The beginning of the song is requisite 1990s theatricality: Mariah’s lethargic, hypnotic voice crooning a hundred syllables into the words “ooh” and “yeah,” rising and falling dreamily, over nothing at all, no instrumentation, over a hallowed, airy space that becomes filled with That Voice, and the most perfect reverb you’ve ever heard in your life. By the time Ol’ Dirty Bastard declares Mariah a shining star—his shining star—and asks if by chance New York is in the house, I’m already transported, it’s already 1995. I’m ten again. I’m wearing Jeancos under black and neon lights and trying to roller skate backwards.
Is Brooklyn in the house? Uptown in the house? Shaolin are you in the house? Boogie Down are you in the house?
Those kick drums, the snare that hits every second beat. The muted, muffled bass that wobbles in after four bars while ODB gets us amped. The song’s smoothly layered intro delays its proper start, as if giving us time to ready ourselves—time to throw our hands up, exclaim, “This my shit!!!!” and get to the dance floor, maybe. By the time other pop songs of the day would be throttling into their choruses, Fantasy is just getting started. The song is a trickster, building itself slowly, in true pop-fashion—a solitary vocal, then the drums, now the bass—so that you think, now it’s starting, but it doesn’t quite, so you think, now, and it doesn’t.
Everybody are you in the house? Baby, baby come on, baby come on, baby come on.
ODB’s growly rap-singing, like some post-modern Louis Armstrong, the silence of the drums and bass dropping out for just a beat, making room for her. The verse, when it hits, is pure decadent bombast. “When you walk by every night/talkin’ sweet and lookin’ fine/I get kind of hectic inside,” she declares. Her voice: euphoric, unrestrained, ringing out. Daydream-era Mariah (the album from which Fantasy is drawn), especially when the songs are happy and up-tempo, is all about exuberant, exhilarated melodies over a few (sometimes several) layers of laconic, almost disembodied background vocals—as marked a departure from the ball-gown-clad Diva obliterating melodies and scaling octaves in full-voice that signified the artist’s first four albums as the track’s interpolation of The Tom Tom Club’s pop-tastic Genius of Love. The synthy pluck of the guitar line, how it rides the beat, mimicking the bass. ODB assuring us that he and Mariah “go back like babies with pacifiers.” She’s not solely responsible, but Mariah doesn’t get enough credit for the part she played in mainstreaming hip-hop music, and Fantasy, which expands the dance trappings and house beats present in some of her earliest work (see: Someday, Emotions), represents her first overt shift in that direction. Shit goes hard, even in 2015. Moreover, because it’s Mariah Carey, shit’s poignant.
Sweet, sweet fantasy baby/when I close my eyes, you come and you take me/on and on and on/it’s so deep in my daydreams/but it’s just a sweet, sweet fantasy baby
With the exception of the two verses, the bulk of the track is Mariah free-styling over the slick, sparse, pseudo-industrial hip-hop beat and the dance-pop sample. The background vocals do most of the lyrical leg-work while Mariah’s melismatic adlibs perform their feats of glory, joyfully beginning thoughts only to abandon them halfway through, her voice soaring effortlessly into that ether-place only she can achieve, tumbling down into the velvet richness of her lower register, flying up again like something weightless and effervescent.
Images of rapture creep into me slowly/as you’re going to my head
No one does ebullience quite like Mariah Carey, and few of her tracks capture that ebullience as deliriously as Fantasy. Twenty years after it became her ninth number one hit (and the first by a female artist to debut in that position), the song retains its rapture, its jubilance, its delightfully incongruent nature: on the one hand earnest, sincere, sugary-sweet; on the other, cool, clever, and a bit hard around the edges (“Whatchu gonna do when you get outta jail?” she queries of ODB, who replies, “I’m gonna do the remix”). It’s an extravagant confection of perfect pop-R&B, decadent and timeless. It sounds like 1995, feels like it, yet it isn’t dated. I hear it on purpose or I heart it by chance, when some flashback radio hour plays it at lunch, or, when the gods are smiling, at a bar with a dance floor, and I’m left with no choice but to surrender to the imperishability of its particular magic, to give myself over to it.
And I do, and I become timeless myself.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Indiana is a writer out of South Bend, Indiana, pursuing a BA in English with plans to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. Their fiction has appeared online at Queen Mob’s Teahouse and Big Ugly Review, (as Chad Morgan) and in print with Hair Trigger and Analecta. Indiana also blogs sporadically and without focus atandindianajones.com, and makes music and video projects with the interloperz collective, which they helped found.