Here's what happened in 2001: [Mariah Carey]'s big-budget film "Glitter" and its soundtrack CD both bombed. So, in turn, did her promotional gigs. During one memorable television appearance, she handed out popsicles on MTV's "TRL" seemingly clad only in a T-shirt. Carey began posting troubled ramblings on her own website that led many to believe she was suicidal, and ultimately checked into a discreet Connecticut hospital. Of course, no crash-and-burn is complete without salt poured publicly and painfully into the wound. For that we can thank Eminem, with whom Carey had had a brief fling. He started blaring snippets of her tearful voice messages, begging him to call her, as a sort of twisted overture at his arena concerts. Then, in 2002, mere months after it had scooped her up with much fanfare and a record-setting paycheck, Virgin paid Carey a reported $28 million to go away. When Carey released "Charmbracelet" later that year on her own boutique label, an imprint of Island, the album was panned and sold poorly.
Tumbling in satin gym shorts down the slippery slope of self- parody, Carey and her bizarre persona had become in time-honored fashion more engaging than her music. (See: Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson.) To feed our insatiable appetite for a good cautionary tale, not to mention divas-gone-awry, we ate it up. Carey-watching was bigger and, frankly, better than Carey-listening although that calculus posed a chicken and egg dilemma. Which came first, the personal meltdown or the musical meltdown? At her 2003 Boston concert in support of "Charmbracelet," Carey staged a red-carpet entrance, sweeping down the aisles of the Wang Theatre surrounded by a throng of mock paparazzi, flashbulbs popping. There's nothing quite as depressing as a fallen diva announcing her divaness. Still worse, her voice was in tatters a thin vestige of the elastic belter who had once executed gravity-defying vocal gymnastics with a flip of her golden curls. Even her superhuman high note was weird, sounding as if Carey was whistling through her ear.
Frankly, it's more of a relief than a revelation, which begs the question: Would the public have embraced the album so enthusiastically if it hadn't arrived on the heels of what looked for all the world to be her ruin? I don't think so. We love Carey's resurrection like we love her fashion sense: It's undeniably real. No stylist would allow her star client to be seen in the disastrous dresses and hairdos Carey wears, and few industry experts would have dreamed that, at 35, she would return to rule the pop culture that had dismissed her as damaged goods. Carey beat the odds, bucked the trend, showed the naysayers. We'd like to do that too, which is why Carey's comeback feels so sweet.