Thirty years ago, a young singer born in New York and named after an old show tune stepped into the musical spotlight, and made it immediately clear she wouldn’t be returning to the shadows anytime soon.
Mariah Carey’s first five singles all went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, establishing her as the biggest new pop star of the ‘90s, and she’d score at least one more chart-topper every year through the rest of the 20th century — eventually racking up 19 No. 1s, more than any other solo artist in chart history. Meanwhile, she bested the Billboard 200 albums chart six times, twice with LPs that would be certified Diamond by the RIAA, won 15 Billboard Music Awards (including artist of the decade for the ‘90s) and five Grammys, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Of course, all of these stats and achievements only scratch the surface on the full Mariah Carey story — one that also includes several moments of game-changing collaboration, multiple generations of enduring artistic influence, more dramatic turns than one of her action-packed videos and a wider scope of highs and lows than even her five-octave vocal range. Much of that 30-plus-year history will be more fully explained by two much-anticipated projects Carey is releasing this week: The Meaning of Mariah Carey, her revealing memoir co-written with Michaela Angela Davis that dropped on Tuesday (Sept. 29), and The Rarities, a career-spanning compilation of B-sides and unreleased material to be unveiled on Friday (Oct. 2).
But of course, the best way to understand the legacy of Mariah Carey is still through her classic songs. That includes the smash hits, naturally — many of which have become iconic — but also the fan-favorite commercial flops, the more personal deep cuts, the brilliantly curated and executed remixes. From 1990’s debut torch song “Vision of Love” to this year’s Lauryn Hill teamup “Save the Day,” it’s been three decades of gems from the Elusive Chanteuse: songs that have soundtracked countless first loves, friendships, devastating breakups, nights out, family crises, personal epiphanies, moments of crippling loss, moments of unexpected strength — and of course, every holiday season since 1994.
To celebrate this formidable song catalog, Billboard has compiled a list of its staff’s 100 favorite Mariah Carey songs — only including our favorite version for each individual song — which take us on a journey unlike any other in pop history, and, three decades in, still has us feeling emotions deeper than we ever dreamed of. Read our ranking below, and check out a Spotify playlist of the entire list at the bottom.
100. “Forever” (Daydream, 1995)
A sweetly waltzing ballad of devotion, whose convincing throwback pop provided an early model for Yours Truly-era Ariana Grande. “Forever” wasn’t released as an official single — topping the Hot 100 for a combined 26 weeks with Daydream’s first three singles was perhaps sufficient chart dominance for one album cycle — but took over MTV anyway with its video, shot during her sold-out, fever-pitched live dates at the Tokyo Dome on the recent Daydream World Tour. Can’t say the victory lap wasn’t well-earned. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
99. “Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” (Glitter, 2001)
Another flashback jam, but a more literal one, as Carey takes on Cherrelle’s 1984 dance-pop gem “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” as her ‘80s-era Glitter avatar Billie Frank. Mariah, always a pop nerd at heart, handles the alluring-but-firm vocal with gleeful aplomb, while Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — producers on both original and cover — go absolutely nuts on the synths in the back. — A.U.
98. “Cruise Control” (feat. Damian Marley) (E=MC2, 2008)
Compared to its yin-yang E=MC2 partner track “O.O.C.,” this song pumps the brakes on any crazy romantic antics, no matter how smooth a guy can be, and warns MC to proceed with caution. With its reggae-fused beats and a guest appearance from genre great Damian Marley, “Cruise Control” is that carefree carpool anthem the Lambs can cue up, sit back and cruise to. — HERAN MAMO
97. “U Make Me Wanna” (Jadakiss feat. Mariah Carey, Kiss of Death, 2004)
Less than a year before Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi metamorphosis, she played hook-singer on this Jadakiss radio bid, which features a classic mid-‘00s Scott Storch beat and some delightfully breathy Mariah vocals on the “K-I-S-S… meeeeeee…” hook. It just missed the Hot 100’s top 20, presaging her much bigger chart comeback a year later. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
96. “When You Believe” (with Whitney Houston, #1s, 1998)
The Prince of Egypt may be a largely forgotten 1998 animated adaptation of the story of Moses, but the diva summit between Carey and Whitney Houston on its theme song was one of the music events of that year — and the two superstars did not disappoint, particularly on the song’s oversized climax. — J. Lipshutz
95. “One More Try” (Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, 2014)
Mariah has a long history of including a cover on the majority of her studio sets — particularly favoring big ballads that have proven enduring pop perennials. On this Elusive Chanteuse-era rendition of George Michael’s 1988 classic, she positively takes it to church, nailing the breathy despair of the original torch song. — GLENN ROWLEY
94. “Infinity” (#1 to Infinity, 2015)
Mariah loves taking on the cosmos in her show-stoppers: “Forever,” “Eternal,” “Infinity.” This semi-title track doesn’t quite have the pop lift of some of the other entries on her #1 to Infinity compilation, but it does have MC filling the spectral void with her peerless wail to let a guy know he’s cut off from her galactic glory: “Close the door, lose the key… there’s an end to infinity.” — A.U.
93. “How Much” (feat. Usher) (Rainbow, 1999)
Mariah plus Usher at the turn of the century — should’ve equalled about a dozen weeks at No. 1, no? Not quite: “How Much” was left as a Rainbow album cut, perhaps because its JD- and Bryan Michael Cox-co-helmed beat felt a little like TLC leftovers. But the frisky energy between its co-leads is giddy fun, and their interpolation of the “Me and My Girlfriend” hook beat Jay and Bey to the punch by three years. — A.U.
92. “The Distance” (feat. Ty Dolla $ign) (Caution, 2018)
A simmering ode to laughing at the haters who swore it would never last, “The Distance” demonstrates Carey’s adaptability to the tenets of modern R&B on 2018’s Caution. Ty Dolla $ign lends his signature warbling and Skrillex even snags a co-production credit on the sumptuous affair. — J. Lipshutz
91. “Sweetheart” (with JD) (#1s, 1998)
Another ‘80s cover, but an even deeper dig this time — for Rainy Davis’ 1987 synth-funk single, a minor hit on the R&B charts — and a better update, thanks in large part to the chirping beat and playful ad libs courtesy of co-star Jermaine Dupri. Mariah’s imprint is still definitely on the song — particularly on the bridge, with the bubbly synths clearing out for her uncharacteristically eerie coo, “A full moon is waiting in the twilight…” – A.U.
90. “You’re Mine (Eternal)” (Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, 2014)
“You’re Mine” being one of the advance singles from Me. I Am Mariah was a good indication that the LP was unlikely to return her to pop radio dominance. A twinkling, intimate ballad whose lyrics suggest heartbreak but whose feeling is pure domestic bliss — released while the EDM boom was still percolating — it stiffed on the Hot 100. But its delicate charm has given it a nice afterglow in the years since. — A.U.
