“I own the Glitter soundtrack and a Glitter poster. I have a charm bracelet. I AM A LAMB.”
As far as a rudimentary education was concerned, I figured I was covered when it came to Mariah Carey. I can confidently sing along with “Always Be My Baby” whenever it comes on in a bar. I know better than to suggest that Ariana Grande is the rightful heir to her throne in the pop pantheon. I know who “dem babies” are.
But after hitting the second night of Mariah’s All I Want for Christmas Is You concert series at the Beacon Theatre alongside a proud, card-carrying member of her Lambily, I realized I was very, very wrong.
Some background on my friend Nat, my partner in crime for this round of Mariah Madness: When Natalie is a fan, she is a dedicated fan. She does not half-ass her adoration. We met when we were seniors in college and editorial interns at Rolling Stone, and I was impressed by the treasure trove of pop culture factoids and John Waters trivia that made up her brain nearly a decade ago, upon our introduction. I knew that Nat loves Mariah — she read the Tommy Mottola book, for chrissake — but I didn’t know the extent to which Nat is an unofficial Mariah expert. Nat attended Mariah’s holiday concert series last year, and even though she already has plans to return to the Beacon on December 14, I knew she couldn’t say no to an invitation to see her precious diva twice in one week. I’m always happy to spend time with her, but I had no idea that bringing her to Mariah’s holiday show would offer up a serious reality check and some valuable background information over the course of the nineteen-song program.
Upon entering the Beacon for the second night of the series, I noticed that those filing into the room were immediately more jovial and up for dancing along to “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” This isn’t to say that the crowd from the first night was tame — just slightly more reserved, and PG-rated, by comparison. (There were definitely more children present for opening night, including Mariah’s kids, Moroccan and Monroe Cannon. Night Two’s crowd was decidedly more adult.) The lights went down, the curtain went up, and Mariah raised her hand and flashed a smile as the lights hit the sequins on her alabaster frock and blinded us. Nat burst out laughing: “This is EXACTLY the same as last year’s.” (If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I guess.)
No changes were made to the setlist at the jump — “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” came first, followed by the familiar notes of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s piano-plunking Charlie Brown intro and “Christmas Time Is Here.” This wasn’t my favorite part of the performance the night before — Mariah was breathy past the point of endearing and sang in her head voice, which felt restrained — and I mentioned this to Nat, who delivered the first nugget of Lambily intel of the evening: “Oh, well, Mariah’s favorite Christmas movies are Elf and A Charlie Brown Christmas.” This not only explained the giant projection of dancing Peanuts characters during this interlude, but the song’s inclusion itself, along with the “SANTA! I KNOW HIM!” Mariah exclaimed when she introduced Saint Nick the night before. The soft styling and seemingly winded rendition of “Christmas Time Is Here” then felt like a deliberate, considered choice instead of lazy filler to keep Mariah from blowing out her belt too early. Why was I so quick to doubt that before?
The tracks with quicker pulses brought out the best in Mariah — it’s impossible to stand in her presence during “Oh Santa!” without bouncing around like a maniac, and shouts to that killer bassline, too — and the crowd readily agreed. Mariah left the stage to make her first of three gown changes, and one guy behind us screamed “MARIAAAAAH COME THRUUUUUUUUUUUUU!” at least four times before she returned in a gem-studded tawny number. (Nat’s second dose of Lambily wisdom: Mariah’s new collaboration with MAC cosmetics features an All I Want lipstick, which is a frosted champagne shade that matches the aforementioned frock perfectly.) The gospel choir returned and sounded just as wonderful as they had previously, but their version of “Carol of the Bells” — the one that felt at odds with the interpretive ballet it had been paired with for Monday’s performance, in that the steps of the dancers were just as loud as the a cappella vocals of the choir — was scrapped, presumably to address that very issue. Mariah’s “O Holy Night” was just as transcendent, and Nat remarked that she was impressed that Mariah was gunning for those high notes and hitting them all — which apparently was not the case with the 2014 holiday run at the Beacon.
Mariah had hit her stride on Night Two, and her witticisms at the mic showed it. The best part about Mariah’s banter is that she giveth zero fucks about sounding loopy or aloof, and she makes no bones about showing everyone whose stage it is — all while sporting the most benevolent of grins, of course. She strode over to the piano and introduced her musical director while praising his ability to “tickle the ivories”; she apologized for taking a sip “of tea, darlings, though it’d be better with a sip of something else in it”; she stared the dancer dressed in a giant plush Frosty the Snowman suit down and put him in his place with a dry “That’s a little dramatic” before launching into “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Mariah’s funny bone — and her timing for when it comes to tickling those of others — is great. It’s unexpected. It’s nice to see that she’s using this series as an opportunity to shine while doing whatever she wants and cracking jokes while she’s at it. It’s not like she hasn’t earned it.
Nat and I talked about this when we walked down Broadway toward dinner — she brought up BuzzFeed‘s interview with Mariah, in which the elusive chanteuse talks about “bleak” Instagram angles and drops four “dahhhhhlings” after the reporter hits record. She also mentioned that she was thrilled to hear Mariah hit those ear-splitting notes, the ones that seem like they should only be picked up by dogs or dolphins or something, and how this may have been one of the stronger performances she’s seen from the emancipated Mimi. I mentioned that I should probably bring earplugs on Friday, because the mix at the Beacon weighs heavily on Mariah’s mic feed, and daaaamn my ears were ringing after last night’s performance. (I’ve made it through Japandroids festival sets, Metallica at the Apollo, and several Alice Cooper shows, and this was the first time where I really, truly regret forgetting those.) Nat agreed that that may be a good idea.
So here’s what I’ve learned after two nights of Mariah’s 2015 holiday run: Mariah’s a classical performer in that she appreciates the opportunity to warm up, be it with a rehearsal or an opening night to work out all the kinks. She knows how to work even the bleakest of angles, on Instagram or otherwise. And always, always bring earplugs. There may be no one shrieking “MARIAAAAAAH COME THRU COME THRU MARIAAAAAAH” throughout her ninety-minute set on Friday, but who knows — there could be a whole army of lambs sporting charm bracelets and All I Want lipstick ready to work some lung power for the sake of their queen.