The Shadelist: Chronicling Mariah Carey’s shadiest songs

Vincent Anthony
18 Min Read

Mariah Carey shade

Once upon a time, there was a young multi-racial, multi-talented girl from Long Island, New York. Born to an Irish-American mother and an Afro-Venezuelan-American father, she would grow up to have one of the best voices the music world would ever hear, a witty way with words and a masterful gift of melody. Despite having 500 hours of beauty school, she ventured off to New York City to pursue a music career. At age 18, she was signed to Columbia Records by an old, controlling Italian-American man, and released her debut album at age 20.

On her self-titled debut, Mariah Carey introduced the world to her miraculous voice and her ability to write hit R&B songs that could crossover to the pop charts. She scored four #1 hits in the process. However, one of those hits also showcased another talent of Carey’s: Someday” provided our first introduction to what has now become legendary – her artfully flawless ability to throw shade. “Someday” seemed like your standard, cute girl-hates-boy sort of shade, but as the years went on, her shade intensified. And, indeed, that same album had two more rather shady cuts: “Prisoner” (a song the very existence of she likes to shade) and “You Need Me” both were rather feisty assertions of girl power and sass, even featuring Mariah delivering her first ever rap verses. With her debut album, “Mariah Carey shade” became a brand of its own.

Perhaps the controlling Italian wasn’t here for all the shade on her debut and, for whatever reason, her sophomore album, 1991’s Emotions, only had one shady moment: “You’re So Cold,” a bubbly C&C Music Factory production on which Mariah proceeds to read a, you-guessed-it, cold man his rights for being so damn cruel. She downright calls him “heartless.” Ouch.

Unfortunately for fans of Carey’s shady sass, it was absent from her next three albums, not reappearing until 1999’s Rainbow. One, “X-Girlfriend,” found Mariah doing a rare read of another female for trying to steal her man. Co-penned by former Xscape member Kandi, the song fit right in alongside similarly shady anthems by Destiny’s Child and TLC that same year. “Did I Do That?,” though, found Carey ethering an unidentified (but not too hard to figure out) suitor who was, apparently, not the brightest bulb. In a song littered with biting shade, the shadiest bit of all is when she sings, “Conversations painfully weak, you were much better off when you didn’t speak.” Welp. Classic Mariah Carey shade.

In 2001, Mariah had a particularly unfortunate year. As we already detailed extensively, one particular shade-inducing conflict was born, yielding one notable bit of shade on an otherwise festive 80s-themed album: Da Brat’s rap on the “Loverboy” remix. Mariah eagerly sang along, to the tune of the song’s originally intended sample stolen by Jennifer Lopez, taunting her imitators: “Hate on me, as much as you want to, you can’t do what the fuck I do, bitches be imitating me daily” OOP!

From this point on, Ms. Carey began to own her shadiness in all it’s eternal glory. In 2002, she penned her finest, shadiest composition to date, for the Charmbracelet album: “Clown.” So eloquent, witty and downright ego-shattering, “Clown” is a clear attack of Eminem, who prefers to pick fights with pop divas rather than fellow male rappers who he must fear might actually hit back. Unfortunately for him, Carey is a hip-hop artist at heart, with a knack for witty rhymes and a penchant for shade. “Clown” is her most artful shade to date because of how sheerly pitiful it renders its victim: “Consequently now your ego’s fully overblown, you don’t want the world to know that you’re just a puppet show and the little boy inside often sits at home alone and cries, cries, cries, cries.” Consequently, indeed, Eminem attacked her incessantly over the years to follow. “Your pain is so deep-rooted, what will your life become? Sure you hide it but you’re lost and lonesome, still just a frail shook one.” Hit dogs certainly do holler! Yet, “Nobody cares when the tears of a clown fall down.” Poor thing. On that same album, she served up yet another sliver of her trademarked Mariah Carey shade with a bop called “You Had Your Chance.” It’s nowhere near as scathing as “Clown,” but a good, light read nonetheless.