89. “Subtle Invitation” (Charmbracelet, 2002)
“Subtle Invitation” was an almost entirely new sound for Mariah, with an organic, live soul feel that the singer absolutely floats over, filling in all who counted her out after the mess of Glitter, “If you happen to be somewhere listening/ You should know I’m still here.” The invitation might’ve ultimately been a little too subtle for unforgiving pop audiences, but the reminder was still appreciated. — A.U.
88. “Cry.” (Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, 2014)
Equal parts indulgent, vulnerable and emotive, “Cry.” might just be the most affecting album opener in Mimi’s post-Emancipation canon — perfectly setting the tone for all the sun-drenched nostalgia and warm whistle tone to come on the rest of Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse. — G.R.
87. “Prisoner” (Mariah Carey, 1990)
A glimmering freestyle banger buried at the end of her debut LP, “Prisoner” gives a fascinating glimpse at the direction Mariah’s early pop career could’ve gone if she’d kicked it off three or four years earlier. The ballads probably won her more Grammys and sold more albums, but she would’ve slayed a 103.5 KTU throwback weekend with a dozen more of these. — A.U.
86. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (Merry Christmas, 1994)
Has the loneliness of the holiday season ever sounded more, well, joyful? Darlene Love’s 1963 single has certainly stood the test of time, but there’s no denying that Mariah’s faithful update on the sax-laden slice of holiday heartsickness helped keep it in the top tier of bonafide Christmas classics. — G.R
85. “I Don’t” (feat. YG) (Non-album single, 2017)
One of Mariah’s most inspired musical lifts, flipping the heart-piercing chorus to Donell Jones’ indecisive turn-of-the-century ballad “Where I Wanna Be” into a mind-made-up kiss-off, while featured guest YG pleads his case in vain. And of course, Mimi also holds on to Donell’s classic “sweet-little-doo-do-dee-dee” scats from the original, her pop fandom shining through as always. — A.U.
84. “Twister” (Glitter, 2001)
“Twister” was a good enough metaphor for what a disruptive force 2001 was in Mariah Carey’s career — but the song of that name was a beautiful moment of calm in the eye of the storm, all warm keys and gorgeous multi-tracked harmonies and vulnerable lyrics, about a friend lost to suicide. It got little notice on the Glitter soundtrack; two decades later it sounds like something Frank Ocean might record. — A.U.
83. “I Don’t Wanna Cry” (Mariah Carey, 1990)
With guttural vocals, “I Don’t Wanna Cry” delivers a straightforward message about unbinding. For her fourth No. 1 single in as many tries, Mariah Carey left us smitten with a concentrated outpouring of emotions — a song of genuine sorrow anchored in a dynamic timbral range and flexible vocal control that cemented the multi-platinum success of her 1990 debut album. — PAMELA BUSTIOS
82. “The Impossible” (Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, 2009)
The-Dream and Tricky Stewart co-produced the majority of Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel with Mariah Carey, and on “The Impossible,” they come up with an almost unnervingly patient groove that’s equally alluring and alienating, as Mariah pledges her love and quotes Jodeci. Be sure to pair it with its subsequent reprise for full six-minute, Weeknd-predicting effect. — A.U.
81. “Oh Santa!” (Merry Christmas II You, 2010)
How do you possibly build on the legacy of one of the best-selling Christmas albums of all time? If you’re Mariah, you start with “Oh Santa!,” another up-tempo plea for love during the holidays — this time calling directly on the Man With the Bag for help over jingle bells, handclaps and an earworm chant from some seriously sassy back-up singers. — G.R.
80. “Side Effects” (feat. Young Jeezy) (E=MC2, 2008)
Under a grinding synth bass and a gruff intro from Jeezy is a surprisingly vulnerable, poetically rendered account of the lingering traumas from her past relationships — with a few can’t-miss references to her marriage to record exec Tommy Mottola. — NOLAN FEENEY
79. “Do You Think of Me” (“Dreamlover” single, 1993)
Mariah was certainly no stranger to ballads in her early career, but few were as steamy as this “Dreamlover” B-side, with its thick sonic stew of synth bass, reverbed drums and faux-strings. “When the nights are dark and cold, do you think of me?” Mariah asks in a breathy plea, audibly confident that she already knows the answer. — A.U.
78. “Stay the Night” (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005)
While Jermaine Dupri was the big winner for his production work on The Emancipation of Mimi, Kanye West — a then-ascendant rap star in between his first and second albums — notched a notable W by teaming with Carey to co-produce the lush “Stay The Night.” Built around a vocal sample of The 45 King’s “Who’s in the House” and crackling piano loop, the song is tied together by a playful vocal from Carey, as she debates giving into temptation with an old flame. — J. Lipshutz
77. “The Wind” (Emotions, 1991)
If you ever wondered what Mariah Carey would sound like as a jazz vocalist, check out this Emotions closer — with an unusually ghostly, distant-sounding Mariah tremble wafting through its brushed drums, synth strings and Russell Freeman-sampled piano. Not ultimately where her vocal strengths lied, but as a one-time detour, it’s fascinating, and undeniably affecting. — A.U.
76. “With You” (Caution, 2018)
Built around a warmly cascading piano progression, Caution’s plush love letter of a lead single finds Mariah looking back on how a new relationship saved her following a turbulent heartbreak. Even if it’s not specifically about her former backup-dancer-turned-longtime-love Bryan Tanaka, the song feels scientifically engineered to lay on the nostalgic warm fuzzies — down to the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony shout-out and “Breakdown” reference on the pre-chorus. — G.R.
75. “Without You” (Music Box, 1993)
The wonderfully desperate Music Box ballad was originally written and recorded by the British rock band Badfinger in 1970, and made famous by Harry Nilsson a year later. In Carey’s hands, a series of gentle keyboard notes drop into a cavernous space where Carey holds court, slowly crescendoing from the level of a hum at the beginning of the song to a wail as she cries out, “I can’t live if living is without you!” Carey loves a cover, and this impassioned, gospel-infused take is one of her best. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
74. “Say Somethin’” (feat. Snoop Dogg) (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005)
Though superproducers The Neptunes excelled in Mariah Carey’s brand of Pop&B, they only ever linked up with her for a pair of songs, and just one single — The Emancipation of Mimi’s Snoop Dogg-featuring “Say Somethin’.” Though the song didn’t approach the blockbuster success of the set’s other singles, it remains one of the project’s most enjoyable cuts, thanks to its breezy synth shuffle and MC’s easy chemistry with the always-adaptable Snoop. — A.U.
