’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Hero”

The seventy-fifth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Hero” by Mariah Carey. “Hero” was Carey’s eighth chart-topper, and her first that was not about romantic love. Originally written for Gloria Estefan, as legend has it, “Hero” is a self-affirmation ballad that offered audiences a beautiful complement to the cheerfully up-tempo “Dreamlover,” which had ended its No. 1 run just eight weeks earlier.

“Hero” remains one of Carey’s most enduring and beloved tracks, especially among her core fan base. It is a song for the hopeless, the depressed and the rejected — i.e., everybody, at one point or another. To some cynics, and even Carey herself, “Hero” is a bit cheesy, but it touches a universal nerve and demonstrates music’s power to strengthen and inspire. Carey says many people have reached out to her over the years to say that the song helped them get through a dark time. If that’s the case, then of course that achievement is more meaningful than the single’s commercial success; but for the record, “Hero” was a huge hit for Carey, coming in at No. 5 for the year in Billboard’s 1994 year-end issue, her best year-end showing to date (at that point).

Let’s give “Hero” a fresh listen:

The chord progression and instrumental arrangement on “Hero” are heavenly. Carey’s vocal performance is characteristically superb mechanically, but she also exudes empathy without sounding preachy. The whole recording is a Pop masterwork, and one of the best songs of the year. The song was an instant classic, and the video demonstrated Carey’s ever-developing stage presence.

Does it hold up? It really does. In fact, as of this writing, “Hero” is the fourth most-viewed video on Carey’s Vevo channel, and most-viewed of all her ‘90s No. 1 songs. So by that measure, it’s the most durable of Carey’s tracks we’ll discuss in this ‘90s No. 1s Revisited series. A slightly different question would be, “If this song had never been released but were released today, would it be successful?” And to that, we’re not sure. It might seem a bit trite, given that we’ve had more than two decades of inspirational ballads come along since 1993.

Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks


Mariah Carey
4 weeks at No. 1, starting Dec. 25, 1993
Preceded by: “Again,” Janet Jackson
Followed by: “All For Love,” Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart & Sting

’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?


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