While her 2005 comeback was not a beacon of shade, one of the album’s singles “Shake It Off” served up a bit of shade and was yet another smash hit for the diva. “Shake It Off,” as you likely know, is a now-classic break-up anthem for that less-than-stellar man in your life. Mimi motivates the ladies to shake ‘em off with a quick 1-2-3 shake. Oh, and honorable mention to “It’s Like That” for the line “them chickens is ash and I’m lotion.” Werq, honey.

Never fear, though, for she returned in 2008 with a few more songs of scintillating shade on E=MC2, the hottest of all being “Heat,” on which she points her shadlescope at some ho who tries to steal her man. It is a ratchet read that leaves hypothetical wigs strewn across the flooring. In a rare moment of aggressive violence, Mimi vows to “come out these heels and make it clear,” and “fuck up my hair and take it there, bitch.” For anyone who thinks she is all butterflies, rainbows and unicorns, think again. She “sholl ain’t the one.” 

No one is safe when the Mariah Carey shade pen is set on high, not even her siblings. “I Wish You Well,” from that same album, is a different sort of shade, though. It is in a class of its own; it is Bible-thumping, Holy Spirit-ed shade. The song talks of the manipulation done unto her by her siblings who have hurt her over the years, and she uses the words of the Bible to wish them well, a.k.a. excrete them from her life and conscience. It is just behind “Clown” at the pole position of the intelligent, high-level, damn-near-Holy shade spectrum.

That same year, Mariah got married, and the following year, released Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Perhaps out of a desire to rid herself of the negative energy as she entered her new marriage, Mariah took to her pen to once again shade the lessers of relationships past. Unsurprisingly, Memoirs is one of her shadiest albums. It was kicked off with “Obsessed,” a hip-hop track that once again is a clear response to Eminem (a connection she denies hilariously) and incited a predictably bitter response from the Obsessed-one who proved just how obsessed he truly is with his response track “Warning.” The album featured plenty more succulent shade, though. “Standing O” is a bitingly sarcastic number offering a round of applause to a failed lover, while “Up Out My Face” is a hilarious (and albeit cheesy) breakup anthem. Its most famous line is perhaps when she says that “If we were two Lego blocks, even the Harvard University graduating class of 2010 couldn’t even put us back together again.”  Other slightly shady bops include “It’s a Wrap,” “Betcha Gon Know,” and “H.A.T.E.U.” – but those are more so angry or upset than downright shady.

Following Memoirs, Mariah’s longest hiatus to-date ensued: it was nearly 5 years before she released her next studio album, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse. In that time, she unfortunately gathered a wealth of inspiration for yet another shade-filled album. On Chanteuse, she was a wife scorned, yet still trying to work through the problems in secret. On “Faded,” she chastises her then-husband for being “always somewhere but not there for” her and fading away, literally and metaphorically. Similarly, “You Don’t Know What to Do” finds her giving a witty read to her fair-weather lover, “you love me more than you love sunny summer days … now all you can do is listen to me sing” she chides. The cruelest of all, though, is downright diss-track “Thirsty.” Featuring lines like “you used to be mister-all-about-‘we,’ now you’re just thirsty for celebrity, best thing to happen to your ass was me, pull down them Tom Fords and act like you see.” Funny as that is, it’s actually quite sad. She utilizes her high level vocabulary and metaphorical skill on the chorus, singing “Thirsty for a dream, leaving me drowning, ain’t no SOS, filled with discontent, fire you can’t quench, why you try so damn hard?” The worst bit of all? She changed her number and he has to hit her on Twitter, because he “can’t get the real math.” Keeping with that same theme, “The Art of Letting Go” is self-explanatory, and features the line “Go to Mimi on your contacts; press delete.” It seems said moment might’ve come before “Thirsty”?

Possibly inspired by her experience on American Idol, “Meteorite” is a disco-inspired jam that is directed toward aspiring starlets. However, it’s not a supportive sort of “you can do it!” moment you might expect. Actually, it is an honest and all-too-real perspective on fame, laced in Mariah Carey shade. She warns that shooting stars, or meteorites, will burn out quickly. She compares fame to a flame, saying the public watches you “burn up” as you “turn up.” It’s a cautionary and shady tale of fame.