73. “Thirsty” (Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, 2014)
With a Hit-Boy produced beat that sounded a little too reminiscent of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Paris,” some critics thought Carey was, well, thirsty for a mainstream hit with this promo single. But of course, nobody sells a three-minute shade fest like the woman who gave us “I don’t know her.” — N.F.
72. “Till the End of Time” (Emotions, 1991)
Carey’s exquisite vocals achingly embrace the joy and pain that come with love on this melodic track from her aptly titled 1991 sophomore set. Between her voice and the song’s piercing lyrics (“’Cause without you nothing’s real / You’re the reason that I feel”), the ballad sounds just as fresh and vital as it did almost 30 years ago. — GAIL MITCHELL
71. “I Wish You Well” (E=MC2, 2008)
Pity the fool who dares cross Ms. Carey. Closing out 2008’s excellent E=MC2, “I Wish You Well” is the kind of kiss-off the queen of shade does best. Directly addressing those who’ve wronged her, Mariah stays nothing but graceful and gracious, magnanimously quoting scripture while making it clear that no weapon forged against her has a chance in hell of prospering. — G.R.
70. “I’ve Been Thinking About You” (Music Box, 1993)
Even way back in 1993, two years before the “Fantasy” remix with ODB, Carey was already showing signs of her eventual slide toward hip-pop. Case in point: this bouncy dance tune from Music Box that mixed new jack swing with a little boom bap, which she co-produced with David Cole and Robert Clivillés of C+C Music Factory. The thumping beat was atypical for Carey at the time, but she showed that her balladeer voice was nimble enough to keep pace with the more upbeat dance number. — C.W.
69. “I’m That Chick” (E=MC2, 2008)
Is there room in contemporary top 40 radio’s disco revival to give this one another shot? “I’m That Chick” never got a single release, but its plush electric piano groove is beyond irresistible, and Mariah glides through it like she’s 12 years old again, taking a couple laps around the roller rink. Maybe get Dua Lipa on the remix? — A.U
68. “My Love” (The-Dream feat. Mariah Carey, Love vs. Money, 2009)
When The-Dream stepped out from the studio and into the spotlight as an R&B singer in the late 2000s, he did so with a full rolodex: Rihanna, Kanye West and Carey all guest on his first album. The latter stepped up for “My Love,” a genuinely sweet duet with a monumental high note in its waning seconds. — J. Lipshutz
67. “Angels Cry” (feat. Ne-Yo) (Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, 2009)
Justice for Angels Advocate! A Ne-Yo-assisted duet of this fan favorite track was originally released in 2010 as one of the lead singles for the planned remix companion to Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. And while the studio set was eventually scrapped a week before its postponed due date — thereby cementing its mythic status among Mariah’s most ardent fans — at least the Lambs still have the original studio version to nurse their heartbreak over the lost LP. — G.R.
66. “Giving Me Life” (feat. Slick Rick & Blood Orange) (Caution, 2018)
Not a lot of albums could unite presences as disparate as ‘80s story-rapper Slick Rick and ‘10s alt-R&B maestro Blood Orange and have it feel natural, but such was the Big Mood of Caution, an immersive set of warm R&B vibes that absorbed all guests into its tranquil melancholy. “Giving Me Life” was the LP’s centerpiece, a six-minute, Babs- and Marilyn-referencing flashback that feels like leafing through a photo album by a warm fire. — A.U.
65. “Heat” (E=MC2 bonus track, 2008)
A good argument for the underrated strength of E=MC2 is that this absurdly likeable hands-off-my-man cut couldn’t even make the proper tracklist, being relegated to bonus track status. Deserved better: Not many artists could weave Wu-Tang and N.W.A lifts into a sing-song chorus that still packs a fairly literal punch, but in this case, Mariah is indeed tha 1. — A.U.
64. “Daydream Interlude (Fantasy Sweet Dub Mix)” (Daydream, 1995)
More a rebirth than a remix, this beguiling iteration of “Fantasy” from NYC club legend David Morales was such a knockout that it graduated from CD maxi single fodder to album tracklist before Daydream dropped. Come for the unstoppable beats, stay for the whistle tone. — JOE LYNCH
63. “Boy (I Need You) (Street Remix)” (feat. Cam’Ron, Juelz Santana & Freeway, 2002)
Bold for Mariah to not only recycle the hook from Cam’Ron’s “Oh Boy” earlier that year — a top five Hot 100 hit in its own right — but invite Cam himself back on the track. But Mimi’s pop enthusiasm won out again on the charming cut, even more so when she doubled down by inviting co-Diplomat Juelz Santana (and Philly rapper Freeway as well, why not) on the remix, where she basically stands back and plays hypewoman for them for the second half. — A.U.
62. “One and Only” (feat. Twista) (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005)
That Mariah and Twista ended up collaborating was a happy accident — according to Carey, they were talking backstage and realized they’d both been writing to same the beat — but totally fitting, as Carey spends most of the song bemoaning her love life with her own impressive rapid-fire delivery. It’s like if the pre-chorus of “We Belong Together” was spun off into its track. — N.F.
61. “Silent Night” (Merry Christmas, 1994)
Yes, we’ve all heard “Silent Night” before, and perhaps have sung it in a school chorus around the holidays — but leave it to MC to take an often sleepy standard and kick it into the next gear. Carey’s airy vocal runs throughout the track keep it exciting, while the backing choir cements the song’s ecclesiastical core. The result is a sonorous ode to the story behind the most wonderful time of the year. — RANIA ANIFTOS
60. “Save the Day” (feat. Ms. Lauryn Hill) (The Rarities, 2020)
Only Mariah could meet the current moment by dusting off a nearly decade-old work-in-progress from deep within her vault. Perfectly interpolating a sample of the Fugees’ 1996 classic “Killing Me Softly,” the icon’s message on the lead single from The Rarities is crystal clear: rise up Lambily, because no one is going to save us but ourselves. Mariah harmonizing with Ms. Lauryn Hill’s famous la-la-las may be the main attraction, but the lesson that we’re all in this together when it comes to the fate of humanity is worth sticking around for. — G.R.
59. “Butterfly” (Butterfly, 1997)
Written during Carey’s separation from her then husband Tommy Mottola, “Butterfly” is a song about great personal loss, but also the important act of personal reconciliation. Her vocals initially convey sadness and vulnerability, but once she hits the soaring chorus, you can’t help be uplifted by the strength and resilience of her resolve. It’s the kind of song fans come back to over and over again during tough times, as it helps to soothe the acceptance of change. — SAMANTHA XU
58. “For the Record” (E=MC2, 2008)
This goes out to all dem babies who can recognize that this E=MC2 fan favorite is a fundamental ode to Mariah’s biggest hits — with references in its gently swaying bridge to “Always Be My Baby,” “My All,” “Underneath the Stars,” “Can’t Let Go” and “Honey.” — H.M.
