Mariah Carey Shows A Little Bit Of Her Love

Aug 28th, 2009 // 9 Comments

ARTIST: Mariah Carey
TITLE: “I Want To Know What Love Is”
WEB DEBUT: Aug. 27, 2009

ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: In the earliest parts of her career, Mariah Carey did well with covers; her version of the Jackson 5′s “I’ll Be There” was a chart-topper, and her top-notch take on the Yuletide classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has remained a holiday staple since its 1994 release. [EDIT: Well, it's just convincing retro pastiche! Ugh, too early. BUT don't forget her version of "Without You," etc.] But since the early ’90s the musical landscape, particularly for Big Pop Artists, has changed a lot. So the question that lingers now is a big one, and one that Island Def Jam is hoping will be answered with “yes”: Will a big, ballady cover of a song made popular 25 years ago—Foreigner’s humongo gospel-tinged ballad “I Want To Know What Love Is”—shock America into caring en masse about a musical artist the way that it did back in the day?

It’s a question that this piano-heavy version of “I Want To Know What Love Is” actually hedges. Mariah’s vocal delivery for most of the song is the restrained, breathy whisper that she’s employed to great effect in the post-Glitter era—it barely opens up on the chorus until the second time through, which is surprising because it renders the overall effect sort of flat at first. Things get better a bit on the second run-through—you can actually hear the heartbreak and pain that she’s singing about—and carry through that way until the very end of the song, when the gear-shift key change kicks in, and the gospel choir swoops down from the heavens, and Mariah’s even playing with the trademark octave-leaping that set her out from the diva pack all the way at the beginning of her career. Whether radio will jump on this or not is a crapshoot, though–it seems too slow for Top 40 radio, too new for the notoriously sclerotic Adult Contemporary formats that still have the original in heavy rotation. I can see it sliding right into the playlist of New York R & B station Kiss 98.7—which, it should be noted, isn’t afraid to put some gospel tracks into heavy rotation.

Mariah Carey – I Want To Know What Love Is 2009 [YouTube]


  1. All I Want For Christmas Is You was a cover?!

  2. This is just really a big bag of “meh” for me. I don’t see this being a hit anywhere.

  3. @bcapirigi: Oh fuck. No it wasn’t. This is what happens when you sleep for 12 hours.

  4. I still think that the point remains, though. Who is this going to appeal to?

  5. Hmm, I kind of like it. Its structure reminds me a bit of “we belong together” – the beginning might not be so incredible but there is a huge payoff toward the end. Once listeners know about the payoff, I think they’ll be more than willing to put up with the first half. Its already growing on me.

    Not sure what its airplay potential is – it may depend on whether everyone (radio, her record label, listeners) really wants this to be her big pseudo-comeback after the relative semi-flop of “obsessed” (sort of like “we belong together” was after “it’s like that”). But if she wants a number one, she might want to wait to release it to itunes until it has already generated some solid airplay, like she did with “touch my body.”

  6. It should be noted that the cover by Mariah this most resembles – her 1993 take on Badfinger/Nilsson’s “Without You” – made her more popular in Europe but stopped her momentum somewhat in America. Here, it was one of her few hits at the peak of her mid-’90s powers not to go to No. 1 (it peaked at No. 3). It was a big hit, no doubt, but it didn’t really further her Hot 100 dominance. So if a big-throated, gospelly cover of an old hit couldn’t take her to the top in 1994, I wonder why they think it’ll do it for her in the much-changed radio landscape of 2009.

    (Same goes for her other big-throated ballad cover of 1994, the Luther Vandross duet “Endless Love.” When that came out, Billboard was like, Whoa, Luther and Mariah, stand back, this thing’s gonna top the charts for months!! and instead it rose to No. 2 for a solitary week and dropped off the charts relatively expeditiously for the two of them. Again: Carey’s fans and radio PDs seem most excited by new material from her; covers are hits for her but not the biggest ones, the Jackson 5 redo excepted.)

    Also, “In case I need it when I’m colder“?! Somebody needed to check the lyric sheet she took into the recording booth. I’m not just being picky here; Lou Gramm’s restrained delivery of “In case I need it when I’m older” is part of what makes the original song moving, and Mick Jones saved “colder” for the next verse’s capper, “…keeps me warm when life grows colder” (a verse she eliminates).

  7. @Chris Molanphy: Maybe she doesn’t want Internet snarksters to make fun of her age?

  8. Perhaps part of the idea is for her to regain some popularity outwith the States where all the whispery stuff has struggled to make much of an impact and her album sales barely register these days. She’s still only had two number 1s in the UK (compared to the legendary 18 in the States) and both were cover versions (Without You and Against All Odds which was a collaboration with Westlife).

    Also pretty sure the idea is for AC radio will jump on board at home – they’ll just dump the original Foreigner version for the Mariah version in their playlists. And AC radio play sells albums.

    An unkind person may suggest she’s seen Leona Lewis’s sales and decided she wants a piece of the ballad-selling market and so has aped Lewis’s recent treatment of Snow Patrol’s Run. The difference is of course Lewis can deliver the song live with aplomb. Can we really see Mariah doing this justice after her recent run of poor live efforts?

Leave A Comment