Over the years, many people have waged in verbal warfare over who was the Queen of Voice: Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey. Of course, it’s pretty much a moot point now, with Whitney not having hit a high note (literally) in years due to hard livin’, and with Mariah’s voice also quite diminished (no where as much as Whitney and she still knows her way around simple pop tunes, but she brought an otherwise solid E=MC2 to a truly-painful-to-listen-to finish with her croaking on “I Wish You Well”). But during their peak years, it was a still-relevant argument, although I think the decision is fairly clear: Whitney had the far more powerful voice.
But Whitney’s power also came at a price when it came to delivering pop songs. Her voice was so impressive that it was also rather intimidating, keeping a distance between her and the listener. Whitney’s songs were always about HER and what SHE wanted; it was never about WE or US. That quality worked for big rousing anthems, but it hampered Whitney on dance songs like “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” They’re solid tunes, but Whitney’s vocals remain all-business without the sense of fun and relatability that could’ve turned them into true pop classics.
Mariah had no such problem. On her debut CD, she followed the outline of Whitney 101, belting out ballads impressively but also pretty forgettably. But from her second album on, she developed a quality in her voice that gave her a unique persona and united her and her listeners. That quality was simple, pure, unadulterated GLEE. In tracks like “Emotions,” “Fantasy,” and “All I Want For Christmas,” she’s singing from a bliss-filled heaven, knowing that she’s in love, and wanting, needing, caring about nothing else. And really, who HASN’T felt like that at one point or another? How could we not relate, even if from a wistful distance?
Of course, too much glee can be a bit too much at times, a bit too frothy, a bit too sugary, a bit too, well, girly. In “Sweetheart,” one of two Mariah appearances on the Top 101, that problem is solved with the playa-persona of Mr. Jermaine Dupri (Michael Jackson’s brother-in-law!). They complement each other perfectly on this track, Mariah giving the song its wings, and Jermaine keeping it firmly on the ground. There’s still glee all right, but it’s glee mixed in with grittiness. An excellent combination.