57. “Portrait” (Caution, 2018)
Mariah’s most intimate album to date saved its most personal track for last, with a wrecking-ball piano ballad about how Mariah remains plagued by her past, even as she attempts to put on a brave face for the sake of her kids and/or her fans (“Just conceal myself and hide a portrait of my life”). If The Meaning of Mariah Carey is half this revelatory or affecting, folks’ll get their money’s worth. — A.U.
56. “I Still Believe / Pure Imagination (Damizza Remix)” (feat. Krayzie Bone & Da Brat) (“I Still Believe” single, 1998)
Mariah Carey’s original cover of Brenda K. Starr’s “I Still Believe” was a faithful tribute to the singer who helped Mariah get her big break, but the Damizza Remix — which blends “Believe” with “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and adds Krayzie Bone and Da Brat to the mix — is entirely its own seductive concoction. The less said about the video, starring Mariah “as a peasant girl in a Mexican village as she tends to her goats and gathers water for her family,” the better. — A.U
55. “I Stay in Love” (E=MC2, 2008)
A shame this lovelorn ballad didn’t get the love it deserved at radio at the time of its release. On paper, the song follows a tried-and-true formula: Mariah channels the same sorrowful emotion she harnessed so expertly on No. 1 hits like “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us,” but she sets it apart with an even more commanding vocal performance this time around. Meanwhile, its moody, Sin City-set video — starring Mimi as a brokenhearted showgirl — proved to be a harbinger of the (multiple!) successful Vegas residencies to come. — G.R.
54. “Fourth of July” (Butterfly, 1997)
The tradition of songs named after Independence Day is a proud one, and obviously one with particular significance to Mariah after declaring her own independence with the recording of her Butterfly album. But her “Fourth of July” isn’t about achieving autonomy — rather, it’s a memory of a close encounter with a one-time love, an impossibly vivid recollection with birds chirping and stars twinkling (probably) in the background, as Mimi sighs in blissed-out nostalgia. — A.U.
53. “Loverboy” (feat. Cameo) (Glitter, 2001)
It seemed to be open season on Mariah in 2001. Not merely content to gloat over the box office failure of Glitter, haters pushed a narrative that the soundtrack’s lead single was also a flop because it hit… No. 2 on the Hot 100? In hindsight, “Loverboy” is a deliciously goofy (“Raspberries! Strawberries! All those good things!”) slice of slinky, Cameo-sampling pop-funk that deserves more respect; no, it didn’t go No. 1, but it still emerged as 2001’s best-selling single. — JOE LYNCH
52. “Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)” (Rainbow, 1999)
The number of Mariah Carey songs that could conceivably be subtitled “Mariah’s Theme” is a pretty long one, but stripped-down Rainbow anthem “Can’t Take That Away” gets the honors for its deeply felt message of personal and professional perseverance. It certainly merits the prestige treatment with its choice of collaborators: mega-ballad connoisseur Diane Warren was a co-writer, while piano-led R&B experts Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis co-produced. — A.U.
51. “Now That I Know” (Music Box, 1993)
This Music Box deep cut doesn’t so much make the case that Mariah Carey should have made an album of ’90s gospel-inflected house music, as much as it demonstrates that in 1993, this very ‘93-appropriate goal was well within her reach. If you’re hungry for MC club fare beyond the obvious picks, this one’s for you. — J. Lynch
50. “Thank God I Found You (Make It Last Remix)” (feat. Nas & Joe) (“Thank God I Found You” single, 2000)
“Thank God I Found You” wasn’t one of Mariah Carey’s most memorable Hot 100-toppers, but turn-of-the-century Mariah often improved singles with her second-pass edits. While enlisting fellow New York icon Nas to join her and Joe on the song’s remix was a clutch move, her and producer DJ Clue’s greatest stroke of inspiration was to sample Keith Sweat’s late-’80s slow jam “Make It Last Forever” — whose melody Mariah previously glanced at with “Can’t Let Go” — ensuring long-time fans were extra grateful to find this new spin on the Rainbow ballad. — A.U.
49. “O.O.C.” (E=MC2, 2008)
Mariah made up her own lingo for “out of control,” which she told Billboard in 2008 was inspired by Jay-Z’s advice to “use some of your phrases in your music.” And the result became a delectable club staple that slips the ingredient of chaos into her love modus operandi, paired with a few of the romance languages (Italian, Spanish and French) slipping off her tongue in the second verse. — H.M.
48. “GTFO” (Caution, 2018)
It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t Mariah Carey singing the refrain “how ’bout you get the f–k out” without losing their cool or veering into camp, but R&B’s Nuance Queen deftly dances the line between late-night sensuality and LOLs with her Caymus Cab Sauv-dry wit. — J. Lynch
47. “Love Takes Time” (Mariah Carey, 1990)
A sweet earworm that retains a gloomy feel throughout, “Love Takes Time” is one of Mariah’s dreamiest and most timeless ballads of the early ‘90s. It explodes into a desperate cry of remorse with Carey’s high-pitched vocals, floundered in hopelessness, bookended by twinkling keyboards and a gentle bass. — P.B.
46. “Miss You Most (At Christmastime)” (Merry Christmas, 1994)
Considering the inescapable, near-universal adoration for “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” it could be easy to forget that Mariah actually co-wrote two other original tracks for 1994’s Merry Christmas. This forlorn ballad — which packs an emotional gut-punch for anyone who’s ever been apart from someone they love during the holiday season — was even released as the official second single off the LP, proving that the Queen of All Things Festive can deliver a blue Christmas just as easily as she spreads her signature brand of holiday cheer. — G.R.
45. “Lead the Way” (Glitter, 2001)
While critics, fans and even Mariah herself have changed their tune regarding Glitter in recent years thanks to the viral #JusticeForGlitter campaign, “Lead the Way” should be considered a top-rate ballad in the singer-songwriter’s canon even without the benefit of revisionist history. As the song builds, Mimi switches back and forth from her airy head voice to her powerful belt, before unleashing a masterclass display of vocal gymnastics with a truly mind-blowing climax. — G.R.
44. “I Know What You Want” (with Busta Rhymes feat. Flipmode Squad) (The Remixes, 2003)
Released to little fanfare in 2002, Charmbracelet was the rare Carey full-length that failed to spawn a significant hit single — but “I Know What You Want,” the slinky and seductive collaboration between the singer and rap great Busta Rhymes, was a return to commercial form the following year. Streaking to No. 3 on the Hot 100 and eventually making its way onto Carey’s The Remixes compilation in 2003, the song features more muted performances from Carey and the typically boisterous Rhymes, to great effect. — J. Lipshutz
43. “Bliss” (Rainbow, 1999)
It’s a risk for an artist who spent a decade reaching the ecstatic highs that Mariah Carey scraped in the ‘90s to give a song a literal title like “Bliss,” but this Rainbow deep cut earns it with this slow-and-low jam accented by Mimi’s rapturous whistle-register cries. It’s Minnie Riperton-worthy, a compliment that Carey herself certainly wouldn’t take lightly. — A.U.
