Mariah Carey — “Obsessed”

Released:6.16.09

Peak:#7

You can’t just blame the drugs, of course. You can never just blame the drugs. No use blaming Proof’s murderers or Kim or Debbie either for Eminem’s by-far worst album. Relapse was the work of a man well aware that he was pissing away his talent. Pushing forty, Marshall Mathers’ heart just wasn’t in the juvie mayhem any more, so he feigned serial murder by numbers and filled in his ad feminam Mad Libs with the first celebrity to flicker across his short-circuiting synapses. Few party tracks have highlighted how overdue an artist was for sobriety quite as pitilessly as “Crack the Bottle.”

The incoherent revenge fantasy “Bagpipes from Baghdad” might not have been the nadir of Eminem’s recording career, but he did receive its most embarrassing bitch-slap as a result. An A-List diva taking pot shots at a bottom-feeding rapper should have been embarrassing for all concerned, especially when that diva’s courtiers insist on calling her “the real MC,” especially when that diva boasts “You’re a mom and pop / I’m a corporation,” especially when that diva is Mariah Carey. And yet, not only do Tricky and The-Dream deck Mariah out in a suitably regal track for “Obsessed,” but Carey manages to come off as not the slightest bit bitchy. She’s just above it all, luxuriating in her own gifts with a noblesse worthy of Jay-Z — when she encounters the shared assonance of “you’re delusional” and “losing your mind,” it’s a career highlight.

Ah well, live by the starstruck dis, die by the starstruck dis, eh? But the fable of the Princess and the Peashooter has a more complicated moral. Mariah Carey has always remained true to herself because her true self is a woman who wants to be rich and famous, a desire with which the non-rich and non-famous will always identify. (“Stars—they’re just like us” may seem like a sentiment designed to soothe us plebes, but it’s really the culture industry seeking to reassure its marquee producers.) In contrast to Jennifer Lopez’s cartoonish desperation to prove she’s maintained her roots (you ain’t driven your own car in years, girl, let alone played stickball), Carey really does seem like a Long Island gal who hit the big time, and this attitude seems the key to her resilience.

Eminem, to his credit and his detriment, wanted to be an artist — something more than a star, or at least something not identical — and so stardom took its toll, on his sense of humor, most of all. Em regained his footing on Recovery by jettisoning the multifaceted trickster of his first two albums and fully inhabiting the one-dimensional hero of “Lose Yourself” — in other words, by limiting himself as an artist.

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