Mariah Carey might be the most reactionary pop star of all time. Her creative decisions are seemly driven not by an artistic muse, but by a desire to maintain commercial viability. It’s likely the result of being so intimately involved with her expectedly money-minded record-label handlers early in her career, when she was amassing gold and breaking records like Michael Phelps. Mariah has always been obsessed with the past (specifically, recreating it), sometimes resulting in sublime nostalgia (as on “The Roof”), but more often coming off as pathologically regressive (embodied by her perpetuation of the male fantasy of woman-as-little-girl, which neutralizes whatever command it might seem like she has over her own sexual image). If you thought motherhood might change Mimi’s tune, or at least push her in a new direction, her new single’s artwork, previewed by the singer a few days ago, quickly put those hopes to rest: Scantily clad in a flesh-colored, peek-a-boo “dress,” Mariah is airbrushed into a literal cartoon version of herself…circa 1997, of course.
So, it should come as no surprise that Mariah would follow-up 2009’s Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, which was tellingly both rapper-free and a commercial disappointment, with “Triumphant (Get ’Em),” a dated hip-hop track produced by Jermaine Dupri in the same manner a sick dog produces a bowel movement. It’s easily the worst lead single (possibly the worst single, period) of her two-decade-plus career. JD’s beyond-tired hype-man routine and guest raps by Rick Ross and newcomer Meek Mill dominate the first half of the song, with Mariah literally serving as a hook girl on a track that sorely lacks a strong hook. She finally unleashes a breathy verse of her own about two-thirds of the way through—something about breaking free of chains, seeing mountaintops, reaching for stars, and other brainless platitudes that ostensibly lead to, according to Ross, throwing money at strippers and running highway tolls. It’s not just uninspiring, it’s downright demoralizing.