The Ultimate Verzuz Pairing: Mariah x Janet

Vincent Anthony
18 Min Read

Verzuz is perhaps the most exciting Quarantine Cultural development. Over the course of the last several months, the challenge born from a duel between producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland has morphed into a phenomenon. We’ve seen battles between Babyface and Teddy Riley, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, John Legend and Alicia Keys, and most recently, Brandy and Monica — just to name a few.

However, the internet is ever-insatiable and, throughout it all, calls for Mariah Carey’s participation grow ever louder. While she’s made her presence known as a viewer on a number of the battles, she’s been mum on the suggestions she partake herself, until last night:

Of course, this GIF could have a number of interpretations. Is she giving humility at the implication that she has no competition? Is she covering her mouth because something is planned and she can’t yet reveal it? Is she shocked but loving the idea of battling herself? We just don’t know.

Could she battle herself? For sure. There are many ways that could go. Perhaps a battle between the 90s Mariah vs the Emancipated “Mimi” from 2005 and on. Maybe a battle between the album version of her singles and their remixes? Her #1 singles against her non-#1 singles? Singles vs. deep cuts? Ballads vs. bops? The possibilities are almost endless.

However, if she were to battle another female artist the list of worthy competitors is rather short. Her obvious pairing, Whitney Houston, is no longer with us. Sure, someone could represent Whitney and play her songs, but that would just be another painful reminder that she’s no longer with us.

Some have suggested Celine Dion; certainly vocally, I can see it, but, aside from the fact that Mariah’s songs are far superior, Verzuz is an R&B/Hip-Hop thing. It ain’t for AC or Pop acts.

Others want to see Mariah and Beyoncé, but Queen Bey is a generation behind Mimi. Considering Destiny’s Child debuted at the end of 1997 when Mariah already had 13 #1 singles and Beyoncé has cited MC as an inspiration, she’s not the right match either.

Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton have also been named as potential match ups, and while they’ve been around more or less the same amount of years, neither iconic Queen truly has the catalogue or success to rival Mariah’s. They’d be better off battling each other.

There is only one woman alive in R&B music who can go head to head with Mariah and end up in a tie: Janet Jackson. While Jackson released her breakout album (and, was born) four years earlier than Carey, the two co-existed harmoniously in the 90s as perfect complements to one another. There were never any rumored rivalries; there was only mutual respect.

Yes, Mariah x Janet. Some may say that this battle would never happen, and they might be right. Both chanteuses are famous for being elusive, and their collaborations with other women have been few and far between. However, over the years they have collaborated with some of the same artists: Busta Rhymes, Luther Vandross, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Missy Elliott, Q-Tip, Timbaland, Darkchild, Jermaine Dupri, Nelly, and of course, Michael Jackson — among others. Yet, for the most part, their music remained very different sonically. Still, placed side-by-side, their music sounds really good together.

Don’t believe me? Well, I’ve got a playlist for that.

VERZUZ: Mariah x Janet

Round 1:
“Vision of Love” v. “Control”

For Mariah, it was her “first single– ever.” For Janet, “Control” is the song and album on which she assumed control of her sound and image. Both songs were a realization of a dream, and both songs start with an ominous “ommmm” sound. Iconic all around.

Round 2:
“Emotions” v. “When I Think of You”

This pair of #1’s are upbeat, feel good, and high-key slays. Try singing along to either of these songs without ending up with a smile on your face. It’s actually not possible. Jubilant and histrionic, these two tracks are Pop/R&B crossover perfection.

Round 3:
“Anytime You Need a Friend (C&C Radio Mix)” v. “Alright”

Two songs about friendship go head to head in round three. For Mariah, it’s the C&C Club Mix of her 1993 hit; for Janet, it’s her 1990 single “Alright.” Both promise loyal and unwavering friendship and are total love-fests. Not to mention, they’re undeniably fun.

Round 4:
“Dreamlover” v. “Escapade”

Escapism is the theme in round four. While Janet is ramping up for a weekend “Escapade,” Mariah is dreaming of being taken away by her “Dreamlover.” Both songs are two of the Divas’ most infectious bops that once again straddle the lines of R&B and Pop perfectly. It’s no wonder they both climbed to the pole position.