42. “Fly Like a Bird” (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005)
When Mariah made her return to the Grammy stage after an eight-year absence — a holdout thought to be largely inspired by the controversial shutout of Daydream and its singles at the ‘96 awards — it wasn’t one of her huge Mimi singles that earned the majority of her performance time, but the closing “Fly Like a Bird.” Not hard to see why: The Deniece Williams-echoing ballad reaches near-gospel levels of elevation, feeling more triumphant the further Mariah digs into its soaring refrain. — A.U.
41. “Through the Rain (Full Intention Radio Edit)” (“Through the Rain” single, 2002)
Charmbracelet’s lead single “Through the Rain” failed to connect with pop audiences, stalling at No. 81 on the Hot 100, but it did top Billboard’s Dance Club Songs listing — thanks in no small part to English house duo Full Intention’s slamming edit. Though the original version is unusually melodically nondescript for an MC lead single, the 4/4 pulse, popping bass and squelching synths give the anthem of perseverance the musical strength and identity it deserves, turning it from a watery ballad into something near Mariah’s own “I Will Survive.” — A.U.
40. “Can’t Let Go” (Emotions, 1991)
Carey’s breathless delivery makes a fine pairing with the gauzy production and gentle backing chorus that encircle her on the third track on Emotions, which became her first single not to top the Hot 100 (though it still peaked at No. 2). The accompanying black-and-white video shows Carey lamenting her lost love in a skin-tight black halter dress and diamonds, as images of roses drift across the frame. Basic though the visuals may be, the late key change and the cameo from Carey’s whistle register hit like a white wine spritzer on a hot day. — C.W.
39. “You Don’t Know What to Do” (feat. Wale) (Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, 2014)
The sonic signature of the Elusive Chanteuse era is undeniably steeped in the golden glow of yesteryear, and Mariah threw it all the way back to Studio 54 with this disco revival gem, which served as the album’s third single. With a capable assist from collaborator Wale, the star liberates herself from the grasp of a fading flame over sparkling strings and a sample of Inner Life’s 1979 club hit “I’m Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair),” effectively channeling the vitality of Jocelyn Brown in the process. — G.R.
38. “Your Girl” (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005)
Anticipation and longing are hallmarks of many a great pop song, but sometimes you just have to cut to the point, as Carey does with this gleeful heads-up to a lover — “I’m gonna make you want to get with me tonight” — and also with her voice, which reaches peak belt-it-out mode by the fourth line. — N.F.
37. “It’s Like That” (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005)
“It’s Like That” is easily one of the strongest and most-resounding album openers from the 2000s. The party-starting staple serves as a theme song for Carey’s comeback album and discovery of her artistic freedom. “It’s a special occasion/ Mimi’s emancipation/ A cause for celebration/ I ain’t gonna let nobody’s drama bother me,” she proclaims in the second verse, putting the previous years’ bumps in the road behind her. — R.A.
36. “Bye Bye” (E=MC2, 2008)
This universal, tear-jerking eulogy is for the listeners who lost somebody in their lives and need consolation. “Bye Bye” bids adieu to them, and ultimately to the song’s subject: her father Alfred Roy, who died of cancer during the recording process of her 2002 album Charmbracelet. She laments that Roy “never got to see me back at No. 1” — referencing her 2005 comeback album The Emancipation of Mimi, which had just gone there on the Billboard 200. — H.M.
35. “If It’s Over” (MTV Unplugged, 1992)
After Carey turned down a request from legendary singer-songwriter Carole King to cover King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” fearing comparison to her idol Aretha Franklin’s rendition, Carey and King got together and came up with a brand-new take-them-to-church song for the vocal powerhouse, “If It’s Over.” “Won’t you talk to me/ This is so out of hand,” Carey coos to a cold-shouldered lover, while backing voices — not unlike those that sing out “da-doop” on “Natural Woman” — and organ flourishes give the track soulful oomph. The Emotions version is strong, but Carey’s rendition on her 1992 MTV Unplugged EP is the real showstopper. — C.W.
34. “Endless Love” (with Luther Vandross) (Songs, 1994)
First made famous by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross in 1981, this ultimate love song became a next-generation classic in the hands of Luther Vandross and Carey in 1994. Vandross was recording his covers album Songs when he tapped the singer to join him. And listening to these love whisperers’ soothing harmonies, it’s easy to understand why — their vocal interplay mesmerizes as Vandross’ velvety, soaring tenor dances intimately with Carey’s angelic, five-octave alto. Just as hypnotic: the pair’s riffs and runs. — G.M.
33. “Don’t Forget About Us” (The Emancipation of Mimi Ultra Platinum Edition, 2005)
After spending 14 weeks at No. 1 with “We Belong Together,” could Mariah recapture the lost-love magic once more with this bonus single from the Mimi Ultra Platinum Edition? Impressively, yes: “Don’t Forget About Us” was nearly as devastating in its pleas for an old flame to not let their relationship fade away in the rearview, and it even packed a quasi-rap breakdown before its climactic chorus, Carey tearfully proclaiming, “I’ll bet she can’t do it like me/ She’ll never be MC.” This one only spent two frames at No. 1, but the point was made. — A.U.
32. “Caution” (Caution, 2018)
Mariah refrained from bringing down the house on Caution, instead letting understatement carry the day, but the songs still packed a punch — or at the very least, the threat of one, as on the set’s gently finger-wagging title track. “Proceed with caution, but don’t make me wait/ Before too long, it might just fade away,” she warns a truant and trying lover, with a nodding quick-hit guitar lick adding whatever extra emphasis is needed. — A.U.
31. “Make It Happen” (Emotions, 1991)
With its driving dance beat and gospel touches, this joyous 1992 hit split the difference between Saturday night and Sunday morning. The song works as both a motivational anthem for secular listeners (“If you believe in yourself enough/ And know what you want/ You’re gonna make it happen”) and an unusually direct, uncoded expression of faith for religious listeners (“And if you get down on your knees at night/ And pray to the Lord/ He’s gonna make it happen”). Carey cowrote the song with Robert Clivillés and David Cole, architects of C+C Music Factory, which had a few big hits of their own the previous year. – PAUL GREIN
30. “H.A.T.E.U. (So So Def Remix)” (feat. OJ da Juiceman, Big Boi & Gucci Mane) (“H.A.T.E.U.” single, 2009)
Truly a B.L.A.S.T. A few years before Ciara and the Running Man Challenge made Ghost Town DJs’ mid-’90s Atlanta classic “My Boo” a phenomenon again, Mariah Carey used its immortal freestyle-funk groove to bring her Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel ballad “H.A.T.E.U.” to new life, with a trio of ATL rappers joining in the fun. Neither version of the song was a hit, sadly, but the So So Def “H.A.T.E.U.” remains a much-loved gem for Mimi acolytes. — A.U.
