I absolutely loved Mariah Carey’s first album. A classic pop album of the 90s, so many things about it were exactly right. The balance between ballads and upbeat tunes was perfect. Her voice was in fine form. The songs themselves were well written pop songs with immaculate production. I listened to it pretty much constantly during my first semester at Iowa State in the fall of 1990. Even though I was convinced that when she inevitably won the Best New Artist Grammy none other than Whitney Houston would walk out to accept the award, she was an exciting new talent on the scene that knew her way around a pop song. When she announced her second album would be released in the fall of 1991 and would more accurately represent her than her debut did, I was excited by the prospect. Artists didn’t release albums that quickly in my world! I couldn’t wait.
That album, Emotions, initially and ultimately underwhelmed me. I missed the stellar songwriting team of Carey and Ben Margulies, who had parted ways acrimoniously, The production didn’t seem as polished to me and on the kick-off single “Emotions”, I felt like Carey’s voice was strained and grating. Despite my disappointment with the album overall, there are still a few tracks that I fell in love with, and “Make It Happen” was one of them.
My college roommate at Iowa State always hated what he called Carey’s “Taylor Dayne tracks” of which “Make It Happen” could be categorized. I could easily hear Taylor Dayne singing this song, although I doubt she could nail it like Mariah. He always thought that she would be much better served by recording jazz a la Harry Connick, Jr. than wasting her talent on pop music. We had to agree to disagree on the Taylor Dayne comment as I always preferred her faster songs to the ballads, although his comment was oddly spot-on as frequent Dayne producer Ric Wake produced a handful of tracks on her debut. What I like about “Make It Happen”, in addition to it’s polished production, is its tribute to remaining strong in the face of adversity – a sentiment that appealed to me a lot at the time and, to be honest, still does. I’ve told lots of stories about how my college years were sullied by my struggles with anxiety and depression, and as cheesy as it sounds, “Make It Happen” was one of those songs that helped me to battle those demons. Even the divine intervention part of it appealed to me, although less so today than it once did. I always feel a little bit dumb that pop music can do that to me, but as I so often argue, if it can’t, what’s the point?
Mariah continued her downhill slide in my mind with her next album, Music Box, which I also picked up without so much as listening to it first. I liked the first single “Dreamlover” but the rest of the album was weighed down by balladry that just wasn’t what I wanted to hear. She was also steering slowly away from pop and more toward R&B, which appealed to me much less. It wouldn’t be until her next album that rappers started appearing on her songs, and by then, I had pretty much completely tuned out. Oddly enough, it was the soundtrack to her widely panned film, Glitter, that belatedly brought me back to her.
But when I think of Mariah, I’ll always fondly remember “Make It Happen” for giving me something positive to hold on to when my brain was pretty much waging war on me.