What We've Learned from 25 Years of Mariah Carey Videos

What We've Learned from 25 Years of Mariah Carey Videos
Mariah Carey

08/03/2015 AT 04:30 PM EDT

Twenty-five years ago this week, Mariah Carey ruled the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Her self-titled debut album had dropped the previous June, and on Aug. 2, the album's first single, "Vision of Love," hit the no. 1 spot, where it stayed until Sept. 1.

Carey has been a fixture of pop culture ever since. Following "Vision of Love," Carey has racked up 17 more No. 1 singles, the most of any solo artist in pop music history – yes, even more than Michael Jackson. Only the Beatles had more, at 20 No. 1 hits.

Over the years, the videos that have accompanied these hit singles have shown many different sides to Mariah, from the heartbroken balladeer to the lovesick dreamer to the jet-ski riding assassin. And believe it or not, there's something to be learned from each hit.

Today, we're celebrating the silver anniversary of Carey's pop music reign by looking at all the lessons her videos have imparted.

"Vision of Love" (May 15, 1990)

The big take-away: When you're heartbroken, the best solution is to sit in front of your giant, garage door-sized picture window and wait it out, occasionally breaking into the whistle register. You do have a giant picture window in your house, right? You can sing in the whistle register, right?

Bonus lessons: The beautiful curls of early '90s-era Mariah are unfazed by the passing of time and rapidly-cycling weather patterns. Also? Heartbroken Mariah does not play on swings when she is sad, no matter how temptingly they dangle in the breeze. (Happy Mariah does, however – and she would six years later in the video for "Always Be My Baby.")

"Love Takes Time" (Sept. 11, 1990)

The big take-away: Still heartbroken? Hit the beach. Alone, perhaps on a private beach. It may not cure your love blues, but you'll look like a perfume ad as you gaze longingly at the crashing waves.

Bonus lessons: Always dress appropriately for variable beach weather. Here, Mariah fights a chilly beach day – symbolic of the lack of warmth she's feeling toward the relationship she's singing about – with a shawl that matches her bathing suit, proving that beach-hardiness can be stylish.

Mariah Carey: Her Changing Looks

"Someday" (Dec. 13, 1990)

The big take-away: The frumpy girl who wore overalls in high school may grow up into a sexy singer lady who rocks a pair of high-waisted jeans and shows all the boys what they missed out on.

Bonus lessons: In time, you'll learn how to let your curly hair work for you, not against you. Also, you apparently get to dance in a sultry fashion in your old high school, hall passes be damned.

"I Don't Wanna Cry" (Apr. 25, 1991)

The big take-away: Wandering barefoot through a wheat field makes for a unique opportunity for a come-hither look.

Bonus lessons: Empty picture frames leaned against a wall is a strong decor choice that allows you to suggest both heartbreak and an artfully ramshackle, bohemian vibe.

"Emotions" (Aug. 13, 1991)

The big take-away: It is entirely appropriate for a group of hip twentysomethings to throw a petting zoo party. We'd like to think that the lyric "You got me feeling emotions" was directed at the animals.

Bonus lessons: Nearly 30 years later, everyone is using Instagram filters to desaturate and tint their party photos to look more or less like this video. Mariah was ahead of the curve on this one.

"I'll Be There" (May 26, 1992)

The big take-away: A true diva doesn't need to dance and doesn't need the stage to herself. She can just stand there, in front of a host of backup singers, and still be a commanding presence based on the merits of her voice alone.

Bonus lessons: Not everyone can cover the Jackson 5 and make it their own. Mariah can.

"Dreamlover" (July 27, 1993)

The big take-away: Yes, having an entire troupe of sexy male dancers performing a choreographed routine for you is great. But even better, apparently? Sailing away solo in a hot air balloon. Mariah has her priorities.

Bonus lessons: No bathing suit? Just swim with your clothes on. And yes, Mariah can pull off the "Ely Mae from Beverly Hillbillies" look better than you might have guessed.

"Hero" (Oct. 19, 1993)

The big take-away: It's weird to say "less is more" when Mariah is performing in a theater with a full orchestra backing her, but in terms of music videos, it's pretty straight-forward: It's just Mariah singing. When you dispense with elaborate concepts, special effects and all that, you really have no choice but to sit there and take in how great her voice actually is.