29. “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time” (E=MC2, 2008)
From the playful bounce of its opening notes, this breezy single from E=MC2 announced itself as a serious contender for Song of the Summer back in 2008. A far cry from the coy come-ons of “Touch My Body” and angelic earnestness of “Bye Bye,” the laid-back bop finds Mariah at her most hopelessly devoted, practically shouting it from the rooftops that, this time, her love is here to stay. Unfortunately, the swooning sing-along failed to make much of an impact on the charts — even with an official remix featuring T.I., it only peaked at No. 58 on the Hot 100 — but its giddy, effervescent appeal is eternal. — G.R.
28. “Up Out My Face (Remix)” (feat. Nicki Minaj) (Non-album single, 2009)
Even though this version of “Up Out My Face” was originally meant to be included on the Angel Advocate remix album that never materialized, the buoyant clapback anthem with Mariah and her future American Idol co-star / frenemy took off with its own set of wings. The Nicki Minaj-assisted hit serves up a double whammy that hoisted the song onto the Hot 100, like both stars’ scornful hand gesture from the dolled-up music video. — H.M.
27. “Underneath the Stars” (Daydream, 1995)
Mariah often cites this dreamy love song as one of her personal favorites, and the final single from 1995’s Daydream holds a special place in fans’ hearts as well — in large part due to the story behind its fabled music video. The singer revealed via social media back in 2012 that she filmed the visual in England and France, but it was never released. Then earlier this summer, Mariah finally shared a brief snippet of the clip as part of the roll-out for her ongoing #MC30 celebration. For the past 24 years, Lambs have made do with the transcendent live performance from Mariah’s 1996 Tokyo Dome concert in its place, but could the long-lost video finally be about to see the light of day? — G.R.
26. “Petals” (Rainbow, 1999)
Even among the most-personal songs in Mariah’s catalog, “Petals” stands alone for how deep it cuts, with revealing lyrics not just about the crumbling of her marriage with Tommy Mottola (and her guilt over leaving Mottola’s kids from a previous relationship) but about her long-time estrangement from sister Allison. Coming towards the end of her mostly effervescent Rainbow album, the brutal piano ballad lands a heavy blow, but understandably shows how the response can’t always be ‘80s samples and cheerful pop-funk when heartbreakers get the best of MC. — A.U.
25. “My All (David Morales Def Club Remix)” (“My All” single, 1998)
While “disco diva” was never the main persona that pop fans would associate with ‘90s Mariah Carey, her single remixes showed a parallel career track where she was nothing less than the decade’s Donna Summer — with David Morales playing her Giorgio Moroder. One of their finest team-ups was on the dancefloor edit of Butterfly single “My All,” amping up the song’s burning intensity by stacking pulsing hi-hats and syncopated organs underneath it, and punctuating its last-call lustiness with every backing shout of “JUST ONE MORE NIGHT!” — A.U.
24. “I’ll Be There” (feat. Trey Lorenz) (MTV Unplugged, 1992)
Mariah Carey is a queen of collaborations, performing through the years with other artists on more than 30 singles. So it’s worth remembering her first hit duet was this 1992 Jackson 5 cover featuring a then-little-known Trey Lorenz “from an old-fashioned, singing-in-the church kind-of-family,” his A&R director, Lee Danay, said at the time. Released on a seven-track EP sampling Carey’s acoustic “MTV Unplugged” performance, the heart-fluttering cover was a No. 1 hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary chart, and helped establish Carey’s bonafides as a live performer. — THOM DUFFY
23. “Someday” (Mariah Carey, 1990)
On her eponymous 1990 debut album, Mariah captured the glory of romance in “Vision of Love,” the regret of hurting your boo on “Love Takes Time” and the simmering indignance of getting dumped on “Someday.” Favoring self-assurance over sulking, the latter song is a bubbly five-octave warning that “the one you gave away will be the only one you’re wishing for.” Prescient words indeed, as the track delivered Mariah her third consecutive Hot 100 No. 1 hit, proved she was as proficient at sparkling, upbeat dance-pop as show-stopping big-balladry, and demonstrated why she was one of the era’s most important emerging pop stars. — KATIE BAIN
22. “It’s a Wrap (Remix)” (feat. Mary J. Blige) (Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse Deluxe Edition, 2014)
Carey originally called “It’s a Wrap” on her toxic relationship in 2009, but tapped fellow R&B legend Mary J. Blige to help shoo the boy away in the song’s powerful 2014 remix. Besides just the incredible combination of two musical icons on one song and the sheer vocal talent, perhaps the best part of “It’s a Wrap” is Blige hyping her collaborator out of hanging onto a man gone sour: “You better than that — you Mariah Carey, remember?” — R.A.
21. “A No No” (Caution, 2018)
Caution was mostly about restrained grooves and hypnotic vibes, but c’mon, you know Mariah didn’t forget how to do big singles based on pop classics of decades past, right? “A No No” was the album’s prime example of the latter area of expertise, and one of her most fun songs in ages. Based on Lil Kim’s and Lil Cease’s Bad Boy banger “Crush on You,” with lyrics referencing everything from Gilligan’s Island to music biz lawyer Ed Shapiro, it’s a kiss-off-and-a-half to a guy who should darn well know better by now after three decades. — A.U.
20. “Hero” (Music Box, 1993)
There is a reason why “Hero” remains one of Mariah’s top songs on streaming services after more than 25 years. The deeply personal ballad is timeless with its call for people to find the strength within themselves to keep going through the toughest of times. For nearly three decades, Carey has belted out the versatile and inspirational song to mark momentous occasions, including in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and at the inaugural ball for President Barack Obama in 2009. — TAYLOR MIMS
19. “Obsessed” (Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, 2009)
Mimi’s diss track about Eminem, who was taking shots at her and ex-husband Nick Cannon at the time, is the pinnacle of pop star infatuation anthems — and naturally, the Lambs were obsessed (and still are, considering the TikTok trend). The-Dream’s call, “Will the real MC, please step to the mic?” interpolates Slim Shady’s famous one-liner while proving Mariah’s musical competence with her all-too-fitting initials. And who could forget when she crossd-ressed to play her own stalker in the music video? — H.M.
