It got off to a rocky start, but she pulled through strong with grace and dignity, demanding tea. Mariah Carey is all of us in 2018.
The diva returned to the tundra hell of Times Square on New Year’s Eve on a redemption mission, performing from the gathering of lunatics convincing themselves that standing for 12 hours in 11-degree temperatures while wearing a Planet Fitness top hat is “fun”—and for the millions at home who mocked the singer mercilessly this last year after her trainwreck performance on New Year’s Eve 2016.
And, well, she definitely sang live.
Opening with her breakout ballad “Vision of Love” before transitioning into the gloriously treacly “Hero,” Carey was clearly out to show off her vocals, atoning for her veritable silence during last year’s medley when, according to the singer, sound issues kept her from being able to sing along to a backing track for “Emotions” and an ensuing pissed-off mood saw her not even bother to lip sync along to “We Belong Together.”
Did “Vision of Love” sound great? No. Generously, we’ll just say she sounded...strained. Shaky, at best. But let’s also grade on a curve. Carey was singing live outside in a wind chill that made it feel like -5 degrees. Those conditions are impossible for even the best singers, and Carey literally is the best singer. That she turned out a vocal performance of a song that challenging that was even respectable is a miracle. And by the time a backing choir joined her to belt along to the big notes in “Hero,” she sounded legitimately great.
Of course, through it all the icon looked downright miserable. Was it physical discomfort, the result of performing in arctic temperatures while wearing an areola-adventurous revealing dress, barely warmed by a white fur coat draped over her shoulders? (If not exactly weather-appropriate, the elusive chanteuse certainly looked festive, and quite beautiful at that.) Or did the pained expression she wore through most of the performance reflect her annoyance to have to labor through entertainment’s worst gig again because snarky idiots were so unforgiving of a singing legend’s technical problems in a live performance?
“I was told there would be hot tea,” she said between songs. It was unclear if she was actually promised a warm beverage, or if she was jokingly using slang term for juicy gossip, possibly in reference to the chaos of the year before. Ultimately, she told the crowd she’d “rough it” without her drink. The legend, birthing the first meme of the new year.
There was something that seemed simultaneously generous and also kind of ghastly in the way Ryan Seacrest and ABC relentlessly promoted Carey’s return to the stage, through one lens seeming supportive and excited for the diva to redeem herself or through another seeming like promoters of seedy bloodsport: don’t miss your chance to watch Carey embarrass herself again!
She certainly did nothing of the sort, and said as much to Seacrest in an interview after midnight. “Oh, I'm feeling a lot better than last year, when I had to get my own police escort to walk away,” she told him. Honestly, so are we.
Who knew that when Carey welcomed 2017 with a performance marked by failure, petulance, blame, and disaster, she’d be setting the tone for an entire year marked by those very things? Looking back at the ordeal 12 months later, there was something almost portentous about the whole thing.
Even just the optics of it: a woman helpless as the world, albeit in this case just the Times Square stage, burned around her, then vilified for refusing to smile through the carnage. The fallout was hardly handled elegantly, with Carey’s team and the production company engaging in a public she-said-they-said over who was to blame. Petty arguments bolstered by invented logic over who is to blame when something goes wrong? It’s almost too familiar this past year.
Ending the year by demanding that one of the most talented women in music history re-prove her skills to us in a public forum—because after one mistake we’ve written her off—is almost too on-the-nose for this past year. And given that, there was an unreal amount of pressure on Carey’s comeback performance this year, and she let that show. But she also pulled it off, which was no easy task.
If she’s once again dictating the tone for the whole year, as a course correction it certainly provides a brighter outlook for 2018 to come. As she sang in those apocalyptic conditions Sunday night, she looked like someone annoyed with and a little daunted by the gravity of the stakes in front of her, but resigned to soldier through anyway. She might not have wanted to labor through the hard work, but she was really just doing her best to make it through. If that’s not a metaphor for 2018 I don’t know what is.
It’s like a pop culture Groundhog Day. If Mariah Carey redeems herself on New Year’s Eve, you stave off six more weeks of nuclear winter.