Next, we arrive to Ms. Carey’s first official post-divorce bit o’ shade: “Infinity.” Released in 2015 as a capstone for now-out-of-date collection of #1s (shout out to 19th #1 “All I Want For Christmas Is You”!) and to promote her first Las Vegas residency, the song seems to be aimed at her now ex-husband. Its antagonist, similar to that of “Thirsty,” is seemingly broke, mad, and simply not on MC’s level. She reminds him: “you lost the best you’ve ever had.” This time, though, she’s not mad or upset. She seems to recognize that it’s alright that things have come to an end, and “that’s the story, ain’t no happy end.” Yet, “Infinity,” despite its layers of shade, does end on a positive note: she still believes “infinity is more than just a made up dream,” that one day she can still find infinity. Just not with that one. So is there a happy ending to her story? Yes.

When I wrote this list in 2016, I pondered: “So, where does that leave us with the Queen of Shade? Is she still shady? Of course! However, it’s probably more likely for future music to be a little less shady given her current state of affairs (and engagement!).” Welp, so much for that.

By early 2017, Ms. Carey dumped her then-fiancé (sorry to that man) and released another song full of her classic Mariah Carey shade. A trap-inspired R&B mid-tempo, “I Don’t” features Y.G. and ingeniously flips a sample of Donell Jones’ 1999 classic “Where I Wanna Be” both from a musical and lyrical standpoint. In the video, she sets fire to her wedding dress, which caused quite a stir at the time. In what was probably not-so-coincidental-timing, she even got Remy Ma to hop on the song despite being in the midst of a beef with a certain ex-coworker of Mariah’s.

The following year, Mariah released her 15th studio album, entitled Caution. Guess what the first single off of the album was? Shady as fuck.

Entitled “GTFO,” MC the Emcee kicked off her 2018 album campaign with an exquistely shady and ultra-meme-able midtempo groove. As one can imagine from the title, “GTFO” is a rather to-the-point anthem. The Queen of Christmas encourages the exit of her antagonist (“take your tingz and be on your merry way”) with enough icy sarcasm in her tone to render Christmas in July.


As if that weren’t enough, another single from the album, “A No No” adds more shady spice to Caution as Ms. Carey flips a Lil’ Kim sample to warn the “snakes in the grass” that it’s “time to cut the lawn,” remind y’all that she won’t hesitate to get her lawyer “Ed Shapiro on the phone, case closed.” And those quips are just in the first verse, you’ll have to listen to catch the rest, “dahhling”!

In October 2020, Mariah released a compilation album entitled The Rarities, which featured a number of never-before-released songs that she unearthed from “the vault.” Of course, there is a shady bop among them: “Cool On You.” Originally recorded in 2007 and likely intended for the album E=MCthe song is seemingly inspired by Meryl Streep’s iconic character from the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly. Opening with a chant of “do the coat, kick rocks, eat dirt,” the song drips in quintessential Mariah Carey shade.

Another revelation that came to light in 2020 was that Mariah wrote and recorded an alternative rock album in 1995 while she was working on the Daydream album. Entitled Someone’s Ugly Daughter and released under the band name Chick, it features songs penned by the Queen of Shade herself, with lead vocals by her friend Clarissa Dane. The lyrics, for the most part, are filled with anger and comical shade directed at her then-husband (the controlling Italian one). Unfortunately, the entire album isn’t on streaming, but its two music videos are on VEVO and Apple Music. Mariah has said that she found the original recordings with her singing lead, so here’s hoping they see the light of day sooner than later.

So, what’s next for Shadiest Chick In the Business? Only time can tell; Ms. Carey has proved to be often imitated, never duplicated, and always unpredictable. One thing is for certain: no diva in the business can throw shade like she can, whether in an interview or, even better, in song. So, beware… you never know when she might come for you. But don’t worry too much, this is her attitude toward most people she doesn’t like:

Mariah Carey shade

Listen to Mariah Carey: The Shadelist

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Vincent is the founder of the magazine and has had a strong passion for popular music since, well, 1997! If it's not obvious, his favorite artists include Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, P!nk, and many more. Vincent lives in New York, where he is a high school English teacher, and currently he is pursuing a Master's in Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.