Bonus lesson: Okay, maybe in addition to her voice, you can also appreciate those curls. Somewhere out there is a curly-haired girl who grew up alongside early '90s-era Mariah and decided, "If she didn't straighten her hair, I don't need to either."

"Fantasy" (Sept. 12, 1995)

The big take-away: If you want something done right, do it herself. After being less-than-satisfied with some of her previous videos, Mariah opted to direct this one herself. That's kind of a big deal, especially when you consider the shots where she is directing herself singing while riding a roller coaster.

Bonus lesson: Clowns are still scary. Yes, the video is fun, but that clown…

"One Sweet Day" (Nov. 14, 1995)

The big take-away: A good collaboration is a special thing. For this song, Mariah teamed up with Boyz II Men. In lieu of a "real" video, this one is just behind-the-scenes footage of the singers in the studio, hanging out. Rather than put out a fictional clip to promote the video, Mariah and Boyz II Men are just showing you how the song was actually made.

Bonus lesson: Dogs make everything better. It's a well-documented fact that Mariah loves dogs, and it's therefore cool that her pooch snuck in a few cameos into this video.

"Always Be My Baby" (March 9, 1996)

The big take-away: Your first summer love is one you never forget – especially if it happens in an idyllic summer camp setting like the one in the video.

Bonus lesson: Mariah may be the most lax camp counselor ever. She knew those two lovebirds snuck out into the woods at night. She knew they were playing in the water. Didn't she ever watch Friday the 13th?

"Honey" (Aug. 26, 1997)

The big take-away: Art that appears to be thinly veiled commentary can get people talking. The "Honey" video came out as the singer was divorcing Tommy Mottola, former Sony CEO, and many concluded that the video – a high-concept departure from previous efforts – was meant to represent Mariah's escape from her marriage.

Bonus lesson: It's good to shake up your image. In every previous video on this list, Mariah is dressed rather conservatively. In this one, she shows more skin than she ever previously had.

"My All" (Apr. 21, 1998)

The big take-away: Symbolism allows you to convey a lot without explicitly saying it. She's in a giant clamshell. He's in a lighthouse. You can do the math.

Bonus lesson: It's never a bad idea to revisit your past. Consider this video in context with the one for "Love Takes Time." They're both beachside videos shot in black and white, but while the "My All" is steamy, "Love Takes Time" seems downright frigid by comparison.

"Heartbreaker" (Sept. 21, 1999)

The big take-away: You can be your own worst enemy – in that Mariah's character initially doesn't want to confront her cheating boyfriend (Jerry O'Connell) and also that the woman he's seeing on the side is just a brunette version of Mariah.

Bonus lesson: Ten years before Taylor Swift played opposite an evil, brunette version of herself in "You Belong to Me," Mariah had already done it, and with a martial arts sequence to boot.

"Thank God I Found You" (Jan. 25, 2000)

The big take-away: She's not just "singer Mariah Carey," she's "singer-songwriter Mariah Carey." And those shots at the beginning of this video of Mariah scribbling in a notebook serves to remind you of this fact.

Bonus lesson: Multi-part harmonies show you're a team player, even if you're largely a solo artist.

"We Belong Together" (March 29, 2005)

The big take-away: Recycling is important. For this video, which has her walking to the altar to marry an older man, Mariah donned the actual Vera Wang wedding gown that she wore when she wed Mottola – surely just because it happened to be handy and for no more meaningful reason at all.

Bonus lesson: Keep them guessing. In the video, Wentworth Miller plays the guy that Mariah wants to marry even though she's supposed to wed Eric Roberts' character. Since she overlaid her own life into the video by repurposing her actual wedding gown, it begs the question: Does Miller's character represent someone from Mariah's past?

"Don't Forget About Us" (Oct. 1, 2005)

The big take-away: Crib from the best. The scene where Mariah climbs out of the pool was directly inspired by a scene in Marilyn Monroe's final film, the unfinished, unreleased Something's Got to Give.

Bonus lesson: Soccer goals can be sexy. Who knew?

"Touch My Body" (Feb. 12, 2008)

The big take-away: Own it. In this video, Mariah isn't playing a character. She's playing Mariah Carey. That makes it all the more remarkable that this song has the most explicitly sexual title of all her No. 1 hits.

Bonus lesson: You can never go wrong with 30 Rock characters in supporting roles in music videos. Jack McBrayer FTW!
MORE ON: Mariah Carey
blog comments powered by Disqus

From Our Partners