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By Skinny Legend
If 2018's list of the best songs of the year shows us anything, it's that the ability to define pop music in the 21st century is becoming increasingly more difficult. Gone are the days when record label executives and radio DJ's defined the sound of the summer in highly organised meetings; nowadays, listeners are willing and able to seek out their own finds, creating intimate emotional bonds with their favourite discoveries that last long after their songs end. Our list of 2018's greatest albums reinforces that idea, bouncing between rock, hip-hop, R&B and dance effortlessly.
What's somewhat more inexplicable is the list's focus on comebacks from female artists who haven't had hits in years. In 2018, each of these women managed to reinvent themselves for a generation that's impossible to pin down, and prove that life doesn't end for a singer once they leave the Forbes Hottest 30 Under 30 list or vanish from the cover of US Weekly. It just goes to show that while there's more choice and diversity than ever in pop music, a familiar face is sometimes all an audience wants to see in their Spotify library.
Enjoy our picks for 2018's best albums down below, and for a walk down memory lane don't forget to check out our lists from 2017, 2016 and 2015!
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper - A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born was the cinematic event of 2018, and with it's Academy Award hype and meme-worthy publicity stunting it's also been the unexpected project that made one-time sensation Lady Gaga cool again. The film's soundtrack had a lot to do with that, hitting the refresh button on Gaga's career while making a would-be star out of Bradley Cooper: for as difficult as it is to believe, there was still some uncultured people who were unaware of Gaga's talent, and who needed her singing over some rock instrumentals to believe it. Let's leave that in 2018, shall we?
The soundtrack's success is ironic given the fact that it's probably Gaga's least impressive project overall thanks to a collection of factors. Even when you take out the dialogue tracks, the album is an impressive nineteen tracks long, but sadly it feels as though around half of the songs were just thrown onto the album as gifts for her fans who had waited so long rather than for the impeccable quality we've come to expect from Gaga. 'Heal Me', 'Before I Cry' and 'Music To My Eyes' have some of the worst lyricism we've heard all year, while the electronic duo of 'Hair Body Face' and 'Why Did You Do That' - while bops in a semi-ironic fashion - only make sense in the context of the film and seem incredibly awkward on the country-tinged album. Despite that, there's enough truly great songs on here for an EP of classics, particularly Cooper's touching 'Maybe It's Time', the rock duets 'Shallow', 'Diggin' My Grave' and 'I Don't Know What Love Is' and the holy trinity of Gaga power ballads 'Always Remember Us This Way', 'Is That Alright' and 'I'll Never Love Again'. It may not entirely work on it's own, but in tandem with it's accompanying film the A Star Is Born soundtrack hits all the marks you'd want it to.
Nicki Minaj - Queen
Nicki Minaj had a false start - or three - in 2017 with her trio of singles 'Changed It', 'No Frauds' and 'Regret In Your Tears', but in 2018 she proved that she was ready for her official comeback. Queen plays out exactly like Nicki's three past albums have - with a section for hard-hitting hip-hop rhymes like 'Barbie Dreams' and 'Good Form', a section for potential crossover hits like 'Bed' with Ariana Grande and 'Thought I Knew You' with The Weeknd, a section for vulnerable slow-jams with 'Ganja Burn' and 'Run & Hide', and a whole lot of random filler thrown in for good measure.
And even if her schizophrenic style of putting together albums may be losing it's charm, that's not to say that there aren't any masterpieces to be found among the rubble. Both 'Chun-Li' and 'Good Form' have a frenetic energy pulsing through their beats that's physically hard not to dance to, while the Labrinth and Eminem assisted 'Majesty' and 'LLC' are both aided by the kind of rapping we wish Nicki could bring us all the time. Like all of Minaj's albums, Queen has it's ups and downs, but that doesn't stop it from highlighting her unique talents. All she needs to do now is learn to direct those talents into a cohesive project for once.
Christina Aguilera - Liberation
Following the commercial failure of Bionic and the generic blandness of Lotus, Christina Aguilera fans would be forgiven for thinking that the 90s queen would never release another great album again. Thankfully, she managed to prove them wrong with this year's Liberation, which successfully propelled XTincta into the mainstream even while not quite matching the brilliance of some of her past reinventions.
