“Why you so obsessed with me?” is the question central to Mariah Carey's new event single, "Obsessed." And here I thought she existed to be an object of obsession! Isn't that why she's applied a thin but decided layer of the hitmaking Autotune to her voice here? Isn't that why she's created a "Blame It" retread that will nicely fold into radio playlists across formats because there's nothing at all sonically distinct about it? Certainly, you won't confuse "Obsessed" with catharsis -- as a dis record it is passive-aggressive at best. (I mean, "Why you so obsessed with me?" Seriously? You can't turn a question mark into a dagger no matter how you twist it.) This is just anonypop that's barely pointed because, dahling, Mimi's lounging and couldn't possibly be asked to lift a finger. She's too fabulous to get all common and actually explain what she's talking about.
I suppose there are good kinds of obsessions and bad kinds and good is the type that fuels your G-V and bad is the type that makes you feel sad or infringes on your chaste persona. Where you start drawing the line can be tricky, though. Ostensibly, "Obsessed" is an answer record to Eminem's recent "Bagpipes from Baghdad," a song too nonsensical and irrelevant to even get worked up over but whatever. (Sample Em lyric: "Nick Cannon better back the fuck up/ I'm not playin' / I want her back you punk / This is Hello Kitty bedspread satin funk.") Mariah should thank him. His ire gave her not just something to talk about and occupy her time (after all, aren't we all just looking for an activity?), but something to turn into a launchpad for a new album. She's obsessing about his obsession while giving pop fans something to obsess about. Cute, right?
Despite paling in comparison to almost anything on the hugely idiosyncratic E=MC² (the most Mariah of Mariah albums, thus my favorite), the Mariahisms abound. She'll do her till the day she dies, and doing her will primarily involve quoting Mean Girls, as she almost does in the spoken intro of "Obsessed." "And I was like, 'Why are you so obsessed with me?'" she says in Rachel McAdams' exact intonation. The line in the film actually begins, "And I'd be like..." but whatever. Precision has no place here. Mariah's disses are about as intimidating as Scrappy Doo's shadowboxing ("I'm the press conference / And you a conversation," or how 'bout, "Seeing right through you like you're bathing in Windex"?), thus hilarious. And if there's any pop singer who could work "Napoleon complex" into the chorus of a single, it's Mariah. At times like these, I get the feeling that she does it because she can.
There's a great track somewhere in here, but it feels sanitized. The horns sound when they should blare. An insistent piano line that should drive this thing only pops up at the end for a cameo. I wonder if this is Mariah refining The-Dream and Tricky's wilder sensibilities from a banging track to a Mimi showcase. What I love about Electrik Red's album is how far out Dream and Tricky's sound goes, but it's a lot easier to experiment with puppets than with people with actual imput (imput informed by a perpetual fear of diminished relevance). I now worry about the results of this album-long collaboration between them and Mariah (Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel). As for the Autotune: JESUS CHRIST POP SINGERS ENOUGH ALREADY. YOU'RE GONNA MAKE ME LOVE SOMEBODY ELSE FOR REAL. ALL OF YOU. She does employ it more creatively than 99 percent of the people who use it (i.e. everyone) when she does this pre-chorus, "Oooohoooowooohooowaw," sounding like she's aiming to overload the computer. Again, though, she does this because she can. And that's exactly why she doesn't need Autotune -- that little curlicue would be just as impressive without it.
I'm increasingly awful at predicting hits (especially with Mariah, since I love her so much that I'm just so biased), but it's my sense that "Obsessed" will do exactly what it's supposed to and gain the love of the land. People seem to be enjoying it, if the Internet is any indication (it isn't). Despite its electronic nature and the fact that it almost feels like a second chance for E=MC²'s shoulda-been single "Migrate," the Mariah-liteness of it all harkens back to the refined The Emancipation of Mimi. This isn't the woman in the hilariously jiggly flesh, it's a projection of her all blown up and translucent for everyone's viewing pleasure. And given Mariah's obsessing over obsession, projection is such an appropriate motif.