If there is any joy in this increasingly awful year, it’s likely to be found with Mariah Carey.
While the world has been largely consumed in hellfire, the legendary diva has experience a resurgence. She kicked off 2020 at the top of the Hot 100 with “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, extending her record of most number-one singles for a solo artist (only the Beatles have more). This year also marked the 30th anniversary of her career, beginning with her landmark self-titled debut. Never one to pass up a celebratory moment, Carey marked the occasion with #MC30, a weekly campaign where she released a treasure trove of remix EPs, rare televised performances, and anecdotes from the past three decades. Aside from being a delicious treat for fans, #MC30 is a brilliant marketing move that serves both celebrates her unequaled success and reaches new listeners who may not be familiar with her extensive catalog (her last #1, “Touch My Body,” came long before the streaming revolution).
Closing out #MC30 is the double whammy release of her long-awaited autobiography The Meaning of Mariah Carey, and The Rarities, an album of ultra-rare and unreleased tracks spanning her three decades in music. One of them is “Out Here On My Own”, a cover of the Oscar-nominated ballad sung by Irene Cara in the 80’s classic film Fame. The song carries great meaning for her: she recounts in her memoir that it, and Cara, were sources of inspiration and strength in a very difficult childhood, and she won her first singing competition with it.
Carey’s affection for the original pulses throughout her rendition. Recorded in 2000 as part of the Glitter soundtrack sessions, her version stays remarkably faithful to Cara’s, adding only a hint of accompanying strings to the piano while retaining the key and vocal arrangement. The restraint is also reflected in how she sings the song, largely eschewing the powerhouse melisma of her trademark ballads for a more straightforward delivery of the melancholic lyrics.
The result of her effort and dedication is astonishing. “Out Here On My Own” is a triumph, a record of great emotional resonance that also contains one of Carey’s greatest vocal performances. Rarely has she allowed herself to be as open and vulnerable as she is here, channeling the song’s yearning and isolation with startling clarity. You get the sense that she is singing for the little girl inside who clung to the song for comfort. The climactic power note – which could’ve easily been a showcase for her trademark whistle register – is delivered with the emotional force of a freight train, in a voice that recalls the peak of the Daydream album, through the buttery richness of Butterfly.
Mariah Carey is a prolific enough songwriter that she infrequently does covers, but “Out Here On My Own” easily ranks among her best, and I would argue that it’s her best since 1993’s “Without You” (my all-time favorite Mariah song). Her version is so brilliant, it feels like a crime that the song was unreleased until now. Glitter would’ve only benefitted from its placement on the track list, and it certainly deserved a shot at being one of her many number-one singles. Its placement on The Rarities, then, is a gift, and a celebration of one of the most gifted vocalists that pop music has ever seen.