He may have had his ups and downs in recent years, but Kanye West has to at least be given some credit for his production roles in the album's two best songs: the fiesty, kinetic lead single 'Accelerate' and the album's true opener 'Maria'. A further shoutout has to go to Demi Lovato who lends her vocals to second single 'Fall In Line'; although XTina seems perfectly capable of holding her own on classic power ballad 'Twice'. The rest of the album seems to be built around these four pillars, with high-octane danceable tracks blending with softcore R&B and retro flashbacks in a fashion that's distinctively XTina. This is the album's biggest drawback: it's four standouts are outweighed by some very interchangeable filler, when it could really use one or more two surefire hits (why is no one calling Bonnie McKee nowadays?). Even so, Liberation makes for a great listen for any XTina fan and a promising return to form for her career.
Rita Ora - Phoenix
Rita Ora's second album Phoenix may have been a long time in the making, but she's never been one to disappoint. Following the release of her impressive debut ORA back in 2012, Rita embarked on a Homeric odyssey for her second album, with the project undergoing at least three different variations before it's ultimate release. One version was recorded with 'I Will Never Let You Down' as the lead single under the guidance of her boyfriend Calvin Harris, but scrapped when they broke up; another was recorded with 'Poison' as the lead single, but scrapped when she left Roc Nation; and the third was recorded throughout one month in 2017 and released in November to little hype.
The songs themselves reflect that odyssey, transversing Rita's current EDM bops like the song of 2016 'Anywhere' and the annoyingly catchy 'Let You Love Me', as well as collaborations with the late Avicii on 'Lonely Together', Liam Payne on Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack cut 'For You' and Rudimental on surefire hit 'Summer Love'. Like her first album, Phoenix also has a few outliers: lead single 'Your Song' is a little more poppy, controversial track 'Girls' is pure bubblegum and 'First Time High' was a misstep that should have been kept on someone's external hard drive. But even with these outliers, Phoenix has enough excellent tracks to appeal to any pop music lover, backed up by Ora's commendable vocals and winning personality. Ora has all the elements of a superstar: all she needs is for the world outside of Europe to realise it.
Mariah Carey - Caution
It's safe to say that Caution was one of the world's least hyped albums in 2018. Following her disastrous New Year's Eve performance back in 2016, an ill-advised reality show and the false start that was 'I Don't', even Mariah's most diehard fans were wary to see what she had up her sleeve for her fifteenth studio album. Luckily, Mariah seemed quick to snap to her senses and managed to release an album that made the world fall in love with her again.
From start to finish, Caution manages to simultaneously encapsulate the 90s image of Mariah that is well known and well loved, while still sounding fresh and current. Take our first taste of the album 'GTFO', which by all accounts should have been a tryhard mess that wouldn't be astray on Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse. But don't let the title fool you; 'GTFO' is a down-tempo, moody heartbreak song, which is only slightly offset by it's alternatively angsty or comedic chorus. 'GTFO' wasn't a hit for Mariah, but it did reach meme status, which is a step up for her in 2018; and we wouldn't be surprised if future hit 'A No No' managed to to the same. Even if she doesn't quite achieve that, Mariah has still gifted her fans with a handful of her famed heartbreak ballads to enjoy: from stirring lead single 'With You' to the intensely vulnerable 'Portrait'. Caution may not have been a smash album, but if nothing else it did what might have once been considered impossible: it changed the public's perception of one of the most misunderstood singers in music history, and set her up for future wins. Let's hope it doesn't take another four years for Mariah to bask in them.
What was your favourite album of 2018? Let us know in the comments down below!
By Skinny Legend
Every year around this time, the #PopHatesFlops community comes together to celebrate the year in pop music and to compile our annual list of our favourite songs of the year. While previous years lists have been microcosms of the genres that populated them - last year focused heavily on country-pop, while 2016 was big on slinky synthpop and 2015 was loving the tropical pop trend - this year's list is remarkable for it's lack of trendiness, showing that in 2018 there's no longer any such thing as an era in pop music. It's a testament to how fractured the industry is in the age of streaming apps and the dwindling importance of radio that our members have chosen such wide ranging songs as piano ballads, acoustic guitar work and 90s-styled R&B, and that all of them sound current and fresh.