18. “Breakdown” (feat. Bone Thugs n Harmony) (Butterfly, 1997)
Carey had been flirting with hip-hop for years, but she fully embraced the genre on 1997’s Butterfly, with rap guest stars and bigger beats to show that the girl next door could hang. One such song was the sultry “Breakdown,” a sonic riff on Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s wildly popular “Tha Crossroads.” Krayzie Bone and Wishbone contributed verses, and Carey traded her usually blasting vocals for a blend of spitting and singing as she worked through lyrics about keeping a brave face in the midst of a crumbling relationship. But this was still a Carey song, so by the end, her more restrained performance gave way to an explosive vocal improvisation that revealed the emotional heat behind her cool exterior. — C.W.
17. “Migrate” (feat. T-Pain) (E=MC2, 2008)
Ever wondered what Mariah Carey’s take on Britney Spears’ Blackout would sound like? The opening track on her 2008 LP offers a glimpse, with a disorienting, strobe-lit beat from Danja and an Auto-Tuned assist from T-Pain — though you won’t mistake this song for any other diva’s thanks to Carey’s opening flex of her whistle register. — N.F.
16. “Anytime You Need a Friend (C&C Club Version)” (“Anytime You Need a Friend” single, 1994)
Along with David Morales, the dance producers that Mariah Carey had the deepest connection with were David Cole and Robert Clivillés, the “C&C” who helped turn up the BPM on Mariah’s Emotions LP. After also co-helming a couple album cuts on Music Box, they took a second spin on this single from the set, bringing its gospel-pop heft to the club in epic, ten-plus-minute fashion, running back Mariah’s re-recorded chorus until it elevates far above the dancefloor. The remix took on new significance with Cole’s death in 1995 — which also helped inspire one of MC’s biggest hits on her next album. — A.U.
15. “Shake It Off” (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005)
Carey gets her bounce on with this syncopated, feel-good nod to female empowerment. Her sultry, no-tears approach to drop-kicking a cheating man is one of the highlights from arguably her career-defining album. Spiked with dashes of pop and hip-hop, the R&B track hits the ground running as co-writer/co-producer Jermaine Dupri urges “Everybody just bounce, bounce.” Then Mariah steps in to break it down for the ladies (and gents) with pointed yet fun lyrics that also brought a popular 1978 TV ad back into the zeitgeist. “I gotta shake, shake it off / Just like the Calgon commercial / I really gotta get up outta here / And go somewhere,” purrs Mimi. It’s consummate Carey — right down to the high-note flourishes at the end. — G.M.
14. “The Roof (Back in Time) (Mobb Deep Extended Version)” (“The Roof” single, 1998)
“The Roof” was already one of Mariah’s most alluring, mysterious and entrancing singles even before she revealed its origins to be in a scandalous moment with a baseball Hall of Famer. Repurposing the beat from Mobb Deep’s East Coast hip-hop standard-bearer “Shook Ones Part II,” the song is a flashback to a rainy, one-night rooftop dalliance that feels hazy and yearning and blushing, like all the best short-lived close encounters. And of course, Mariah invited Prodigy and Havoc themselves to appear on the song’s remix, officially leaving listeners stuck off the realness. Mariah, Mobb Deep and Jeter: How much more ‘90s New York can you get? — A.U.
13. “Vision of Love” (Mariah Carey, 1990)
Talk about making a strong first impression: Carey’s sleek debut single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1990 and later won a Grammy for best pop vocal performance, female. (It was also nominated for record and song of the year.) Rhett Lawrence and Narada Michael Walden produced the classy single, which gave Carey just enough space to show off her remarkable vocal range (without, you know, overdoing it). In the space of three minutes and 22 seconds, Carey announced that there was a new contender for top female vocalist honors, not just of the year, but of all time. — P.G.
12. “Heartbreaker” (feat. Jay-Z) (Rainbow, 1999)
A year after her divorce from Tommy Mottola was finalized, an officially freed-up Mariah leaned further into the full spectrum of her musical identity via Rainbow. Her seventh studio album, Rainbow continued Mariah’s growing embrace of hip-hop and R&B, opening with an effervescent, Stacy Lattisaw-sampling ode to the kind of man who makes you the good kind of crazy, with the titular bad boy played by none other than Jay Z. While “Heartbreaker” was evocative of earlier hits like “Honey” and “Fantasy,” Jay’s five-star guest verse and the irresistible singalong chorus brought the song to a new level, and helped Carey score her 14th Hot 100 No. 1. — K.B.
11. “Touch My Body” (E=MC2, 2008)
It should come as no surprise that the woman who soaked in a hot tub with a Jack Russell Terrier on MTV Cribs would come out with a salacious tune called “Touch My Body” nearly 20 years into her career. As popular music moved away from the silky R&B of the 1990s, so did Carey — who delivered the cheeky pop gem about sexual fantasies and explicit recordings as the lead single for her eleventh studio album E=MC². The charming “Touch My Body” became Carey’s 18th number one single on the Hot 100, and her final such chart-topper for over a decade. — T.M.
10. “#Beautiful” (feat. Miguel) (Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, 2013)
The music video for “#Beautiful” features Carey on the back of a motorcycle being driven by a leather jacket-clad Miguel, speeding through dirt roads in slow motion. The visual essentially brings the first two lines of the song to life, but it also fits the mood of “#Beautful” perfectly: sensual, sunlit, classic in its old-Hollywood vibe, carefree in the face of a little danger. Miguel, who was coming off the breakthrough success of “Adorn,” sounds effortlessly crisp as a duet partner for Carey, who halts the breeziness with some delicious passion: “Don’t stop ’till you thrill me, oh, how you thrill me!” A top 20 hit, “#Beautiful” is a 2010s essential for Carey — and no, you still can’t forget the hashtag when talking about it. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
9. “Honey” (Butterfly, 1997)
Most divas who made mid-’90s overtures to rap came across as dilettantes, but when Mariah paired with Puffy for the hip-hop-flavored Butterfly lead single in 1997, it was clear the genre was in her DNA (MimiNA?) all along. From the confident come-hither coos to the effortless adlibs — to the cinematic video featuring MC as a Bond-like secret agent — “Honey” made it obvious that Mariah had been dripping in the genre’s swagger from the start, sticking to the No. 1 spot for three weeks. — J. Lynch
8. “Dreamlover” (Music Box, 1993)
As the title suggests, “Dreamlover” is one of the most ethereal singles in Carey’s catalogue. Soaring harmonies weaved with the chanteuse’s characteristic whistle tones check off all the boxes for an MC classic, complete with hopelessly romantic lyrics that paint the picture for the ultimate lovestruck fantasy. The 1993 Hot 100-topper’s thumping beat and Emotions sample, combined with Carey’s effortless vocals, add a layer of nostalgia that fittingly generates a daydream for a simpler time to come and take us away. — R.A.
