“Crybaby,” Mariah Carey’s spiraling serenade

John Antonucci
6 Min Read

In November 1999, Mariah Carey released her seventh studio album, Rainbow. By this point, Carey wasn’t just a superstar – she was the poster child for pop perfection with a catalog of hits that set the template for all the Mariah-wannabes that followed in her glittery footsteps. Having 13 number one hits by this point, Rainbow granted the songstress with two more to add to her inventory: “Heartbreaker” (featuring JAY-Z) and “Thank God I Found You” (with Joe & 98 Degrees).

Practically unbeknownst to the general public, three more singles followed: the anthemic “Can’t Take That Away,” the Snoop Dogg assisted “Crybaby,” and the Phil Collins remake “Against All Odds.” Unfortunately, all three didn’t reach the same heights as Rainbow’s first two releases. However, it was “Crybaby” (released July 18, 2000) that most definitely should have, could have, and would have. Need I enlighten you about the song’s deserving potential and underlying message? Well, if so, I’d be glad to.

Written by the chanteuse herself, “Crybaby” serves as an R&B/hip-hop hybrid with veteran rapper Snoop Dogg. Its lyrics depict Carey battling with insomnia, as thoughts of her past lover still plague her mind and result in her not getting any sleep. This might all sound simple enough. After all, who hasn’t been a little hung up over their ex? But, “Crybaby” actually might have been a little deeper than we thought at the time, and even still think to this day. In fact, it could even be looked at as somewhat of a prediction of the trouble that lied ahead for the singer.

What the public didn’t know was that Carey was in the midst of conflict and controversy with her record label, Columbia. After initial requests from the songbird that “Can’t Take That Away” be released as the album’s third single, the label wanted otherwise. This resulted in Carey informing her fans about the dispute through voicemail messages on her official website. Low and behold, Columbia eventually decided to release “Crybaby” as a double A-side with “Can’t Take That Away,” after fears of losing the label’s highest-selling act. Billboard chart rules at the time initially barred the song(s) from charting on the Hot 100. However, after its release as a commercial single, it reached a peak of number 28, but was unable to ascend any further due to a lack of promotion and very little airplay. Did I also mention that Tommy Mottola was the CEO of Sony Music and just so happened to be Carey’s ex-husband? It’s practically unfathomable to not imagine a hostile work environment at this point.

These somewhat undisclosed details make it all the more believable that “Crybaby” was not just another “Heartbreaker,” but rather a cry for help. In it, Carey persists that after multiple attempts – medicine, Bailey’s cream, listening to music – nothing is working for her, even decreeing in the most soulful way possible, “I gotta get me some sleep.” Her mind is off and wandering about the issues at hand. In reality, it’s not just about love. It’s about life. She was working tirelessly to get out of her contract with her record label. And, FYI: Rainbow only took three months to create, according to Carey. Picture just three months of writing, singing, and producing a 14 track long album. No wonder why she’s spiraling. She’s not up all night just because she misses her boo – she’s overworked and overtired.

The song’s music video, directed by Sanaa Hamri, depicts Carey in a lush penthouse suit, beginning with a serene scene of her in bed, then in a frothy bubble bath, and ending with shattering images of champagne glasses and a Fruity Pebbles cereal spillage. All of this seems to have coincided with the sequences of this diva’s career by then: a fresh start and a current whirlwind. But in true Mariah Carey fashion, she is singing her way through the pain in a way that truly nobody else can.

While the song remains a fan-favorite within Carey’s shimmery kingdom, it still remains one of her most underappreciated works to date. So on its anniversary, it’s important to give respect where respect is due. Thanks to the honchos in charge, the sparkle to “Crybaby” wasn’t very bright, but Carey’s fans (AKA the “Lambily”) have fought long and hard for many injustices throughout her career. With that being said, if there was ever an appropriate time for a #JusticeForCrybaby movement, it’s now! In the end, the only thing that’s worth crying over is the fact that this song hasn’t been given the attention it deserved.

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John is a writer for the magazine, with a great love and affection for music of the 80's/90's. His favorite artists include Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Prince. Born and raised in New York, he has a bachelor's degree in Arts Management from SUNY Purchase, as well as further certifications from NYU-Tisch School of the Arts.