For the first time ever, we've included a Spotify playlist of this year's entries so you can listen along to the songs while you read our thoughts. Whether you're out partying it up at your local New Year's celebrations or spending a quiet day nursing your hangover at home, we hope that this list will bring you joy as you celebrate the coming of another year. And once again, we have to say a big thank you to the amazing members who make not only this list, but also this forum possible. We love you all and we wish you only the best in 2019!
18. Clean Bandit - Baby (Feat. Marina & Luis Fonsi)
Submitted By: @Skinny Legend
Little had been heard of the artist previously known as Marina and the Diamonds since 2015's experimental Froot album, which is why it was all the more surprising that she decided to make her long-awaited comeback with dance-pop sensations Clean Bandit and generic Hispanic stereotype Luis Fonsi. 'Baby' is just as generic as it's composers would imply, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the best-produced and straight up fun songs of the year. Marina handles the change from squeaky sex kitten in the verse to acoustic guitar balladeer in the pre-chorus to triumphant Selena impersonator in the chorus with style, and even the typically irritating Fonsi manages to impress with his brand of Latin flair. Hopefully 'Baby' is a sign that Marina's ready to give up her pretentions of making alternative music in favour of a more laidback, carefree style.
17. Avril Lavigne - Head Above Water
Submitted By: @kallumlavigne
Avril Lavigne's powerful comeback after a long hiatus 'Head Above Water' - apart from the obvious green screen and body double in the video - is stunning. The song itself is quiet: a powerful, slow ballad that finds redemption towards it's last chorus, and it's a very different sound from the in your face guitar-based pop-punk tunes she's known for. But the piano delivers well, the instrumental is a euphoric experience and Avril's semi-soft vocals take the crown this year for me. Also, its low, but it's on Billboard's list of the best songs of 2018.
16. Kim Petras - Tell Me It's a Nightmare
Submitted By: @Turn Ya Head
Kim Petras, perhaps the most promising upcoming singer from the past three years, has released numerous buzz singles between 2017 and 2018; but in my opinion, her best work so far is one of the tracks from her Halloween-themed EP Turn Off The Light, Vol. 1.
'Tell Me It's a Nightmare' is a dark dance-oriented track which follows a remarkable instrumental song on the EP, creating an ethereal flow that some albums seem to lack these days. The ambiguous, yet intriguing lyrics, manage to convey a sense of horror and desperation that slightly contrasts with the rest of the EP.
"Tell me it's a nightmare/And you ain't going nowhere/Try to save ya, warn ya, keep you alive/Try to stop ya, but you paid the price", sings Petras in a pleading manner. Who is she trying to save? What is she trying to save them from? Only her and the person who this song is dedicated to will ever know. Maybe she's trying to save them from herself. Maybe she's trying to save them from a potentially abusive relationship. The mystery allows the listener to apply the lyrics to their own personal life and therefore makes them relatable to almost anyone.
The high-pitched vocals showcase Petras's singing ability and charisma. The production allows her crystal clear voice to shine and complement the haunting bass that's so prominent in the instrumental. The song ends with a haunting segment, in which she repeatedly sings non-lexical vocals in a catchy tune.
What else could a pop fan ask from a song? Good lyrics, stellar production, a carefully engineered instrumental and outstanding vocals. 'Tell Me It's a Nightmare' might not be a mainstream hit or a chart topper, but it surely is a masterpiece.
15. Kacey Musgraves - Happy & Sad
Submitted By: @nanapop99
I used to hate country music and I probably still do, but the good sis Kacey really did that with her latest album Golden Hour. In my opinion the album deserves to win Album of the Year at the Grammy's, but that's another subject. Anyways, country music is a genre I don't really listen to but these past few years we've seen pop divas like Gaga, Miley, Kesha and Kylie bringing their yeehaw out of nowhere, so you could say that I've gotten used to that type of music.
