‘E=MC2’: Resolving Mariah Carey’s equation 10 years later

I know I’m late to the party; it’s been a month since the album’s 10-year anniversary, but E=MC² was my first Mariah Carey album I bought, well before I would actually become a fan a year later, so it’s an album that I need to commemorate.

2008 was a transitional year for music. R&B had been reigning supreme on the airwaves for most of the decade and was approaching the tail-end of its dynasty. Electronic dance was prematurely rising up the charts (Timbaland‘s “The Way I Are,” Rihanna‘s “Disturbia”, Britney Spears‘s “Womanizer” etc.) but would only overtake the industry in 2009 with everything Lady Gaga and The Black Eyed Peas.

In retrospect, 2008 was really the last year an R&B balladeer in her late thirties could’ve secured a bonafide hit, and in the case of Mariah Carey, it was. Her first single in three years, “Touch My Body” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in April, partially owing to the world’s anticipation after the colossal success that was 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi, but mostly because it was a simple yet clever song.

The urban pop piece, which layers elegant finger snaps below Mariah’s restrained yet sultry vocals, illustrates a “secret rendezvous” between the singer and the object of her attention (portrayed in the music video by Jack McBrayer), the most playful Mariah’s been on a lead single since 2001’s “Loverboy”. It made the songbird the solo artist with the most number-one hits in the US, a title she still retains to this day.

“Touch My Body” also spawned a YouTube moment with its infamously hilarious performance on Good Morning America, where an irritated Mariah was plagued by an incorrect backing track, subtly murmured “so many things…” and eventually quipped, “stop singing my part now baby!” It was arguably Mariah’s most iconic mishap until her next televised disaster unfolded on New Year’s Eve more than eight years later.

On April 15, 2008, Mariah then released her eleventh studio album, aptly titled E=MC², which really means “emancipation equals Mariah Carey to the second power.” It serves as a sequel to Emancipation: a more modern, updated sister that removes the quiet storm from Emancipation and substitutes it with summery tunes like “Cruise Control” and “O.O.C.”

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But in the vein of all Mariah albums, E=MC² is not without its signature ballads, such as “Bye Bye”, which was plugged into the ballad-as-a-second-single formula that record labels often enact on singers like Mariah and Christina Aguilera.

Unfortunately, the ballad, which sings about finding peace in grief, stalled at #19. Commercially, it was no “We Belong Together,” the sophomore single from Emancipation which propelled the singer back to musical royalty back in 2005 and would later be named Song of the Decade at the end of the 2000s. While “Bye Bye” was a beautiful tearjerker, it just didn’t win the world the way “Belong” did.

Even with adequate television appearances, the album’s subsequent singles, “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time” (which featured T.I. on its single release), and “I Stay In Love” (an essential clone of “Belong”), fared worse than “Bye Bye”, signalling an end to the E=MC² era before 2008 was even over. In 2009, Mariah started afresh with Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, destroying hardcore listeners’ hopes of fan favorite “Migrate” becoming the fifth single.

That track, which opens E=MC², is a sleek club song with twirling whistles, AutoTuned lines (the audacity!) and rap verses performed by T-Pain. Many years later in an interview, Mariah spoke about how she’d wanted “Migrate” as a single, but that the label decided otherwise. It is ridiculous, considering “Migrate” would’ve thrived in the 2008 urban landscape.

And other gems that got away? The breakup ode “Last Kiss”, co-written by Jermaine Dupri (responsible for “We Belong Together”), and disco bop “I’m That Chick”, which nearly became the album’s title. Mariah included this one in the set list for her 2014 and 2017 tours, and even named one of her fragrances after it in 2011. It must’ve been a personal favorite.

Albeit less hits and more misses, nothing could’ve recreated the success of The Emancipation of Mimi, so E=MC² had put up a good fight, even if it will be eternally remembered as Mimi‘s lesser sister. By its own merits, the album was still a success: it sold 463,000 copies in its first week (the largest first-week sales number of any Mariah album) and was eventually certified Platinum: Mariah’s final studio album to receive that certification.

Musically, the album was nothing inventive or particularly fresh; she never quite outdo herself when she putt O.D.B. on her remix to “Fantasy” thirteen years prior, but E=MC² is pleasant music nonetheless After all, it posted one chart-topper, a feat Mariah hasn’t replicated in the last ten years.

Given her declining relevance and the perennial ageism in the music industry, I’m certain “Touch My Body” will remain Mariah’s last number-one, although optimistic fans believe seasonal streaming surges may eventually toss “All I Want For Christmas For You” to the number-one spot one day.

In the plausible event that doesn’t happen, I’m satisfied with “Touch My Body” notching the title of Mariah’s last number-one hit anyway. I mean, what other song includes “YouTube” in its lyrics and makes it rhyme perfectly with “I do”?

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