Round 5:
“Always Be My Baby” v. “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”

These sing-a-long odes to an unending love will linger on in the history books as two of the most unforgettable #1’s by Mariah x Janet. Whether it’s Mariah’s “do-do-do-do-dum” or Janet’s “love will never do! never do without you” chants, you’re bound to be singing at the top of your lungs.

Round 6:
“Can’t Let Go” v. “Come Back to Me”

Released just two years apart, these songs are perhaps the most sonically similar songs on the list so far. The laid back, quiet storm R&B vibe that both songs possess make for ten straight minutes of R&B bliss. Oddly enough, both songs just missed #1, peaking at #2. Still, they endure as two of their most beloved classics, both songs having been sampled by hip-hop artists in the new millennium.

Round 7:
“Hero” v. “Again”

Both songs were written with a film in mind; though only Janet’s ended up as a film theme song, both were #1 hits in 1993. These epically emotive ballads are anthems in the Divas’ catalogues; one for personal strength, one for heartbreak.

Round 8:
“Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise)” v. “Runaway”

Whether you prefer to run or fly, these two songs perch side by side for an uplifting and upbeat pairing that celebrates freedom. Mariah’s is a dance mix of her anthemic ballad “Butterfly” that inspires the courage to take flight, while Janet’s bop embodies that flight. Both songs came at pivotal moments in their careers. For Janet, “Runaway” marked the release of her first greatest hits collection and end of her relationship with her first label, A&M. For Mariah, “Fly Away” and its parent album Butterfly marked the end of her marriage and winning artistic freedom.

Round 9:
“Breakdown” v. “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”

Here, two singles from their 1997 magnum opuses go head to head. Both feature contributions from hip-hop legends: Janet bringing in Q-Tip, while Mariah teams up with Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Sonically, they’ve got different vibes but still mesh well. For both artists, the songs were risky: Janet releasing a hip-hop collaboration as her lead single, Mariah making Bone Thugs’ sound her own. However, both yielded immaculate moments in R&B history.

Round 10:
“My All” v. “I Get Lonely”

Sensual and yearning with desire, “My All” and “I Get Lonely” are songs about longing and loneliness are perfect complements to each other, thematically. Sonically, the passion in their vocal performances and just the fact that both songs just ooze sensuality make them a perfect pairing.

Round 11:
“Honey” v. “If”

Janet’s “If” and Mariah’s “Honey” have one thing in common: innuendo. Slick lyrics delivered by a pair of slick-tongued, grown ass women were both big hits (Mariah’s debuting at #1, Janet’s peaking at #4). Yet, one has to wonder if the casual radio listeners really grasped what these women were getting at with these lyrics. “Honey” is assumedly a metaphor for, well… something sexual and sticky. Meanwhile, on “If,” Janet is enamored by the feel of something “smooth and shiny against” her lips. Mariah sings, “always strung out for another taste of…” and we’ll let Janet finish: “your love right now, baby.” Iconique.

Round 12:
“I Know What You Want” v. “What’s It Gonna Be?”

You know who else has taste? Busta Rhymes. He managed to score collaborations with two of R&B’s most iconic women: Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson. The two songs boast the same Hot 100 peak, #3, and are his most successful singles to date. His 1998 collaboration with Ms. Jackson yielded one of the most iconic (and expensive) music videos ever, and his 2003 “duet” with Ms. Carey helped to further pioneer the sound of rap/sung collaborations.

Round 13:
“Heartbreaker (Remix)” v. “Son of a Gun (Remix)”

If there’s one topic that Mariah, Janet, and their common collaborator in this round don’t shy away from, it’s that men are trash. “Heartbreaker” and “Son of a Gun” both take down an ex for being, well, a heartbreaking son of a gun. DJ Clue produced the remix of “Heartbreaker,” which features Da Brat and Missy, while Janet’s “Son of a Gun” is remixed by P. Diddy and features him too (regrettably), alongside Missy. Janet’s anthem samples the iconic Carly Simon song of the same title, while Mariah’s flips a sample of Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t No Fun” for an all-female, girl-power moment. All around, this is a 1, 2 punch by a four bad ass women. We love to see it.