I first heard of Kacey in a meme comparing Carly Rae Jepsen's E•MO•TION to Golden Hour and I was really wondering what was so special about that country girl. A few months after that, I heard a snippet of 'High Horse' and it was a bop at first listen so I decided to download the album while preparing for my trip to Vietnam and South Korea. I listened to the first half of the album on the plane and it really was so good! I was shook and my wig definitely flew to Texas or Tennessee or whatever yeehaw place you can think of.
But the track that really stood out for me was 'Happy & Sad'. I don't think that there's anything special sonically about the track but the vibe, the lyrics, and the E•MO•TION of it that meant I couldn't stop my tears from falling while listening to the track for the first time. Unfortunately, my moment had to be cut short because the plane was about to land and I had to pretend that I was crying because of the loud noises.
I was lowkey a mess back in July because I've just graduated high school and I didn't really know where I'd end up in September, study-wise. And while I was happy to travel with my family, I was kinda sad at the same time within my personal life so you could say that I was "lost.mp3". But this song and the album in general were like a warm hug for me. Golden Hour is the soundtrack to my summer 2018 and 'Happy & Sad' is definitely my song of the year! Who knew I had to become a space cowboy in order to survive this year?
14. Little Mix - Wasabi
Submitted By: @Ari
2018 saw the release of LM5 from legendary iconic girl group Little Mix. After the massive success of their previous album Glory Days, they had big boots to fill but they did not disappoint!
Many songs on this album are very different to their previous sound which has received some mixed reactions, but one song we can all hopefully agree on is the iconic bop that is 'Wasabi'. Penned by none other than legendary group member and LGBTQ icon Jade Thirlwall, as well as written and produced by the iconic MNEK, 'Wasabi' is the hoe anthem that we all need in our lives.
From the catchy lyrics to the boppy beat and bass to even the harmonising "oh oh"'s, Little Mix show us that they will never be limited to one sound as a girl group and that each album they give us will be unique and fresh and work with all four members no matter the style of song. And that is why 'Wasabi' is one of the best songs of 2018.
13. Mariah Carey - GTFO
Submitted By: @Skinny Legend
Mariah Carey was never entirely gone from the music scene, with releases like the festive 'The Star' and the messy 'I Don't' holding fans over since her last album, 2014's Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse. Even so, our first offering from this year's Caution plays out just like a comeback single should, harking back to the classics that made gave Mariah her 18 #1's while propelling her unique form of balladry into the modern age. Don't let the title fool you; 'GTFO' is a down-tempo, moody heartbreak song, which is only slightly offset by it's angsty and comedic chorus of "How 'bout you get the fuck out?". While 'GTFO' was far from a hit, it did reach meme status pretty quickly and it's sound is probably the closest thing to a smash song that Mariah could get to in 2018. Fingers crossed that the next release from Caution will do a little better.
12. Ariana Grande - No Tears Left To Cry
Submitted By: @Fetish
My favorite song of this year has to be the gorgeous introduction to Ariana Grande's fourth album Sweetener. 'No Tears Left To Cry' almost instantly became a hit due to its beautiful production and even dreamier music video. The track defied expectations for Ariana, as she took inspiration from the Manchester tragedy to curate both a meaningful hard-hitting track and a seemingly lighthearted dance track. The upbeat nature of the production secures the song as a beautiful track filled with the celebration of all things, as Ariana twists the idea of no longer being able to cry into a transition towards happiness. With a catchy instrumental and even catchier lyrics by Max Martin, the song has easily established itself as one of the best songs of 2018 in my books.
11. Tinashe - Ooh La La
Submitted By: @Glamleska
Tinashe Jorgensen Kachingwe is the slept on R&B up-and-comer that's been championed as an unbeatable contender for seven years running, and this year she takes the stage with my favourite song 'Ooh La La'. Though this year has been considered a difficult one for Tinashe – from being dropped by RCA to going home earlier than deserved on Dancing With The Stars to the unjustly scrapped EP project NASHE – she still delivered one of my favorite R&B tracks of this decade.
