Mariah and her kids | Photo: Live Nation
Mariah Carey is a woman who doesn’t get enough credit.
First, let’s look at the facts. She’s one of the best-selling artists of her generation. She has, or arguably had, a more gifted a voice than perhaps any of her rivals.
Seeing her Christmas-themed show at London’s O2 on Tuesday, I was struck by two things. First, how much I admittedly would’ve loved to see her live in the 90s, when she was at the top of her game. The second, though, was how exaggerated reports of her miming or singing out of tune are.
Yes, there have been a few unfortunate, high profile bad performances in recent memory. But do they really outweigh, for example, the thousands upon thousands of happy punters who caught her #1 to Infinity Vegas residency between 2015 and 2017?
They may have flocked to social media in adoration of her ‘telephoned in’ dance moves – but were they complaining about her voice? I think not.
At the near-sold out O2, Mariah’s vocals were still strong, natural and uniquely Mariah’s.
Despite a shaky start on Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Charlie Brown Christmas, she lost all self-consciousness and was tearing the house down by closer All I Want For Christmas Is You.
Her husky voice isn’t perfect. But she can still hit the notes – you can see the look of concentration on her face – and drown out her backing singers at will, which is a rarity.
If you’re not familiar with Mariah’s seminal seasonal album Merry Christmas, and if you don’t embrace her as, essentially, pop culture’s tireless ambassador for the season, this might not be the show for you.
I balked at the idea of 90 minutes of Christmas songs, like I would a pile of candy on Halloween. (Another holiday Mariah loves). I was certainly relieved both We Belong Together (a song I don’t even like) and Hero (a privilege to hear) got an airing. They came second and third last, respectively.
We were also given a contemporary R&B moment with The Distance, a song from her recently-released album Caution (which will likely be outperformed by Merry Christmas this month). It stood out like a sore thumb.
Given its presence on the setlist, I couldn’t help but long for other songs from Mariah’s discography. Many might’ve been added to make this show a little less sugary and two dimensional. The soaring strings and glittery synths of Infinity are Christmassy, no? How about a detour into seasonal sadness with My All? An emotional tribute to Whitney with When You Believe?
I also struggled with some of the production. Retro video graphics, acid bright lighting that made the stage look like an oversaturated Instagram filter; my guest swore she saw one of the big Christmas box props was only gift-wrapped on five sides. I’d have loved a closer look at the Christmas tree in the middle of the stage, which was oddly thin-looking.
Eventually, though, I can’t deny that if anyone has the charisma to make this fun no matter what, it’s Mariah. Speaking of charisma, I think she had some of the nicest, most natural between-songs banter with the audience and her band of any star I’ve seen.
Her character was also evident in her typically outlandish outfit choices. My two faves: what looked like a wedding dress and a fluffy hooded number with giant pom poms. A stylist later removed it for her on stage and then brushed her like a doll. She even had an easygoing warmth with him.
The most charming moment of the evening, though? When she sang The Star with her scarily confident seven-year-old twins Monroe and Moroccan. They told the audience they want iPads for Christmas. The audience issued a passionately polarized response. Mariah was highly amused. And again, I was amazed at the authenticity of the interaction. The whole evening was pretty cute.