Beyoncé and Mariah Carey are the two legendary diva superstars of our time, and I am historically a superfan of both. A delve into their back catalogues, spurred by my enjoyment of their recent releases – surprise album Beyoncé and best-title-ever contender, Me. I am Mariah… the Elusive Chanteuse, has led me to reflect on just why Mimi and Bey are so special, to me and to everyone.
Notably, their diva personas are radically distinct. Beyoncé, even in spite of the recent Elevator Dramz, maintains her Queenly status with a tightly manicured public persona and perfect stage presence. Mariah has a more unpredictable attitude of “I have the greatest vocal range in history, so all actions (including Glitter, weird TRL appearances, and performing with the NY Philharmonic in a bedazzled arm sling) are totally justified.” Obviously, the two strategies are uniquely successful.
What follows is my analysis of the key shared features in the discographies of Beyoncé and Mariah that secure their legendary diva status.
Pivotal Jay Z Moment
Mariah’s “Heartbreaker” begins with Jay Z saying “let’s skate!” like a huge dork, which makes me wonder if he had any success with girls before he married Lady Bey. I’ve revisited this song this week and it is still excellent, Mariah’s finest use of the Hip Hop Remix, and probably the best song of middle school.
Of course, Bey and Jay have many excellent collaborations, but the best is “Crazy in Love,” marking Beyoncé’s first unforgettable single and establishing their power couple status.
Signature Inspirational Power Ballad, Title is a 4-Letter Word Beginning with H
Find strength in yourself (“Hero”) or find strength in Beyoncé (“Halo”). Either way you can’t lose – these are both are insta-classics.
Luggage-Related Slow Jam
Fact is, divas do not allow cheaters, and someone is going to be packing their bags if one is caught. On “Irreplaceable” Beyoncé gets two of her most signature lines (“to the left”, and “you must not know ‘bout me”) while kicking her old dude to the LITERAL curb.
“Shake It Off” is a Mariah sleeper hit – memorable because of its melody and hilarious lyrics. A great example of why Emancipation of Mimi is an underrated classic, which became the pivotal comeback moment for Mariah.
Feel-Good Hit of the Summer
Every diva needs one of these. The key is to use the end of the song to employ vocal flourishes that remind everyone why you are a Supreme Diva. “Love On Top” is one of my favorite Beyoncé songs – insanely catchy and there are about four keys changes at the end that show off Beyoncé’s crazy vocal range.
As for Mariah, I guess some would choose “Always Be My Baby” here, but I prefer another early hit “Dreamlover” because it’s more cheerful and still has some early 90s Mariah “do-do-do-doooo-do-do ooooo” cheesy parts that are fun.
Real-Life Dis/Callout Jam
“Obsessed” is about Mariah’s apparent relationship with Eminem. I can’t picture it. I like this song though, it makes me laugh and it’s fun. I like how she brags about hanging out at Jermaine Dupri’s house without him, and when she says “all up in my George Foreman” instead of the generic term “grill.”
“Survivor” is a weird song because it’s all about how Beyoncé is still surviving after SHE was the one kicking OTHER PEOPLE out of Destiny’s Child. But I guess they call that survival of the fittest. Anyway they gave the bridge of this song to Michelle and that basically ruined it.
Adult-Contempo Power Diva Moment
Mariah started out in the early 90s adult contemporary genre, making ballads that were mostly amazing but in retrospect can sound silly and dated. “Vision of Love” was her first single, and it remains an amazing and timeless song, the best introduction to one of the most famous voices of all time.
Beyoncé, for some reason, also dabbled in this genre on her mature-sounding album 4. “1+1” is the very awesome lead off song – a minimalist Beyoncé ballad where she belts out lyrics about being in love and how she doesn’t “know much about al-ge-BA” but she does know the answer to the equation in the title. It is one of her best.
Beyoncé, as the Queen Bey, is already superior talent- and overall life-wise to most of us, and in “If I Were a Boy” she alleges that she’d also be a “better man,” which I totally believe.
Beyoncé deals much more in metaphor and imagery in her lyrics than Mariah does, despite the latter’s claim to be an elusive chanteuse. “Through the Rain” is about as abstract as Mariah gets. The weather analogy is pretty obvious, but the key change at the end is wonderful.
Career Defining/Best Overall Song, With Justifications
“We Belong Together” is probably the best comeback single ever, and totally rejuvenated Mariah’s career. The second verse of this song is perfect: super catchy but lyrically and structurally unusual, and has the classic truth “the pain reflected in this song ain’t even half of what I’m feeling inside.” At the end she belts the chorus and the collective universe was like YESSSS MARIAH IS BACK!
I guess “Single Ladies” is the most defining Beyoncé song due to cultural popularity and its role in her transition from successful pop star into Queen Bey. I personally prefer “Countdown,” because it contains all the essentials: free-wheeling fun with Jay Z, acknowledging her financial independence, solid relationship advice for the other ladies (“If you love your man, show him you the flyest”), and hilarious catch phrases.
Further brief comparisons:
Both divas have very important offspring: “dem babies” and Blue Ivy.
Use of alter egos: Sasha Fierce and Mimi, which together sound like the cats of an elderly Russian woman.
Face it people: these are the two divas that rule all of us. Even as I write this, Mariah is doing her thing, riding the 1 Train in a periwinkle evening gown. I’m not sure what Beyoncé is doing. If I were to guess, probably eating vegan cupcakes on a yacht. ***Flawless