Track number five, 'Ooh La La', off her sophomore album Joyride has remained at the top of my rotation since its release. Though the album was heavily criticized, I found this track to be an incredible standout. I didn’t mind the album either, with the exception of there being way too many features. Between the nostalgic squeaking sound effect reminiscent of Trillville’s 'Some Cut', the heavy pulsating 808s, and her smooth harmonies over the chorus, 'Ooh La La' was everything I needed from an R&B track in 2018. It’s a shame it wasn’t released as a single over some other questionable choices - *cough* 'Me So Bad' - but I digress. Here’s to 2019 and another year of hoping my Aquarian sister finds some success independently! STOP SLEEPING ON TINASHE 2K19. #BuyJoyrideOniTunes
10. Lady Gaga - I'll Never Love Again
Submitted By: @Skinny Legend
Although she's best known for her dance/pop tracks, Lady Gaga has always been an incredible balladeer, as she's shown countless times in fan favourite songs like 'Brown Eyes', 'Speechlees' and 'Angel Down'. But while she's explored rooting tooting rock ballads and unsettling acoustic work, Gaga had never lent her vocals to a straight up power ballad before the release of this year's A Star Is Born soundtrack. 'I'll Never Love Again' is the final track on that album, although it appears as the penultimate song on the tracklisting as well with a slightly different ending, and after the high energy rock and roll attitude of the soundtrack and the movie it's the perfect song to listen to as the audience reflects back on the events of the story. Although the lyrics can be slightly over-sentimental and cheesy, the beautiful orchestral work can't be faulted and Gaga's voice sounds the best it ever has, even without any hint of Autotune or post-production work. Put simply, 'I'll Never Love Again' is a masterpiece on par with Whitney's 'I Will Always Love You', Mariah's 'Without You' and Celine's 'All By Myself', and the only shame about the song is that the charts didn't revere it as such.
9. Cher - The Winner Takes It All
Submitted By: @Ruthless Love
Yes, the song itself is not from 2018, however Cher's rendition is and it is magically perfect. Following her role in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, the legendary Cher announced she'd be releasing an album full of ABBA covers, and the result was Dancing Queen. The album itself is flawlessly perfect from beginning to end, and the standout song for me is the second-to-last, 'The Winner Takes it All'. Originally released by ABBA in 1980 from their Super Trouper album, the song is magical in its lyrical content, and under the direction of Cher and music producer Mark Taylor, it's truly uplifting and easy-listening at its best. It's still ABBA, but with a special twist of Cher-riffic talent and gold. This song is not-to-be-missed.
8. Hailee Steinfeld & BloodPop® - Capital Letters
Submitted By: @Cypher
There were a lot of songs this year that were good in glimpses, but one that stood out is 'Capital Letters' by Hailee Steinfeld and BloodPop®. Coming down from his production on the Justin Bieber collaboration 'Friends', BloodPop® was able to capture the cinematics and emotions of a new romance. With Ellie Goulding thrown into the mix as a co-writer, the song comes together with some of the highest highs of 2018. 'Capital Letters' is a feel-good song about falling into the whirlwind that comes with any new relationship. After what seemed to be a melodramatic 2017 full of anticipation, this song kicked off 2018 with new goals, bright rays of light, and hope for a better tomorrow. Though the single did not become a smash hit in any region, it thrives as an underrated piece of pop perfection with a timeless sound.
7. Au/Ra - Emoji
Submitted By: @Cock Destroyer
'Emoji' is underrated and one of my most played songs this year. I thought 'Panic Room' would be Au/Ra's best song but then she released this masterpiece. I love the production, the melodies, everything. It's quite different from today's pop but still a pop song. I feel like if t.A.t.U released a song today, it would sound like this.
6. Demi Lovato - Sober
Submitted By: @Whoknowsmehere
I have listened to a lot of my favorite songs from 2018 (and there are a quite a few of them) over the last couple of days to determine my fave; but this one particular song just kept coming back to me over and over.
The fact that this song hit so close to home for me is my primary reason for choosing it. That, and I actually enjoyed listening to it very much over and over again. I have probably listened to it at least a hundred times since it came out. I will not get into a long drawn out explanation, other than to say I know what exactly Demi is talking about in this song.
