From a commercial perspective, ESSENCE Festival headliner Mariah Carey has accomplished all kinds of amazing feats in the music business. But aside from all of the sick statistics, here are five ways that she forever changed the game as an artist:
1. She gave the world melisma.
Mariah may not have invented melisma, but she might as well have. She never met a melody—or a single syllable—that she couldn’t embellish with her signature runs and trills. She influenced an entire generation of pop diva wannabes with her vocal stylings. From Christina Aguilera and Ariana Grande to Kelly Clarkson (and countless lesser American Idol contestants), they all copied Mariah. Even Beyoncé owes MC a huge debt.
2. She wrote her own songs.
Before Carey came along, many pop divas didn’t always have a hand in writing their own songs. Certainly not Whitney Houston, Carey’s powerhouse predecessor. But starting with her 1990 debut single, “Vision of Love,” Carey cowrote most of her songs, paving the way for the Beyoncés of the world to take more artistic control and get more paper through those publishing royalties.
3. She embraced hip-hop early on in her music.
Carey may not have been the first pop artist to explore hip-hop and collaborate with rappers, but she was the one who popularized it. It really started with her 1995 No. 1 hit “Fantasy,” which employed the hip-hop practice of sampling (from Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”) and included Ol’ Dirty Bastard on a remix. In the late ’90s she went harder, working with Sean “Puffy” Combs, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Missy Elliott and Snoop Dogg. She even got Jay Z to jump on her 1999 No. 1 single “Heartbreaker.”
4. She was a big supporter of club/dance remixes.
Since the beginning of her career, Carey always paid special attention to the club scene. She would enlist some of the biggest names from the ‘90s dance music world—such as Clivilles & Cole, David Morales and Junior Vasquez—to remix and even sometimes produce her songs. Her house remixes for hits like “Dreamlover,” “Fantasy” and “My All” became legendary, and she was known to go back in the studio to rerecord her vocals especially for them.
5. She gave us alter egos.
With her 2005 smash The Emancipation of Mimi, Carey not only made a big comeback but she ushered in a wave of pop-diva alter egos. After Mariah set Mimi free, Beyoncé gave us Sasha Fierce, Mary J. Blige gave us Brook Lynn, Nicki Minaj gave us Roman Zolanski and Lady Gaga gave us Jo Calderone. You know you’re a major diva when just one persona alone isn’t enough for you. And Mariah is as major as it gets.