In the face of a culture that remains ambivalent about what middle-aged (or older) women have to say, Mariah Carey refuses to be silenced — or forced to “act her age.”
In the year of our Lord, 2018, Mariah Carey finally decided – after an especially dramatic several years in her personal life – to drop a few f-bombs. Sure, the superstar has dropped a few swears on live TV and is a known curser in her day-to-day life, but she hasn’t really done it in a song before. With Caution, the diva’s 14th studio album, the fucks come fast and furious in the choruses of the LP’s first two singles, “GTFO” and “With You.” She drops a casual fuck in the first verse of “The Distance,” and although the word itself doesn’t make an appearance in “One Mo’ Gen” or “Stay Long Love You,” fucking itself is the focus of the tracks. The right time to start saying fuck is right when you have no more fucks to give, and that seems to be the message Carey wants to send on Caution.
One of the album’s biggest no-fucks track, and its best overall, is “A No No,” which is packaged in a Bad Boy throwback beat. That B.I.G. sample of Lil' Kim's verse from “Crush on You” that runs through it brings the late ‘90s vibe home, but Carey’s playful lyrcis (“Snakes in the grass, it’s time to cut the lawn / Ed Scissorhands, a.k.a. I cut you off”) delivered in the ice cold voice of a woman who is DONE. WITH. IT. create an utterly delectable song.
Carey keeps it 2010s-style fresh on “Giving Me Life,” a co-production with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange (Solange, Sky Ferreira); the light track has just enough hipster cool to make the phrase “giving me life” relevant past its expiration date. Carey worked with a plethora of big-name producers on the album, bringing in Timbaland, Mustard, No I.D., Skrillex, and several others. There’s a different crew on each track; the only thing keeping it cohesive is the album’s executive producer, Carey herself. It takes an experienced and thoughtful level of talent to select tracks from such disparate producers and turn it into a cohesive album, which Carey does, that still reflects her brand.
Carey knows her vocal range isn’t what it was in her ‘90s heyday and selects arrangements and even tracks that compliment what she can do, with more whispering in her higher octaves than belting these days. That means less iconic sing-along karaoke tracks for the public to butcher, but it also means she’s producing more tracks that are relevant to the bedroom production style that rules the streaming charts today.
The album’s final track, “Portrait,” is perhaps the most traditional Carey song; it’s a dark ballad that ruminates on heartache but also mulls where to go when one thing ends and another begins. For Carey, it could be a conversation about where she goes as an artist when the world would rather linger on “All I Want for Christmas” or “Honey” or any of her record-breaking 18 No. 1 hits. Carey knows it would be so much easier to rest on her laurels and milk the hits, as she has done with her yearly holiday shows. But something inside of her, the irreverent and artistic part that doesn’t give a fuck, still wants to be let out.