I know this song did not get a lot of air time. Nor much, if any, acclaim. But for me that is not what makes a great song. The message is what did it for me.
5. Rina Sawayama - Cherry
Submitted By: @Skinny Legend
Rina Sawayama might still be a relative unknown in the pop music scene, but in the burgeoning realm of underground queer pop artists which includes Charli XCX and Kim Petras she's a frontrunner of the genre. Like these two artists she's fully capable of self-referential and ironic hyper-pop bops, as she proved last year with 'Cyber Stockholm Syndrome'; but with 'Cherry', the Japanese-English Sawayama proves that she has more up her sleeve than just that. 'Cherry' is not only a slice of alternative pop heaven in it's production, but a vulnerable admission of sexual curiosity that's rarely heard in pop music. "Down the subway, you looked my way/With your girl gaze, with your girl gaze/That was the day everything changed/Couldn't stay the same" introduces the song, and for the most part it's the perfect introduction of Sawayama herself - soft yet strong, insecure yet confident, and enigmatic yet honest. If Rina has more "cherries" like this on the way, then we get the feeling the sky's the limit for how far she'll go.
4. Mark Ronson - Nothing Breaks Like a Heart (Feat. Miley Cyrus)
Submitted By: @Tweener
After taking a social media hiatus, the legendary Miley Cyrus teamed up with the amazing producer Mark Ronson (known mostly for his work with Lady Gaga) and created the song of the millennium! Miley did what other girls wished to do and what they should've done a long time ago. The song and the powerful music video convey a very important message of contemporary society mindlessly following the news about the Kardashians, and other celebrities not paying enough attention to real problems like police brutality, racism, kids running around with guns, greed in stores, and clerks' hypocrisy. The video is comprised of many LGBTQ references as well, which doesn't come as a surprise considering Miley is an LGBTQ icon who, unlike many other pop girls nowadays, fight for our rights not for publicity but because she truly believes in our cause. This is a new gay anthem which charts high all around the world. It's undeniably one of the best songs of 2018 if not of all time.
3. Robyn - Honey
Submitted By: @BlackoutZone
Crowned the second best song of 2018 by Pitchfork for a reason, the title track of Robyn's recent album is a joyful journey of the senses. After two years of teasing, expectations for the track reached high heavens yet Robyn effortlessly exceeded them all and delivered the masterpiece we all wished for. The song itself is so juicy and so flourishing as it builds that you can almost taste it. The sound becomes the flavour of golden honey waves that your mind surfs on while listening. Though Mariah and Katy B already showed us how seductive honey can be, it's never been done with such delicacy, and Robyn totally elevated the concept of it being a pure sexual pleasure.
2. Kim Petras - Heart To Break
Submitted By: @Skinny Legend
Kim Petras first hit my radar with her insanely catchy ode to consumerism 'I Don't Want It At All', but it was with 'Heart To Break' that she truly claimed her position as one to watch. 'Heart To Break' went on to become my most listened song of 2018, but it's more than just an earworm. In describing the fairytale of a girl who gives her heart away even while knowing it will soon be broken, Petras ascends to the level of lyrical mastery shown by artists such as Robyn and Utada Hikaru, both of whom pen bittersweet pop songs with danceable beats made even more brilliant by their heartbreaking lyrics. 'Heart To Break' is impressive on it's own, but when you consider it in the context of Kim's strong voice, brilliant lyricism and unique image it makes you question why she isn't already #1 on every chart.
1. Christina Aguilera - Accelerate (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign & 2 Chainz)
Submitted By: @liberation
Six years after the not so well received album Lotus, Christina Aguilera released 'Accelerate', the first taste of her sixth album (or eighth if you count Mi Reflejo and My Kind of Christmas). When it was revealed that the song was produced by Kanye West and featured Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz, everyone knew that Urbantina was making her comeback, but I guess that we were all very surprised after our first listen, because the song is so...weird? The intro is very strange with hypnotic Ty vocals and heavy drums, and when Xtina starts with her verses there's a lot of ad libs by him. The song is pretty much a duet between two of them until the beat changes drastically and 2 Chainz joins with an iconic bridge.
