My Love and Hate Relationship With Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey was once dead to me. The Angels Advocate Tour was just announced in December 2009, and like the gregarious lamb that I am, immediately knew I needed to follow our flock to graze on the tour. The stop: February 16, 2010 in Minneapolis at the Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus, where I was a college student at the time. Finally, my dreams of seeing the Queen of Christmas in the flesh was coming true.

And then I heard the news: the stop in Minneapolis is CANCELED! No explanation was offered. The Minneapolis stop was the only show that was canceled on the Angels Advocate Tour. I was devasted.

In 2016, I was blessed with another opportunity to book that fleeting rendezvous with the Elusive Chanteuse. Mariah had announced her new #1 to Infinity concert residency at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. I jumped at the chance to finally see my idol live in concert by purchasing a ticket for the May 13, 2017 concert date, which I knew was going to be a festive Saturday night. I thought to myself, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to party on the Vegas strip with the legend! What better way than to be my fabulous self in the most fabulous city in the world seeing the most fabulous singer alive. I was happily going to contribute to her $27 million dollar residency enterprise.

And once again, Mariah CANCELED the concert on me! Of all the shows during the #1 to Infinity residency, the May 13 date was the only date that was canceled! Her reason: bronchitis. My plans, the trip, everything was ruined.

I had one final chance to see Mimi. I purchased a late ticket to see Lionel Richie for my birthday, which is March 25. Richie was embarking on the All the Hits Tour with Carey herself! I will finally get to see Mariah, and also Richie himself. What better way to treat myself during a stressful year of finishing my doctoral studies than to see my idol and Lionel.

And once f*cking again, the concert on March 24, 2017 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota was CANCELED because of Richie’s longer than expected recovery from a knee surgery!

I was devastated and vowed never to pursue a Mariah concert ever again. I felt so hurt that in those moments. She was dead to me whether or not any of those three cancellations were her fault. I swore to disavow my lamb status and excommunicate myself from her following once and for all.

Yet, somehow, I keep returning to Mariah. I recall listening to “Always Be My Baby” at age seven and falling in love with the sweet, romantic lyrics of forever calling someone your baby. Because our birthdays are only days apart, I often celebrate her when I celebrate myself. One year, I celebrated my birthday by hosting a karaoke party where all guests were torturously required to sing only Mariah Carey songs for the first full hour.

And, I recall the moment when a girl in high school dedicated “Don’t Forget About Us” to me after learning that I will never “like” girls like that. In her heartbroken fervor, she reminded me to “don’t forget” her. I still cherish those lyrics when I think of her. And like many people going through those dark times in their lives, Mariah’s theme “Can’t Take That Away” saved my life. There’s a light in me that shines brightly. They can try but they can’t take that away from me. Like millions of lambs, MC shows up in my life’s moments in such small, but profound ways.

Mariah was there with me in in June 2014. I auditioned for the fourteenth season of American Idol at the Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis singing her song “Hero.” I even convinced my friend who came with me to audition with “I Still Believe.” Obviously, my desperate attempt to live out my fifteen minutes of fame was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, getting to see Ryan Seacrest in person and singing in front of Carly Smithson, who herself covered “Without You” on the seventh season of AI, was worth it! I believe Mariah brought me there.

I recall reading about Mariah’s confession of her bipolar disorder in People. Her bipolar II disorder resulted in countless nights of insomnia, something that I have also experienced as a queer person of color working in the high-anxiety world of academia. “But it wasn’t normal insomnia and I wasn’t lying awake counting sheep,” Mariah stated, “I was working and working and working…I was irritable and in constant fear of letting people down. It turns out that I was experiencing a form of mania.” This truly hit a chord in me.

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The Meaning of Mariah Carey on my bookshelf

The Meaning of Mariah Carey was published in 2020 in one of the worst years in human history. In the midst of the suffering transpiring around me, I turned to her book as a source of solace.

Over the course of her career, the songbird supreme has been scrutinized for everything: public meltdowns, her diva-esque attitude, and high maintenance lifestyle. The Meaning of Mariah is different. She writes in the book’s preface “My memory is a sacred place, one of the few things that belong entirely to me.” As a writer myself, I sensed her struggle to cement her life on the page, on her own terms. Amidst the head-turning tabloid headlines and disastrous television appearances, her memory is truly the only authentic historical archive in which she has full curation and control. By the end of the memoir, I discovered a newfound respect and admiration for her.

I recall being a queer Hmong American refugee child who felt out of place in a white and heteronormative world. Mariah’s struggles being biracial resonated deeply with me. When I read about an incident where these stupid white girls “invited” her for a sleepover only to corner her and call her the N-word, I recall a similar incident where this straight boy “walked home” with me only to call me names, like “sissy/girly.” I drew strength from her life growing up in poverty, working as a waitress, living in a cramped apartment with four other roommates. As a poor refugee child living with six people in a two-bedroom house (my parents and four children), I intimately understood her struggles.

And then came her love stories. Well, before that, her fans and I had to read through an entire section of her nightmare with Tommy Mottola. Yet, her rendezvous of kissing Derek Jeter in the rain, or extravagant moments with Luis Miguel, and marriage to Nick Cannon, all proved to be inspiring, although none of these relationships ever lasted. But in these moments of “failed” relationships, the life lesson that she gave us is that SELF-LOVE is the most important love of all.

It is easy to hate Mariah for her “diva” persona. And that was what I thought she was being (a diva) when I experienced all those concert cancellations. The Meaning Of Mariah Carey revealed to me new truths about who she is. The memoir forces us to (re)consider what it means to tell your story, on your own terms, leaving out large details in favor of small, unique stories. In it, I had truly discovered a new “meaning of Mariah Carey.”

After three failed attempts to attend her concerts, I told myself I was never going to attempt a Mariah Carey concert ever again. Yet, all those who know me knew I was going to break my promise sooner or later. And alas, my partner and I finally caught the very elusive legend on the Caution World Tour in 2019. This time, the Billboard Icon chose the State Theater in Minneapolis, the smallest venue on the Caution entire tour. It was an intimate moment for the lambiliy who had waited agonizingly more than twenty-nine years for Mariah to hold a concert in the Twin Cities! That March 13, 2019 concert was my birthday present to myself, and it was well worth it.

From the moment she sang “A No No” and “Dreamlover” to her larger-than-life signature songs “We Belong Together” and“Vision of Love,” to the surprise appearances of her twins Moroccan and Monroe during “Always Be My Baby,” and to the closing with “Hero” in her pink ballgown, I could not stop dancing and rocking to her musical beats. My partner wrote on Instagram, “Saw Mariah Carey! Don’t know what was better: seeing her perform or watching Kong see her perform.” He was damn right. I was overwhelmed with “EMOTIONS.” The State Theater was bursting in melody, and in that moment, Mariah was more alive to me more than ever.

Writer, thinker, reader, professor, scholar, and traveler.

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