’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Emotions”

The forty-eighth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Emotions” by Mariah Carey. Hot off the success of her debut album, Carey hastily produced a sophomore album, Emotions, from which the title track was the first single. With this release, Carey became the first and only act to send three tracks to No. 1 in 1991, following “Someday” and “I Don’t Wanna Cry.” It would turn out to be the only No. 1 single off the album, making “Emotions” the only of Carey’s six studio albums in the ’90s that failed to produce more than one No. 1 song (holiday and greatest-hits compilations aside). That said, the Emotions album did send two more singles into the Top 5: “Can’t Let Go,” which got stuck at No. 2 behind “All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd, and “Make It Happen,” which peaked at No. 5. The near-miss of “Can’t Let Go” still stings because it’s one of Carey’s strongest artistic successes, and yet its legacy is one of commercial failure. (Relative failure, of course.)

“Emotions” would begin a trend for Carey of making the first release off her albums an up-tempo single, a tactic she employed on all her subsequent ’90s CDs. “Emotions” is co-written and co-produced by Robert Clivillés and David Cole of C+C Music Factory, then-new collaborators for Carey. This song allowed Carey to demonstrate a magnificently broad vocal range, particularly with the famous whistle-register notes in the outro.

Let’s revisit “Emotions”:

“Emotions” is a well-written song enhanced by a carefully produced track, and the result sounds professional and steady. At the time, it felt like a stylistic divergence from, but not a betrayal to, her artistic core. “Emotions” is radio- and video-friendly and kept Carey in the cool zone, as it’s not cheesy, overwrought, vulgar or controversial. In all, the release of “Emotions” proved to be a fresh but safe career choice, not so much an artistic breakthrough or deep statement.

After four slower and somewhat melancholy singles, “Emotions” provided Carey with her first opportunity to exhibit joy, and the video is the first in which she is shown interacting with people in a social setting. This made her seem more fun and relatable to audiences.

Does it hold up? Sorta. As of this writing, “Emotions” does have more than 10 million views on Carey’s Vevo channel, which is more than anything off her first album, but still is only her 27th most viewed clip. So it has decent endurance. The recording, of course, sounds of another era, but we do wish more artists today were creating music like “Emotions.”

Dopeness: 4 out of 5 Birkenstocks


Mariah Carey
3 weeks at No. 1, starting Oct. 12, 1991
Preceded by: “Good Vibrations,” Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch f/ Loleatta Holloway
Followed by: “Romantic,” Karyn White

’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?

  • John

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