arts & entertainment
Mariah Carey’s Christmas album aims
for retro sensibilities with a modern twist
By Will Fifield
THIS MONTH R&B artist Mariah Carey
releases Merry Christmas II You, her second
Christmas album and 13th studio recording.
Her career stats are staggering.
If you measure success by music sales,
Carey is golden. Since she began recording as a
solo artist in 1990, she’s sold more than 200 million albums, singles and videos, making her the
top-selling female recording artist in history.
If acclaim is the mark of artistic achievement, she has a myriad of music awards that
certify her place in the industry, including five
Grammys and 28 Billboard Music Awards.
If talent were the litmus test, Carey’s five-octave-plus vocal range and impressive technical skill would be evidence enough. Even
casual listeners recognize her mastery of
melisma, the ornamental and often incredibly
high string of fluttering notes that dresses up
many of her songs.
“I think of myself as a songwriter, first
and foremost,” Carey recently told The
Connection via phone from her New York
apartment. For her, the process of capturing
the melodies she hears in her head and the
song concepts that come to her is what makes
her successful. She says writing is a huge priority for her because her songs serve as the
structure in which her voice operates.
Carey, who sometimes works out song
ideas on piano or guitar, or, on occasion, simply sings vocal hooks into her cellphone, took
a very collaborative approach in writing new
songs for Merry Christmas II You.
The first person she enlisted was Randy
Jackson, her longtime musical director. Other
producers include Jermaine Dupri; James
Poyser, who has worked with the likes of
Aretha Franklin, the Roots and Lauryn Hill;
and five-time Oscar nominee and multi-award-winning composer Marc Shaiman.
“With this record, the through line is
retro classic yet modern, a hard line to walk.
We wound up marrying the traditional and
modern. I’ve worked with rap artists, so that’s
kind of become my sensibility. I lean that way.
But I also grew up listening to traditional jazz
standards. On this album, I didn’t want to do
anything that would take listeners back to the
’90s,” Carey says.
The new album contains a new recording
of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” the featured single from Merry Christmas, her first
Christmas album, recorded in 1994, which
has sold more than 12 million copies to date.
It also includes “Oh Santa!,” a very upbeat
single. She co-wrote “Christmas Is in the Air
Again” and “One Child” with Shaiman.
“With Marc Shaiman, I had to alter the
way I normally write, which is pretty much
off the cuff,” Carey says. “We went back and
forth on lyrical concepts. He’s genius. He’s
Broadway. But he’s also fun to work with.
While we worked on ‘One Child,’ which tells
the story of the Nativity, it was funny because
Marc is Jewish and kept saying things like
‘What’s going on? There’s a king involved?’
We started laughing and had a really great
time.” She says Shaiman’s string arrangements
are stunning, but the album explores another
side of retro classic as well.
The Costco Connection
You’ll find copies of Merry Christmas II
You,” Mariah Carey’s new Christmas
album, at your local Costco warehouse.