. Despite a 180° flip and plunge, her bumpit keeps her hair bouffed, and Mimi’s chi-chis barely bust out, demonstrating an aerodynamic, hold ’em down quality to the dress that a lot of you flimsy-boobed ladies better get with before this summer’s heat has you falling out of your top. Mimi wore the same damn dress when running from her Sony record deal, Nick Cannon’s prenuptial lawyer, and her own reflection (sometimes Mimi gets scared after barking at her own reflection).
Only moments after crashing through the pool’s surface, Mariah is taking a hot second for a wardrobe change. She managed to conceal a chunky-ass bathing suit under that skin-tight black number. My teachers told me to remove “can’t” from my dictionary, but it wasn’t until I saw this that I learned I literally can. The dress makes like Tony Montana on a wagon and falls off almost instantly, allowing Mimi to ditch that shit like a dead Tamagotchi and embrace her newly liberated, bikini-ready body. (Also nice nod to Halle Berry’s Bond moment.) This honey-colored number is but the first of countless two-pieces featured in the video, so let’s not pause here for too long.
HAVE BACKUP OUTFITS
WEARING WHITE MAKES YOU A VIRGIN AGAIN
OK, wearing white won’t necessarily make you a virgin again, but if that’s what Mariah’s spiritual healers told her after her first divorce, then it’s good enough for me. Nothing says “I’m a born again” like wearing an all white two-piece in front of equally chaste flags, shimmying in the wind. Although the size isn’t quiTe right, Mimi managed to slip right back into this after her second divorce, turning the latex tube top into a sensual wristband.
PUT YOUR OWN FUN SPIN ON EVERYTHING
Even at age six, I was pretty certain I’d be all about that yacht life when I grew up. I was wrong. But thanks to Mimi, I was prepared. Mimi joins a crew of dancing sailors aboard an unknown vessel, sporting her next and perhaps best look of the video. Her feminized take on the traditional naval rig is nothing short of practical. She ditches the traditional blue jean collar for a strappy bra, because you guys—it’s so nice out! She also says girl bye to the bell-bottoms, trading them in for a buttoned skirt. Those pants were originally meant to be easily rolled up when sailors scrubbed decks, but fictional/captive Mariah Carey doesn’t fuck with manual labor.
LEATHER? LET’S GET WETTER
Leather and water go really well together, right? Right. So without wasting too much time focusing on where she found a jet ski, how she learned to ride it, or why she’s able to look so damn cute while barely escaping the grasp of extremely threatening criminals, let’s stick to Mimi’s fashion. Let’s just say she met a really generous dominatrix who’s into extreme water sports or something.
In contrast to most of the video’s outfits, this number is dark and scary, not only because it’s black but also because Mimi can’t show her stomach in it. It makes Mimi sad, and so she can only bear it for a few moments before she’s back in a two-piece, euphorically prancing around with an insanely hot extra she hired as a post-marital rebound. Anyway, Mariah really lays down the law on how to turn a frantic sea chase into a flirty and fun fashion show, fully loaded with skintight leather concoctions and green screen action to back.
YOUR BREASTIES ARE YOUR BESTIES
As mentioned, everyone was hooting and hollering over this music video because Mimi went from a sparkly-eyed innocent to Charo impersonator in under 60. Basically, boobs. Mariah’s boobs are omnipresent throughout this entire video. One of the captors refers to her as “sizzle chest” at one point, sooo, there’s that. If you really want to learn how to do the “I’ve been secretly sexy this whole time” thing and show off that cleavage, take a seat: Mama Mimi is here to preach and she actually pulls it off. Eighteen years later, and this video doesn’t feel risqué in the slightest. Mariah pushed her chest forward and opened doors with it, teaching good girls how to go bad for generations to come. We love you, Mariah. And your ta tas.
Mathias Rosenzweig is putting is fun spin on everything and he’s on Twitter.