10. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (Merry Christmas, 1994, hit No. 1 in 2019)
This is where she became the woman Santa told Mrs. Claus not to worry about. Not only does Mariah own the quintessential Christmas song of our lifetime, but she also made chart history last year when it hit No. 1 a whole 25 years after its release. It may seem hard to tie a holiday track in with Carey’s other pop standards, but this holiday classic is likely playing somewhere today in June, so tell “Jingle Bell Flop” to back off. Mrs. Claus wants a divorce.
9. “Honey” (Butterfly, 1997)
It’s easy to argue that the Bad Boy remix featuring Mase and the Lox is just as great, but the standalone “Honey” is just as sweet as implied. Produced by the then-world-dominating Puff Daddy himself, “Honey” had a sticky enough bassline and signature piano hook to get any R&B listener addicted. And the video, with Carey riding a jetski and inventing boat-bumping choreo, cemented her status as an MTV icon, too.
8. “Dreamlover” (Music Box, 1993)
Ah, yes, the do-do-dos have arrived. “Dreamlover,” which in itself isn’t an actual word, helped spark one of Mimi’s signature moves: Avoiding verbiage altogether for a decent chunk of the track. It reminded us that nobody knows how to harmonize better than Mariah and we deserved nothing less than its video’s frolic through the flowers. The wild organ lick sandwiched into this pop classic only confirmed her believers’ faith. Take us to church, queen.
7. “Touch My Body” (E=MC², 2008)
Carey’s most recently recorded No. 1 sounds like it could dominate R&B airwaves in 2020 as effortlessly as it did in 2008. With good reason. “Touch My Body” is 2008 teamwork at its finest, with both Tricky Stewart and The-Dream updating her production and arsenal of hooks yet again. But 13 years after “Fantasy” it feels both raunchier and more mature. And who would’ve thought 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer would play the unwitting romantic interest in a Mariah video while she coos “Put me on the floor, wrestle me around, play with me some more?” We truly deserved this one.
6. “Vision of Love” (Mariah Carey, 1990) This is what led to it all, what bent the pop universe to one woman’s will. I, too, “pray through the nights” that a power ballad with the vocals to match can make this much of an impact on airwaves in the future. And while it may never happen like this again, we still have “Vision of Love” — and the first time most of us ever heard a whistle note — to hold onto. And who could forget her 1990 SNL performance and the killer ten seconds of vocal perfection three minutes in? Not me, and I wasn’t even alive yet.
5. “Always Be My Baby” (Daydream, 1995)
The criminally underrated “Underneath the Stars” notwithstanding, this was the monster on Carey’s 1995 LP Daydream. It’s impossible to say that any song is definitively Mariah “in the pocket,” since this 19-song-ass list has about 18 others, but “Baby” is pretty damn close. It’s not quite a ballad and it’s not quite a doo-wop anthem (even though a song littered with the then-recurring do-do-dos may have you convinced), but it did set a whole new standard for what pop was going to be in 1996 with the album’s damn fourth single.
4. “We Belong Together” (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005) Not only is it the quintessential mid-2000s R&B smash, but “We Belong Together” may be the greatest comeback song in pop-music history. After the punchline-turned-cult-favorite Glitter and hit-free Charmabracelet debuted at No. 7 and No. 3, respectively (yes, these are considered her career lows, eyeroll emoji), things weren’t looking up. But she returned with a rocket more explosive than the one that sent Woody and Buzz back to Andy’s car at the end of Toy Story. With Jermaine Dupri behind the boards at his absolute best, “We Belong Together” is how Carey got her moment back. The crispy runs hit different here with a new maturity and gravitas that led the way for the arguably most respected album of the icon’s career. The emancipation of genius, really.
3. “Heartbreaker” feat. Jay-Z (Rainbow, 1999)
Only Carey can write lyrics about feeling “euphoric and weak” and make us feel exactly that when she sings them back on wax. “Heartbreaker” is such a perfect blend of dreamy vocal layers and bouncy late ‘90s hip-hop bass that you almost forget rap’s greatest success, Jay-Z, had a mischievous verse on it as a younger upstart. No one else would do for one of Mariah’s greatest bops. These two at the top of their game made the heartbreak feel just a little better. Maybe even good.
2. “My All” (Butterfly, 1998)
The flamenco-inspired guitar and the gorgeous raspy singing on “My All” made for Mariah Carey’s most underrated hit. It doesn’t sound like it would be an absolute vocal circus (spoiler: but it is), but there’s nobody on this planet who can make scaling this barbed-wire-fence of a song sound as workaday as Mimi herself. “My All” parallels Mimi’s vocal as the perfect match between Simple and Thesaurus’ Worst Nightmare: “I am thinking of you / In my sleepless solitude tonight / If it’s wrong to love you / Then my heart just won’t let me be right”. If you too were born during the week this masterpiece topped the charts, you can still relate to it whenever heartbreak creeps in. Somebody please show “Happy Birthday” the door.
1. “Fantasy” (Daydream, 1995)
“Fantasy” matches the grandeur of its Oscar-worthy video: It’s a rollerblading roller-coaster summertime psalm stuffed with enough ad-libs to put Migos to shame. Imagine “Always Be My Baby” and “Dreamlover” decided to ring up “Touch My Body” for a sleepover and shared secrets. With a breakdown that legitimately takes you to the heaven Mimi sings of, and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard remix immortalized in our brains (yes, everybody is in the house, ODB, thanks for asking), “Fantasy” was where Mariah turned in pop’s master thesis. Thank the day she heard Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” on the radio and decided to sample it, and as always we can thank Wu-Tang, for blessing the ’90s’ greatest summit of pop, R&B, and hip-hop. And if she’s only eternally 12 years old, that’s a lot of time left to do it all over again.