When the song ended I was shocked because it was the messiest thing I've ever heard, but that's the reason why I loved it. I'm pretty sure that the reason why XTina is my favorite artist is because she's not afraid of taking risks. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. When it comes to 'Accelerate', I think it's the best song off Liberation and also her best song in a very long time, so I guess it worked for me. The video is very simple and sometimes it even looks a bit low budget, but I don't mind; I think it's sexy and fits the song very well, and it shows that she still owns her sexuality and doesn't give two fucks about what people think of her. At the end of the day, 'Accelerate' is a 10/10 song that is not predictable at all and I believe that it will age very well, and that’s why it is my song of the year.
What songs did we forget about in our hunt for 2018's best track? Let us know in the comments down below!
By Skinny Legend
“I don’t know her.”
It was the throwaway sentence - delivered with seeming sincerity, a simpering smile and an innocent nod of the head that was either sarcastic or supportive depending on interpretation - that went on to become one of the Internet’s first real memes. Mariah Carey’s simple proclamation, in response to an interviewer's question about Jennifer Lopez, is one of the finest textbook definitions of shade that anyone could ever hope to find.
And yet, behind those four words is a world of pain, heartbreak and jealousy that most people know nothing about. It’s a world that reads like something straight out of a telenovela, populated by characters like a long-suffering wife, a controlling patriarch, and a young ingenue who tears them apart. This is the real story behind the infamous Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez feud.
Our story starts with an 18 year old Mariah Carey, who with her classically trained operatic voice and long tousled curls had big dreams of being a superstar. In 1988, Carey found her way into a record label executive's gala, where she handed her Ben Margulies-produced demo tape over to the head of Sony Records Tommy Mottola. Carey and Margulies would later go on to have a meeting with Mottola, who, believing that Margulies was Carey’s boyfriend, made it his mission to push him out of the picture as he signed her to a $350 000 recording deal for ten albums.
Mottola quickly took a large hand in Carey’s career, to the extent that it was said that the two were barely ever seen without each other. Later in life, Mottola would admit that he was “obsessive” when it came to Carey, but with the caveat that “that was the reason for her success”. Rumours of a romance began to fly about the 39 year old married man and his 18 year old muse, and it wasn’t long before they were proven to be true; Mottola proposed Carey in 1992, two years after her first album release and only shortly after the dissolution of his nineteen year marriage.
Carey and Mottola at their $500 000 wedding ceremony in 2003
Sadly, the marriage was not to be a happy one. Carey suffered from non-stop reports of favouritism, with more than one reporter suggesting that she had married Mottola only for his connections. Even more troubling was the fact that Carey, who had never been in a serious relationship prior to Mottola, was facing emotional abuse almost daily by her husband that left her "miserable, crying, and alone" and dreaming that someone would "kidnap" her. Carey would later recount that she was forced to remain "sequestered" from the outside world by Mottola, and that she had to "get permission to leave" the house. “He didn't even know why I always had my bag with me,” she would say years later. “But in my mind I thought, 'If something jumps off...I'm ready.'”
Although Carey finally managed to escape her marriage to Mottola in 1997, that wouldn’t be the end of their relationship. After all, Mottola was head of Sony Records, and still wielded great power over her career. After some conflict over the direction Carey's career would take, Butterfly was released in late 1997, introducing the sexy image and breathy vocals that would become her signature in later years. But by the time Rainbow - the last album Carey would record for Sony - was released in 1999, her relationship with the label had completely deteriorated. The label wanted a big pop song to be released as the third single to heat up the lukewarm radio play for the album, but fittingly Mariah wanted 'Can't Take That Away (Mariah's Theme)' - a ballad about finding your inner strength based on her seperation from Mottola - to be released instead. She told her fans about the dispute and instructed they request the song on radio to force Sony into an official release, which they eventually did only half heartedly and with a limited promotional budget.
