Following a massively successful album would be a daunting task for most artists. But in 2008, musical icon Mariah Carey eagerly accepted the challenge when she released the long-awaited E=MC².
The 14-track LP felt like a continuation of The Emancipation of Mimi, which was dubbed as Carey’s comeback album. Earning a whopping 10 Grammy Award nominations, TEOM was a pivotal career moment, and it went on to produce the smash hits, “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us.” Selling an upwards of 10 million copies worldwide, MC silenced naysayers and proved that she was capable of achieving commercial success after experiencing a mini career slump in the early 2000s.
As acts like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift started to hit their prime respectively, critics foolishly pondered Carey’s lasting power when E=MC² arrived on this day in 2008, claiming that it offered no new feels from its predecessor. During that time, R&B became stagnant and was experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis, but Carey working with people like The-Dream helped keep the genre fresh. The album was also another step in her journey to creative freedom.
“Basically, I’m freer on this album than I’ve ever been. Some of the songs on the last album were cool but maybe not quite as neat as this album,” Carey told The Sun’s “Something for the Weekend,” explaining the album’s physics-inspired title, which can also be seen as a not-so-subtle nod to the singer-songwriter’s musical genius. In a separate interview, she said, “This album is so much about fun and freedom and just the continuation of me feeling emancipated … people ask me all the time, ‘How do you stay relevant? How do you stay current? How do you make music that people continue to respond to?’ You just keep being real, keep being you, stay true to who you were from the beginning.”
At the time, America’s musical landscape was shifting drastically, with physical album sales steadily declining and pop artists infusing more hip-hop elements into their work (take Rihanna’s “Hard” and Justin Timberlake’s “My Love,” for instance), but this was nothing new for the Long Island native. After all, Carey altered the course of pop music forever in 1995 when the then squeaky clean songstress enlisted the late rapper ODB for the iconic “Fantasy” remix.
Thankfully, E=MC² spawned the diva’s 18th chart-topper, “Touch My Body,” making her the solo artist with the most No. 1 singles, which surpassed Elvis Presley’s record. And while the album debuted atop the Billboard Hot 200 and garnered the highest first-week sales (463,000 units) of Carey’s career, it failed to live up to the hype due to its predecessor’s unforeseen success.
However, E=MC² feels more cohesive at times than TEOM, featuring an ample supply of ballads and uptempo songs unlike some of her previous offerings. On this modern masterpiece, Mimi fools around with auto-tune on “Migrate” and explores uncharted territory with “Cruise Control,” a reggae-tinged track. Moreover, Carey was steadfast in showing off her ability to not only survive, but flourish in the digital era, summoning a slew of highly sought-after hit makers, including Swizz Beatz, The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, to name a few. Despite selling 7.5 million copies less than Emancipation, E=MC² contains some of Carey’s most underrated material throughout her illustrious career, which spans nearly three decades.
In celebration of E=MC²’s 10th anniversary, VIBE ranked the album’s tracks to determine which song takes the crown. Check it out below.
While most of Carey’s songs feature some sort of bridge, “Thanx 4 Nothin’” cuts straight to the chase. A gut-wrenching breakup ballad, the track focuses on the aftermath of dealing with a pseudo romance and is sure to resonate with listeners going through, as Mariah puts it, “a bleak moment in their relationship.”
Noted as Carey’s favorite song on the album, “Last Kiss” was in part inspired by the innocence of puppy love. “When I hear that song, I feel like an 8-year-old kid, like this is me as a little girl singing,”Carey explained. In addition, “Last Kiss” is one of the multiple instances on the album in which Carey and So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri reunite to create another breakup anthem—the first time was in 1995 for “Always Be My Baby” from Daydream—that translates into a sentimental moment on the album’s tracklist.
Carey’s longtime collaborator Jermaine Dupri can be heard shouting, “MC said, ‘JD, you gotta make it knock’” before the beat officially drops on “Love Story,” a quintessential R&B ballad. Turning up the romance, Carey is determined to make her love story last. “And this ain’t gon’ end up like that Casablanca movie,” she testifies on the chorus. The visuals for the video gave fans an intimate look at Carey and then husband Nick Cannon’s whirlwind romance, making even the most cynical person a true believer in love at first sight.
“Waking up scared some nights, still dreaming about them violent times,” Carey confesses on the emotionally driven, “Side Effects.” Produced by Scott Storch, the electronic R&B track serves as an abrupt departure from E=MC²’s otherwise care-free vibes. In the autobiographical number featuring Young Jeezy, Carey opens up for an intense four minutes and 22 seconds about her tumultuous relationship with ex-husband Tommy Mottola, who she divorced 10 years prior to this album’s release.