Round 14:
“Obsessed” v. “Feedback”

These two tracks go hard. The energy and bass are amped up, as are the Divas’ attitude. Mariah’s infamous Eminem diss track “Obsessed” and Janet’s last attempt at a pop comeback “Feedback” both pack a hard punch. With remixes that further proved these elder Divas can still hang with the young girls, Mimi and Damita showed they were not to be doubted.

Round 15:
“Touch My Body” v. “Doesn’t Really Matter”

These saccharine grooves came at moments when both Queens had something to prove. In 2008, Mariah was following up her massive comeback album and proved she could score her 18th #1 with “Touch My Body.” For Janet, 2000’s “Doesn’t Really Matter” proved that after more than 15 years of making music, she was still a hitmaker. Both songs bubble with pop sensibilities, catchy melodies, and boast iconic videos.

Round 16:
“#Beautiful” v. “No Sleeep”

Mariah’s 2013 duet with Miguel and Janet’s 2015 collaboration with J. Cole both featured creative typography and lead albums that were years in the making. Though Janet certainly bested Mariah with her 7 year gap between 2008’s Discipline and 2015’s Unbreakable, the 5 years between Mariah’s 2009 Memoirs and 2014’s Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse was no walk in the park, either. “Irregardless of what transpired,” the albums’ lead singles were decent hits for the Legendary Queens, proving they could still churn out fresh and infectious jams.

Round 17:
“Fly Like a Bird” v. “Rhythm Nation”

Perhaps the most starkly contrasted round in this Mariah x Janet battle, this pairing shows how Mariah and Janet can take on a similar theme with a completely different sound. Hoping for a world with “peace and harmony,” and urging “it’s time to give a damn, lets work together,” they inspire in the best way they know how. For Mariah, it’s with poetic lyrics and soaring vocals. For Janet, it’s with anthemic chants and a song to move your body. Both songs, though, will move your soul.

Round 18:
“One Sweet Day” v. “Together Again”

The mid-90s boasted several hit songs about loved ones lost, and both Janet and Mariah made contributions to that selection of hits. Mariah’s soaring ballad duet with Boyz II Men secured the record for most weeks at #1 (16!!) in 1996 for 23 years until it was broken in 2019. Janet’s dance floor ready celebration of life, “Together Again,” also held the #1 spot for 2 weeks in 1998. Both are timeless classic that have no doubt comforted millions of people around the world during times of grief.

Round 19:
“Fantasy (Remix)” v. “All For You”

Built on samples of loops from the early 80s, Mariah’s “Fantasy” and Janet’s “All For You” topped the Hot 100 for eight and seven weeks, respectively. Featuring big, enthralling vocals on their verses and infectious choruses, this pair of tracks are both classics in the catalogues of these Icons.

Round 20:
“We Belong Together” v. “That’s the Way Love Goes”

For the Mariah x Janet final battle, Mariah’s longest running solo #1 goes up against Janet’s. With 14 weeks clocked by “We Belong Together” and 8 by “That’s the Way Love Goes,” these two R&B classics total 22 weeks at #1. How’s that for Queen things? Not only were they hugely successful, but they’re amazing songs. Janet’s feel good groove is the quintessential example of an early 90s mid-tempo R&B jam. Mariah’s heartbreakingly vulnerable ballad was the defining song of the 2000s– literally, it was crowned the Song of the Decade. Both songs were endlessly emulated, but the imitations pale in comparison.

For Janet, “That’s the Way Love Goes” proved that even on a new label, with a more grown and sexy sound, and dropping the “Jackson,” she could still have a hit. While for Mariah, “We Belong Together” proved that after the debacle that was Glitter, after notching 15 #1’s from 1990-2000, she could still churn out one more with her sweet 16th #1. All these years later, no 90s R&B playlist is complete without “That’s the Way Love Goes,” and the same goes for the 00s and “We Belong Together.” These timeless classics are simply irreplaceable, just like the women who co-wrote, co-produced, and sang them.

Listen to our Janet x Mariah Verzuz playlist:

Click here to stream on Spotify

If you enjoyed this Mariah x Janet playlist, please also check out my longer Mariah & Janet playlist entitled “For the Love of Janet & Mariah.” It features over 60 songs, more deep cuts, and sort of tells a story!

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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.