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Mariah Carey’s ‘Music Box’ Turns 20

Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey

On Aug. 31, 1993, the yet-to-be emancipated Mariah Carey would release, ‘Music Box,’ her most successful album at that stage of her career. Earlier that summer, she began the unveiling with the lead single, ‘Dreamlover.’ The video showed her frolicking on a prairie, donning an oversized plaid shirt and proper-length shorts. It’s not the same girl we know today. She was 23 at the time, and just two months into her marriage with Tommy Mottola, the head of her then record label.

Since ‘Music Box’ — her third studio album — there hasn’t been a Mariah project that’s so focused on the art of the ballad — it’s the pop balladry textbook. The follow-up to ‘Dreamlover’ was the ever-popular ‘Hero’ and that was a monster hit that became her eighth No. 1. The remake to Harry Nilsson’s 1971 hit, ‘Without You,’ was a notable vocal for the singer showing her effortlessly playing with a low to high register dip that hadn’t been heard on any of her singles — it peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard chart. The final single, ‘Anytime You Need a Friend,’ was a mild success in comparison.

Image-wise, Mariah was a pure-bred balladeer at this time. All the ‘Music Box’ videos, sans ‘Dreamlover,’ had Mariah on stage with a microphone stand, or in the case with ‘Anytime You Need a Friend,’ covered up in an overcoat. It’s a far cry into the future where she is fated to be running out of a pool in a gold bikini as a spy. See ‘Honey.’

‘Music Box’ marks the beginning of Mariah’s sample strategy for her album’s lead singles. ‘Dreamlover’ sampled ‘Blind Alley’ by the Emotions and eventually ‘Fantasy,’ ‘Honey,’ ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Loverboy’ would all sample classic soul, hip-hop or R&B records.

The album cuts on ‘Music Box’ are illustrations of Mariah’s capacity as the melody whisperer. The title track is a subtle love song that makes you wonder why it never became a classic go-to wedding song. The Babyface collaboration, ‘Never Forget You,’ makes you wish we’d gotten a full Baby-Mimi album ––it’s the single that never was. ‘Now That I Know’ and ‘Just to Hold You Once Again’ show Mariah playing with the gospel-tinged sound she kept to a bare minimum here in comparison to her sophomore album, ‘Emotions.’

‘Music Box’ went on to sell 30 million albums worldwide. It’s her biggest seller to date. It’s why some millennials fell in love with her and why she was allowed to make her follow-up, ‘Daydream,’ the way she wanted to. Though there is the question of whether Mariah evolved away from this persona or simply realized it was never “her” to begin with. Whatever the answer, one thing is for sure, in the gold band that is Mariah’s discography, ‘Music Box’ is the diamond.

Watch Mariah Carey’s ‘Dreamlover’ Video

Watch Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’ Video

Watch Mariah Carey’s ‘Without You’ Video

Watch Mariah Carey’s ‘Anytime You Need a Friend’ Video

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