It’s impossible not to bounce when you hear “Migrate” flowing through your speakers. Enhanced with auto-tune, Carey boasts about “clinking glasses” and “sippin’ Grigio, slow,” with the likes of T-Pain on the hip-hop party anthem. But, more importantly, the track showcases the diva’s ability to virtually pull off any sound.
If Carey’s “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us” had a baby, it would sound a lot like, “I Stay in Love,” the fourth and final single from E=MC². “Dying inside ‘cause I can’t stand it/Make or break up/Can’t take this madness,” Carey broods over the keyboard-driven ballad, before gradually unleashing those signature runs and ad-libs on one of the album’s most heartfelt tracks.
Carey is known for pouring her life experiences into her music. On “Bye Bye,” the singer expresses the struggles of losing her father with deeply personal and specific lyrics, such as “And you never got to see me back at No. 1,” which references the success of The Emancipation of Mimi. The second single released from E=MC², “Bye Bye” only peaked at No. 19 in the U.S., but the song cracked the top 10 in New Zealand due to its universal message.
On “Cruise Control,” Carey trades in her pop and R&B roots for reggae, a genre she surprisingly never explored until E=MC². The track shows off less of Carey’s vocals and more of the megastar’s playful side, especially when she imitates a Jamaican accent as she croons, “‘Cause he’s the flyest ting when he be cruisin’ on me avenue.” Accompanied by Damian Marley, “Cruise Control” is refreshing and easily serves as one of the album’s most joyous moments.
Drenched in 1970s soul, “I’m That Chick” is littered with Instagram-worthy captions. Borrowing from Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” Carey compares herself to Tupac, Biggie, ice cream, the lottery and a blunt. “Take this seriously/Like Pac, all eyes on me,” she sings before commanding, “Take me for a ride.” Despite not being released as a single, “I’m That Chick” serves as a fun prelude to a wild night out with the girls and a reminder of her reign.
Professing her need for rekindling a flame with an ex-lover, “O.O.C.” (an acronym for “Out of Control”) is an anthem for all the hopeless romantics out there who just can’t seem to move on past their love hangover. Co-written by Swizz Beatz, Da Brat and Carey herself, “O.O.C.” is among the handful of uptempo records on the album, and it’s clear that Mimi was having fun. In the second verse, she masters Italian, Spanish and French over borrowed orchestral elements from The Salsoul Orchestra’s 1976 song, “It’s Good for The Soul,” making it one of the album’s most addictive tracks.
Die-hard fans often praise “For the Record” as a standout track on E=MC² for the simple fact that the singer-songwriter references some of her biggest hits during the song’s bridge i.e. “For the record, it’s obvious that we just can’t let go of us, honey.” But the track is haunting and stirring at its core.
“Touch My Body” came at a perfect time in Carey’s career because there was nothing left to prove. The pop princess revealed a different side with overtly sexual lyrics and hilarious pop culture (YouTube and The Wendy Williams Show) references sprinkled throughout the radio-friendly song. The chorus is sugary sweet and the verses are hypnotic, illustrating Carey’s gift for melody. “Touch My Body” turned out to be a risk worth taking– it skyrocketed to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, making Mariah the solo artist with the most chart-toppers in the U.S.
You can’t really go wrong with a DeBarge (“Stay with Me”) sample. “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time” is one of those songs that instantly puts the listener in a good mood. The song’s hook is infectious, making it a highlight on E=MC². It’s an overlooked gem on the platinum selling album, but it demonstrates Mariah’s ability to create a timeless R&B tune.
“I Wish You Well” reigns supreme on E=MC² due to Carey’s stripped-down performance. Backed by only a piano, the gospel-influenced ballad is reminiscent of Carey’s earlier work, specifically “Vanishing” from the singer’s debut, eponymous album. Not nearly as glamorous as some of the other album’s tracks, “I Wish You Well” is a salute to Carey’s artistry in the purest form. Laced with biblical verses, Carey preaches forgiveness and saves the vocal gymnastics and her whistle register for the song’s climax. Though “I Wish You Well” serves as the final track on E=MC², it is in many ways the cornerstone of the album and a triumphant moment in Mariah’s musical and personal journey.
Princess Gabbara is a multimedia journalist and storyteller. She’s a former reporter for the Lansing State Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, who has written for outlets like EBONY magazine, Jetmag.com, Essence.com, Sesi, Greatist, XOJane and Bustle. Follow her on Twitter @PrincessGabbara.