For as long as I can remember, Mariah Carey had been the golden girl of the music industry. Somehow, her songs were always on the radio and breaking records on the Billboard charts. Her self-titled debut album is celebrating its 25th anniversary, but Carey's very first album didn't get the best reviews from critics back when it was released in 1990. Surprising, right? I really thought Mariah could do no wrong, but it turns out that early reviews of Mimi's career were actually less than stellar. If only if they could see her now — all the Grammys, the hit singles and albums, and a residency in Las Vegas.
Carey started out as a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr, who helped the young singer get noticed. And it's hard not to with an five-octave range like Mariah has. When Carey's self-titled debut came out, some critics loved her and praised her voice, but the naysayers labeled her as all voice, no substance. Some even thought Mariah wouldn't last. Of course, we all know that's not true — over the past 25 years, Carey's legendary career is pretty much unparalleled. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), she has sold 63.5 million certified records and is one of the best-selling artists of all time.
So what exactly did critics say about Mariah made her debut in mainstream pop? Check out the reviews below.
EW gave Carey's first album a B- and critic Greg Sandow was impressed with her voice, but not much else. "Debut of R&B singer with astonishing vocal range and high ideals," he wrote. "At her best, her singing burns with an innocent flame. But the content of her songs is often thin."
The music magazine had a lot of doubts about Mariah. For her debut album, Rolling Stone published an article about how Carey wasn't really in charge of her own album — Columbia Records exec and future husband Tommy Mottola was pulling all the strings (foreshadowing, perhaps?). Critic Rob Tennenbaum gave her 1991 album Emotions only two stars.
"A rookie success as spectacular as Mariah Carey's tends to spark a backlash, and Carey was derided by skeptics who saw that Columbia Records had spared no expense in accessorizing her with the most dependable collaborators money could buy," he wrote. "Carey has a remarkable vocal gift, but to date, unfortunately, her singing has been far more impressive than expressive."
The Grammys definitely approved of Carey and her album. She took home the Best New Artist and Best Female Vocalist awards.
New York Times
In a 1991 article, the newspaper details the huge marketing push that Columbia Records put behind Carey's first album, along with implications that her success was the product of the label's huge and expensive campaign.
"Through packaging and videos, Ms. Carey has also been able to solidify her reputation as a vocal talent, despite the fact that she has never toured," the article said. A lot of folks actually criticized her for this and led people to wonder if she was the real deal or only good in the studio (ahem, autotune?). Hence, she appeared on MTV's Unplugged and totally killed it.
And Carey hasn't stopped being one of the best divas pop music has ever known.
Images: Giphy (4); Getty Images