Carey would soon sign a record-breaking $100 million contract with EMI, but money couldn’t buy her happiness. By 2001, Carey had begun work on a semi-autobiographical film called Glitter, and the film and it’s accompanying soundtrack had created a workload that she couldn’t sustain. After breaking up with her boyfriend of three years Luis Miguel, Carey began posting disturbing voice messages on her official website announcing that she would quit music. An erratic appearance on Total Request Live in which Carey handed out ice cream and performed a striptease for Carson Daly did nothing to help her public image. And meanwhile, Mottola back at Sony was doing everything he could to destroy her.
Mottola had first discovered Jennifer Lopez in 1997, when she was fresh off the heels of her star turn in Selena and sending Spanish-language demos to various record labels. By this point, Mottola had recently separated from Carey, and it seemed his self-proclaimed “obsession” with her had been transferred to Lopez. Mottola sent J. Lo to the top of the charts with On the 6 and the international smash hit 'Waiting for Tonight', but he wasn’t done yet.
Lopez’s sophomore album J. Lo was released in 2001, and it featured a song entitled ‘I’m Real’. The song sampled Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Firecracker’ - a song which strangely hadn’t been requested for sample at all up until three weeks before it's recording, when Mariah Carey had requested to use it for her song ‘Loverboy’.
Irv Gotti would later go on to confirm that this was a deliberate ploy by Tommy Mottola to sabotage Carey’s ‘Loverboy’ release, which was already scheduled to be the first single from the Glitter soundtrack and an instrumental part of the film itself. Unable to reshoot the scenes containing 'Loverboy', Mariah scrambled to find a new sample to base it on, settling on Cameo’s ‘Candy’. However, she would go on to release a single remix of 'Loverboy' with Da Brat which utilised ‘Firecracker’ heavily, with Da Brat rapping, “Hate on me much as you want to/You can't do what the fuck I do/Bitches be emulating me daily.”
This wasn’t the only way in which Mottola undercut Mariah’s Glitter campaign. Mariah had recorded a track called ‘If We’ for the project with Ja Rule, which was his first foray into R&B. Irv Gotti would later recall that shortly after the record was finished, he was contacted by Mottola “obscenely early” in the morning and instructed to make a collaboration for Jennifer and Ja Rule "in the same style" of 'If We'.
“He calls me because he found out that me and [Ja] Rule cut a record with Mariah Carey,” Gotti would later say. “And at the time he hated Mariah Carey. So he was pumping Jennifer Lopez to compete.” Mottola even loaned Gotti the company jet to ensure that Ja Rule, who was on tour at the time, would be able to film scenes for the music video for this collaboration. Gotti worked with Ashanti and Ja Rule to craft ‘I’m Real (Murder Remix)’, which was released shortly after to huge success and which sounded more than a little similar to ‘If We’.
While J. Lo topped charts, Mariah began a downward spiral which started with the lukewarm reception to ‘Loverboy’ and only continued when Glitter was released on September 11th, 2001 (yes, that September 11). Matters only got worse when her father, who she had had little contact with since childhood, died of cancer, and she was bought out of her contract with EMI for $50 million.
Despite this, Carey didn’t speak about the situation between her, Mottola and Lopez publicly until some time later. Speaking to MTV about the ‘Firecracker’ fiasco in 2002, Carey stated “Let's just say they did me a favor. And they know who they are. And thank you, sweetie. And your friend who did it with you!" The infamous “I don’t know her” remark wasn’t uttered until an interview on the shoot of 'Bringin' on the Heartbreak' in 2003, when Carey had clearly moved from bitterness onto pettiness; and since then it’s been reiterated many times in many different ways.
Which leaves us wondering: will this story ever have a happy ending for Carey and Lopez? Carey’s annoyance towards her manipulative ex-husband’s new plaything was understandable at the time, but this many years on it seems obvious that Lopez was only a pawn in Mottola’s game, and that he was the only one to blame for her career downfall. Lopez, who for her part has alternated between supportive and shady when asked about Mariah, is still on top years later, and we’re sure that Mariah could use some girl power to help her image recover from that New Year’s Eve fiasco. Here’s hoping that in the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the two will someday put this feud to rest and come out with an anti-Mottola duet of their own. ‘I Never Knew Him’, perhaps?