7. “Vanishing” (Mariah Carey, 1990)
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that “Vanishing” was never released as a single off of Mariah’s self-titled debut album. “Vision of Love” had the first impression, “Love Takes Time” had the heartache. “Someday” had the attitude and “I Don’t Wanna Cry” had the schmaltz — but “Vanishing” had the vocal chops, dahhlings. Perhaps more than any other song on her debut, the intimate torch song puts the then-20-year-old newcomer’s vocal prowess on full display. The track’s oscillating melody checks every box of classic Mariah balladry, giving her ample space to show off her signature melisma from low register to whistle tone, while its lyrics hint at the penchant for sophisticated wordplay that would come to define her songwriting in the decades that followed. There’s power and promise in the song’s production as well, as it marks the first studio recording the legend ever produced entirely on her own — demonstrating that Mariah’s quest for full creative control over her music, her craft and her voice was firmly cemented in the bedrock of her artistry from the very beginning. — G.R.
6. “One Sweet Day” (w/ Boyz II Men) (Daydream, 1995)
While the achievement was a mighty one, the fact that it topped the Hot 100 for a then-record 16 weeks (since tied by “Despacito” and bettered by “Old Town Road,” of course) has the danger of reducing “One Sweet Day” to just the answer to a trivia question. Really, it’s simply one of the greatest singles of the ‘90s: an event vocal showcase for two of the preeminent vocal artists of the decade, but one whose jawdropping showiness never dwarfs its genuine emotion — inspired by real loss on both sides, and heartbreakingly evident in every run, harmony and high note. The towering chorus is the biggest wallop, but the true tear-jerking comes with the bookending line, “Sorry I never told you/ All I wanted to say” — as simple a summation of the devastation of unexpected loss as you could ever have wreck your whole week. — A.U.
5. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (Merry Christmas, 1994)
It’s not Christmastime until Mariah Carey says it is. Even though the song was written and originally released in 1994, the forever-perfect “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is hardly some relic of holidays past. On the contrary, in 2019 it topped the Billboard Hot 100, proving itself as a modern-day festive classic that feels fresh — yet cozy, jubilant and familiar — every single year. Right from that opening vocal run engulfed by bells, strings and chimes, the reigning Queen of Christmas and her anthem has us ready to deck the halls and roast some chestnuts. — R.A.
4. “Fantasy (Bad Boy Remix)” (feat. Puff Daddy & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) (“Fantasy” single, 1995)
Carey’s original “Fantasy” was a shimmering Pop&B gem, driven by a springy sample and a handful of lyrical interpolations from the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” It made history in 1995 when it debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 (a first for a female artist), but it was her first-ever rapper collab, with Wu-Tang Clan’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard, on the Bad Boy remix that made the song legendary, and created the blueprint for musical unions between pop stars and rappers for years to come.
Puff Daddy came aboard for the famed rework with writer/producer Dave Hall, which isolated Carey’s spectacular opening vocal, elevated and adjusted the sample to catch more of the drums, stripped out the strings and bells to make it less pop and more hip-hop, and slowed the tempo by a hair. The Bad Boy Mix also brought out classic lines from ODB, including “Me and Mariah go back like babies with pacifiers,” and saw Puffy himself answer the original “Genius of Love” query “Whatcha gonna do when you get outta jail?” with “I’m gonna do a remix.” Eleven total tracks appeared on the Fantasy EP, released in 2020 as part of #MC30, but the best still was the original Bad Boy edit — which took the song from sparkling to slapping and changed the course of pop music in the process. — C.W.
3. “Emotions” (Emotions, 1991)
Following the massive success of her self-titled debut album, which spawned four No. 1 hits and rested on top of the Billboard 200 for 11 weeks, was never going to be an easy task for Carey. Just over a year after her debut’s success, however, Mariah released the titular single from her second album Emotions which expertly showcased the singer’s extensive vocal range — and expanded her musical range, as well. The disco-inspired hit takes full advantage of Carey’s whistle register to deliver one of her most unforgettable and extraordinary vocal performances, particularly on the song’s climactic high note, one of the most memorable song peaks in modern pop music. The up-tempo beat and the glass-shattering height of Carey’s voice rose immediately to the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100, and when played at full volume on Sony Walkmans, caused some permanent hearing loss for pop fans in 1991. — T.M.
2. “We Belong Together” (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2004)
Emancipating Mimi from a half-decade of radio doldrums, “We Belong Together” didn’t merely return Mariah to the top of the Hot 100 (for the sixteenth time at that) in 2005 — it became the biggest song of the 2000s. While other divas chased flash-in-the-pan trends for a comeback, Carey did it on her own terms, co-penning an insta-classic (and uniquely MC) lover’s lament that’s as quietly tempestuous and hard to shake as a 3:00 a.m. call from an ex you’re not quite over. Unlike those late-night emotional odysseys, however, this is a succinct 3 minutes and 21 seconds — but it still feels like a lifetime of love, loss and what-ifs. — J. Lynch
1. “Always Be My Baby” (Daydream, 1995)
Most breakups suck. The moment that you realize that a romance has withered — that someone who once excited you beyond compare will be extracted from your life and thoughts-of-forever — is a heavy one. Part of the reason why “Always Be My Baby” is a miracle is because it contains a sense of perspective. Mariah Carey sings from a place of recognition, understanding that what once “seemed everlasting” is about to end, and she can’t stop it. She still expects him to come running back in “a matter of time” — but even if he doesn’t, she will thrive. Instead of lingering in the painful present, Carey zooms out, and declares that the love they once undeniably felt will remain in their shared history, unwritten future be damned. How healthy is that?
The power of “Always Be My Baby” sneaks up on you, then settles into your heart as fact. It snuck up on Carey, too: It was the third U.S. single from 1995’s Daydream, less flashy than songs like the radio-conquering “Fantasy” and the Hot 100 record-setting “One Sweet Day” with Boyz II Men. But as midtempo pop ballads go, “Always Be My Baby” is practically unmatched, using its “Do-do-do! DUM” hook as a harbinger of the effortlessness with which the rest of the song unfurls. Tying it all together is Carey’s supreme confidence, her voice relaxed and inviting, selling the concept that her heart remains full in the face of a disappointing circumstance.
The result is a No. 1 hit that crystallizes Carey’s pop genius and has imprinted itself on millions, finding beauty in a moment of despair and preserving that blessing for generations to come. “You’ll always be a part of me,” starts that indelible chorus. It’s not hard to understand why so many feel the same way about this song. — J. Lipshutz