’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Honey”

The one hundred tenth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Honey” by Mariah Carey. This track was the first single off Carey’s fifth non-holiday studio album, Butterfly, which is still often cited by critics as the apex of her recording career. The CD saw Carey take what still stands as the largest artistic shift of her career, as she embraced a more urban sound — “Honey,” for example, was co-written and co-produced by Puff Daddy — and a much sexier image. So sexy was her new image, in fact, that it was the cause of a great deal of media attention and debate at the time. It is widely accepted that Carey’s split from Sony Music head Tommy Mottola, whom she has repeatedly characterized as controlling if not emotionally abusive, inspired the uninhibited lease on life she’s portrayed in the years since. (Mottola, not surprisingly, has called Carey’s demonizing characterization of him an inaccurate exaggeration, although he has apologized nonetheless.) Regardless, “Honey” and its accompanying big-budget video served as Carey’s “coming out” moment for her new direction, similar to what Janet Jackson did on janet., her very successful 1993 album.

“Honey” was Carey’s 12th No. 1 hit and further solidified her commercial endurance. In the 1990s alone, she topped the Billboard Hot 100 on 14 occasions, occupying the position for at least one week in each calendar year. This blows the competition away. The artist with the second-most No. 1s in the decade is Janet Jackson with six, followed by Boyz II Men with five. So there isn’t much leeway to argue that Carey was anything other than the decade’s most popular Pop artist, at least as far as singles and radio airplay are concerned. Because of this fact, it can further be argued that she played a pivotal role in the mainstreaming of urban musical elements that are now thought of as ubiquitous. “Honey” is perhaps where we see this influence most clearly.

“Honey” is a mid-tempo love song, similar in that sense to her previous album-unveiling singles “Emotions,” “Dreamlover” and “Fantasy.” Its lyrics are a thinly veiled ode to ejaculate.

Let’s give “Honey” a fresh listen:

On the positive side, the piano line (sampled from “Hey DJ” by World’s Famous Supreme Team) and bass line (sampled from “The Body Rock” by The Treacherous Three) of this song are catchy. Beyond that, this track is a snooze. Our issue with this song today is the same as it was when it was released: the terribly anticlimactic song structure, with no real hook. The verses are fine, but the bridge, pre-chorus and chorus all sound like a chorus. The bridge begins “And it’s just like honey,” and sounds like a chorus. But no, it’s followed by the pre-chorus, which begins “It’s like honey when it rushes over me,” and this, too, sounds like a chorus. But no! It’s then followed by the actual chorus, which begins “Honey I can’t describe.” This, like the other two fake-out choruses, is under-baked and dull. Three boring hooks don’t add up to one good one.

Does it hold up? Song aside, this video is probably the best of Carey’s career in terms of its production quality. It’s a mini-movie. Given that, one would think it would rank among Carey’s most popular Vevo uploads. But in fact, as of this writing, it languishes in 20th place. Granted, the competition for views on Carey’s channel is high, with more than 100 clips to choose from and counting. Still, we suspect that low interest in the song is a factor in the video’s relatively low ranking. And this is not a song of Carey’s we tend to hear these days. It doesn’t seem to have the stamina of classics like “Vision Of Love,” “Hero” and “Always Be My Baby.”

Dopeness: 2 out of 5 Birkenstocks


Mariah Carey
3 weeks at No. 1, starting Sept. 13, 1997
Preceded by: “Mo Money Mo Problems,” The Notorious B.I.G. f/ Puff Daddy and Mase
Followed by: “4 Seasons Of Loneliness,” Boyz II Men

’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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