For an artist who’s been in the game as long as Mariah Carey has, it would be difficult to keep track of career milestones—especially if you have one of the most revered discographies in popular music. With the 25th anniversary of her illustrious Christmas album and the iconic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” coming up, it’s the biggest talking point about the singer this year and rightfully so; however, 2009’s “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel” is celebrating its 10th year, and we should give it some love—as it is arguably one of her most underrated projects.
At the time of the album’s genesis, Carey was coming off of a career milestone with the 2008 single “Touch My Body,” which earned her the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100—surpassing Elvis Presley’s record of most number-one singles by a solo artist in the United States. After the era of the joyous pop hip-hop forward album “E=MC²,” Carey began to work with producers The-Dream and Tricky Stewart—the team responsible for hits like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” This time, the new album would be strictly R&B hip-hop and focus on a more cohesive sound.
For many diehards, the title “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel” is expected from someone like Carey, who gives her albums grandiose titles like 2005’s “The Emancipation of Mimi.” Being her 12th studio album, Carey wanted to make a record dedicated to all types of fans with music for those who love 1997’s “Butterfly” and other older work. The album photo shoot even recreates her 1990 debut look with the classic little black dress and brunette curls—serving as a full circle nostalgic moment while staying true to her current self.
The first track, “Betcha Gon’ Know (The Prologue)” is a perfect representation of Carey at her best in terms of songwriting—reminiscent of the detailed storytelling of 1997’s “The Roof.” Carey depicts finding her boyfriend cheating on her, bolting out of the door and driving while her mascara runs down her cheeks—hiding her eyes behind her black Cavalli shades in true diva fashion.
“Obsessed” drifts away from the resentful vibe of the first track—transitioning into one of the greatest diss tracks of pop music history. Carey kicks off the song with a reference to “Mean Girls”—one of her favorite films. It has been speculated the song is targeted toward Eminem and all of his digs aimed at her over the years, and this was further implied through the music video—showing Carey as an obsessed stalker who somewhat resembles the rapper. “Obsessed” also includes some of Carey’s funniest lyrics to date, including “Got you all fired up with your inferior complex/Seeing right through you like you’re bathing in Windex.”
Just a decade later, “Obsessed” has experienced a resurgence due to a viral TikTok meme of a young girl dancing to the song while sobbing. Carey, being one of the most social media savvy legends, joined in the fun and even made her own “Obsessed” dance challenge video.
The album switches back to a somber tone with “H.A.T.E.U,” which is an acronym for “Having A Typical Emotional Upset.” The R&B ballad tackles the emotion of wishing you hated someone because the pain of still loving them after heartbreak is too much to bear. Carey implements her classic whistle register in the song’s hook— inspired by one of her vocal idols, Minnie Riperton.
The flow of songs “Candy Bling” and “Ribbon” give the section a sense of simplicity, which is depicted by their lyrical content—focusing on the sweetness of young love and pretty melodies dealing with the constant thought of a significant other. “Inseparable” falls into this category as well—especially with the cute nod to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” as she sings, “Boy, I’m lost, can’t you look?/Won’t you please find me?”
Even though Carey is most well-known for her incredible vocals, her knowledge of music history is just as notable. Carey has sampled many greats from the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” to The Emotions’ “Blind Alley.” “It’s A Wrap” isn’t any different as it samples Love Unlimited’s “I Belong to You” and incorporates the piano of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way.”
“Up Out Of My Face” is one of the most confident, uptempo anthems on the album—involving the theme of rejecting a person who just doesn’t get out of your way. It is hard to find someone else who would write, “If we were two Lego blocks/Even the Harvard University graduating class of 2010/Couldn’t put us back together again.”
Ending with a cover of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” Carey gave fans an inspiring ending. Although this cover doesn’t quite pack the unreal vocal punch of her previous covers of Journey’s “Open Arms” and Badfinger’s “Without You” as it is subtle in its delivery, for the most part, the usage of a gospel choir was a great addition.
“Memoirs” turned out to be a great effort by Carey; the album attentively highlights her love for new and old school R&B along with clever songwriting. With Carey, it is important to look at the bigger picture of her artistry and all it encompasses—not just the number one singles— because there may be a multitude of other underrated gems made just for you.