“Don’t Forget About…” Mariah Carey’s 17th #1 single

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Don't Forget About-Mariah

“Don’t Forget About Us”, released on December 5, 2005, belongs in a category of Mariah Carey songs that are unmistakably about a specific event or person, but which she wants the general public to interpret however they want, as an open-ended narrative. Just as she wants “Obsessed” to be interpreted as a song that she wrote for all the little girls who are constantly having their ponytails pulled by sinister little boys who just won’t leave them alone, Mariah didn’t or wouldn’t want you to think that she is in the habit of turning past heartbreaks into chart-topping break-up jams. She would rather that people hear her songs as something that they could think of as being about anyone or anything in their lives.

With “Obsessed”, this claim is dubious – how else could anyone interpret it as anything other than about being stalked by a weed-toting, pill-popping rapper who’s constantly broadcasting an inexistent tryst? As a create-your-own-meaning song, then, “Don’t Forget About Us” works because it’s specific enough to appeal to people who are captivated by the confessional nature of her songwriting (often with a little help from frequent songwriting collaborators Jermaine Dupri, Bryan-Michael Cox and Johnta Austin), not to mention, daring dips into different vocal registers, but vague enough to let people relate with the very familiar ‘wistful ex’ storyline.

Even the video, directed by “Honey” music video director Paul Hunter, seems to be telling something, and at the same time, nothing. The video is supposedly rife with references to past loves or certain Mariah moments, but to the casual viewer, the video’s main messages are that Mariah is pining for an unforgettable ex and she chooses to do so while paying homage to a scene in a Marilyn Monroe film.

Lyrically, there is no trickery, just a slow burning march towards a climactic bridge involving a slightly vindictive Mimi who isn’t going to take being replaced sitting down. The word “trickery” does appear, however, and the verse it appears in provides a glimpse into the kind of insane lyricism that she’s about to dabble in for succeeding albums. Has there been a Mariah lyric as hard to sing as the “And if she’s got your head all messed up now, that’s the trickery…” bit?

The clever turns of phrase, the zany wisecracks, the Harvard University graduating class of 2010-referencing break-up bops, would, in fact, show up in follow-ups E=MC2, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, and beyond. In retrospect, The Emancipation of Mimi, from whence her 17th #1 came, looks like a much tamer Mariah album. Compared to its successors, Mimi did not have lyrics more outrageous than ‘them chickens is ash and I’m lotion’, ‘hot as you can stand it, something like organic, you and me seems organic’, and ‘I gotta shake you off, just like the Calgon commercial I, really got to get up out of here,’. In Sasha Frere-Jones’ otherwise flattering Mariah Carey New Yorker profile ‘On Top’, he points out that Mariah was ‘keeping with current trends in R&B.’ in reference to meandering Mariah melodies, but somehow failed to make mention of Mariah’s remarkable fast-singing (such as in the aforementioned bridge), something Fourfour saw fit to bring up in his equally astute Mariah piece.

Despite being similar in theme and sound to “We Belong Together” (a song that’s quite worthy of emulation), “Don’t Forget About Us” managed to reach number 1 which could have meant that: 1. People like Mariah heartbroken, or 2. The song was really good enough to merit the peak position. The ascension to top was simply a sublime surprise. It was not the kind of hit that “Shake it Off” – a more memorable song, more to the taste of radio, a song that almost dethroned last decade’s Billboard Song of the Decade – should have been (ie, #1), and its receipts certainly were not as thick as “We Belong Together”. She would go on to make beat driven ballads with a similar tempo (“I Stay in Love”, “For the Record”) and be criticised (and sometimes, praised) for doing so, but “Don’t Forget About Us” seemed to have a struck a chord with those who, like Mariah, think themselves as infinitely superior to their ex’s current amours.

Massive amount of goodwill also helped Mimi single #4 hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Although, it wasn’t just goodwill. Being 2005’s “it-girl” she had become radio gold and “Don’t Forget About Us” was the perfect single to fall next in line in her string of emancipating hits. Not to mention, as Jadakiss and Styles P said on the “We Belong Together” remix, “This is the emancipation of Mimi/Hot like a real fever, the real diva/So successful, yet still so eager,” Mariah was indeed eager and determined for success. In the video for “Don’t Forget About Us,” there was a hidden message on the graffiti wall behind the soccer net that read “making history is seventeenth,” revealing her obvious goal: to make “Don’t Forget About Us” her 17th #1. The single was also a hit at the Grammy Awards, reaping what “We Belong Together” had sown, getting nominated for a Best R&B Female Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song – the former award won by another “We Belong Together” beneficiary, Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You”.

Prior to 2005, Mariah was languishing in an underdog status and was frequently referred to as the ‘Glitter star’; which is almost unflattering but not inaccurate. Against all odds, Mariah silenced naysayers with The Emancipation of Mimi, and “Don’t Forget About Us” reaching the top helped make her “comeback” that much sweeter. Although Mariah was ready to take a much needed break, she sealed that glorious era with a reminder that when it comes to making the personal universal, very few come close.

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