It’s Mariah Carey’s time. Both immediately and seasonally.
The pop music icon is launching her new docuseries, Mariah’s World, on E! Sunday night, a cleverly timed debut at the height of what’s become Mariah’s season: Christmastime.
Thanks to her catchy, near-perfect pop song “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Carey has become as omnipresent over the holidays as rotund toy deliverymen with cookie addictions. She begins an annual residency at New York’s Beacon Theater Monday night, where she’ll dutifully sing the hit each night as well as a bevy of other holiday classics.
On Friday night, we watched as she entered a Brooklyn stage reclining on a sleigh, crooning “All I Want For Christmas” as men dressed as toy soldiers danced their way into a Rockettes kick line behind her.
There was no better, or really other way to open the VH1 Divas holiday concert, which also featured Vanessa Williams and Patti LaBelle and will air on Monday night. There is no better way to open the holiday season. There is no better way to open what is, thanks to Mariah’s World, Mariah’s time.
Mariah’s World is great. Few shows are this fun to watch, because few reality TV subjects—excuse me, Carey prefers the term “documentary,” darling—are as self-aware as Mariah Carey, and certainly don’t boast her crackling sense of humor.
Yes, Mariah Carey is hilarious. Maybe you already knew that. If not, Mariah’s World will be a revelation. She’s self-deprecating in a unique way, making fun of herself for her diva reputation and the presumption that her life is all champagne and diamonds… while she drinks champagne and picks out diamonds. The entire show is one fabulous wink.
“Oprah told me don’t let anybody think that you don’t know how to put your shoes on anymore,” as four people literally help her put on a pair of high heels while she stands in a private yacht in Capri wearing a ball gown. “She’s really right. The problem is these shoes are abusive.”
Her manager Stella Bulochnikov observes the scene. “You know they’re going to cue in the evil music, right?” she says. And the show’s editors oblige.
Throughout the entirety of Sunday night’s premiere episode, Carey makes the joke before you can. She knows what you think of her and she embraces it, in all the ways that perception is both true and untrue. It adds a level of awareness that is rare in the delusional world of reality TV, where “characters” craft narratives for themselves—“start drama,” to use the genre’s cliché—in order to manufacture fame for themselves.
Carey doesn’t need fame or a narrative. She already has both, in spades. So Mariah’s World, then, becomes what the singer actually intended: a documentary.
The show chronicles preparations and then the execution of her 25-country world tour, which Carey is undertaking while planning a wedding to fiancé James Packer. The couple has since broken up, which adds nuance to Carey’s anxieties about wedding plans. In the premiere episode alone, for example, Carey postpones the wedding—at Bulochnikov’s urging—in order to focus on tour prep.
Asked about continuing to film the series even after the relationship ended, Carey told the Today show, “I can’t give somebody that much power… You gotta keep on pushing.” And about rumors of a romance between Carey and dancer Bryan Tanaka, she said, “I refuse to answer that on the grounds that it might incriminate me”—not as much as the series itself, which plays up Carey’s flirtations with Tanaka, might.
But it’s clear that the goal of the show isn’t to exploit Carey’s personal life, though her two children and ex-husband Nick Cannon do appear on it. It’s to somewhat canonize Carey, prove her work ethic to those who doubt it, and serve as image control for an icon whose image is everything. “It’s an insight into a world people might not see,” Carey says early in the episode.
The level of awareness is constant. When Bulochnikov is introduced, the show immediately addresses the rumors that she is manipulating Carey, hungry for fame herself, and tyrannically pushing people close to Carey out of her life so that she can have greater control. The show doesn’t kill those rumors, but more interestingly acknowledges that they are there, flashing screenshots of tabloid articles about Bulochnikov while Carey’s makeup artist tells Carey that the staff is uneasy about her.
“Stella’s brutally honest,” Carey says. “I’m happy when a person’s not a backstabber and says things directly to your face.”
TV fans are typically happy about that, too, which makes Bulochnikov, regardless of her motives, a fantastic reality TV character. She says ridiculously tyrannical things, like telling a new assistant she’s not allowed to date for the first year of working for her, while also harboring a sort of sociopathic attraction to Carey—constantly praising her and telling her how much she loves her. It’s super weird, and really entertaining to watch.
But the show isn’t foolish enough to think anyone watching is going to invest much in any “character” besides Mariah Carey, who, even when visibly annoyed about having cameras follow her around, is incapable of being anything but candid and herself. That means routinely breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging the fact that she’s being filmed, but doubling down on her insistence that we’re seeing the real her.
Lounging in lingerie on a chase while doing her “confessional” interviews? It’s the real her, because the act of being Mariah Carey has become as authentic as being Mariah Carey herself.
She’s naturally funny and fun-loving. She shows up two hours late to a rehearsal and then teases herself for it. She gets stressed out. She works hard. She makes the most out of a hard day, and a strange life.
Everything she does, she’s aware of how people are going to perceive and judge it. She doesn’t dismiss that, but she also knows there’s not much she can do to control it. “If something happened where it was somebody else’s fault, they don’t care,” Carey says. “It’s always my fault.”
It’s fascinating to watch how much goes into the business of being Mariah Carey, all the while being reassured that the dolled up, fabulous diva at the center of it all is an actual human person, too. But at its heart, Mariah’s World is basically just an hour of Mariah Carey making fun of herself, while Mariah Carey songs play as the soundtrack. What more could anyone want?