Mariah Carey is one of the most gifted and influential R&B singers of her generation. Though she’s best known for her multi-octave range and full-blast style, she is actually a versatile performer with total command over her incredible voice. Click through to watch some of Carey’s finest performances, from the early days of her career up to the recent past.
Carey rocketed to fame with “Vision of Love,” the first single from her debut album, in 1990. Looking back on this clip from her first appearance on Saturday Night Live, it’s easy to see why she was basically an overnight success – she sings the tune with serene confidence, as if she’s already been a star for years.
Carey’s performance of the ballad “Can’t Let Go” on this episode of Soul Train from 1991 is so flawless that many viewers probably assumed she was lip-synching. Check out the back-up singers as she gets started – you can sense their fear of messing up in the presence of a singer of her caliber.
By the time Carey took the stage at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, she had risen to the ranks of one of the best-selling musicians in the business. That swagger comes through in her performance of “Emotions,” one of her most jubilant early hits.
Carey is arguably one of the few singers to top a vocal performance by Michael Jackson. Her rendition of the Jackson 5 ballad “I’ll Be There” from her MTV Unplugged special is smooth, elegant and big-hearted.
Carey’s upbeat tunes in the early Nineties were an ideal showcase for a bright, optimistic quality in her voice. Though she can belt the hell out of a ballad, her voice resonates more deeply when she’s conveying giddy infatuation, as in this rendition of “Dreamlover” from the Arsenio Hall Show in 1993.
Carey was an arena-packing star by the mid-Nineties. In this clip from her 1996 Daydream World Tour, the singer delivers an impeccable vocal performance while serving as the center of an elaborate production featuring dancers and an enormous stage.
“Honey” marks the start of a new direction for Carey, with the singer wholeheartedly embracing the luxurious sound of late-Nineties mainstream hip-hop and moving away from vocal bombast. She’s still showing off her incredible range but producing a lighter, softer sound.
Carey successfully integrated hip-hop into her music by the late Nineties. In this performance of “Heartbreaker” at the European Music Awards in 1999, the singer effortlessly stays at the center of the song despite guest turns by the highly charismatic Missy Elliott and Da Brat.
Carey’s career flagged through much of the early 2000s, but she made her big comeback with “We Belong Together,” a killer single that showcased a new variation on her hip-hop-inflected R&B phrasing. This performance from Late Night with David Letterman starts off fairly mellow but climaxes with a mind-blowing sustained high note.
The Mariah Carey in this performance of “Touch My Body” on German television in 2008 is a world away from the woman who broke into pop culture in the early Nineties. Whereas she was once demure and sang like a gospel powerhouse, the modern Mariah is slick and chill. Of course, the smoothness is spiked with a bit of aggression, as she sings in this song “I will hunt you down” with a sly wink.