The internet has been pouncing on Mariah Carey for days, after she missed her scheduled pre-taping for the Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony on Tuesday. She reportedly held up fans and crew for three and a half hours in freezing rain, due to a phone call regarding her divorce with Nick Cannon. When she finally arrived, NBC told everyone to go home, including Carey. But the station relented and allowed her to perform “All I Want For Christmas Is You” live last night, which, as you may have heard from the isolated vocal track floating around today, did not go well.
The reactions have been intense. Some are harshly mocking her, while some are calling her a hero for performing such a difficult song live in “below freezing weather.” Well, I can tell you firsthand that it was not below freezing last night – nearly 50 degrees, in fact, which is child’s play for native New Yorkers (like Carey). According to a few radio colleagues who have covered the event for almost two decades and dealt with literally frozen equipment, this was one of the warmest Tree Lightings in years. I’m not saying it wasn’t brisk, but it certainly wasn’t the danger to her vocal cords that some are making it out to be.
I think it’s great that she kept her commitment, but her decision to perform live was not heroic. She didn’t have any other choice once she had missed the taping, other than missing it altogether. And no matter how much of an icon she is now, she’s still a musician. Performing live is part of the job.
I also realize there are external factors that may have influenced her vocal performance, like cold weather, the pressure of a live broadcast, or the demanding nature of the song. But I have trouble feeling sympathetic about things she could have controlled.
If you’re cold, don’t wear an outfit that exposes so much skin. If the song is too difficult to sing live, alter the arrangement, or choose another song. If you’re nervous about executing a live performance, make sure you show up for your pre-taping.
That being said, I don’t think the kind of hate she is receiving today is at all justified. Her vocal cords were clearly exhausted for some reason, and maybe even sore, which is something that does warrant sympathy. Also, her hand movements would suggest that she was struggling with her in-ear monitors, though this has not yet been confirmed.
But even as she hung on flat notes and missed some notes altogether, she performed gracefully until the very end. She was poised even in her weak moments, and her facial expressions and posture remained confident. In that right, she accomplished one of the most difficult and important parts of performing: Never let them see you sweat.
We are so oversaturated with perfectly-processed pop music that we may have forgotten some of the tough realities of live singing. Why don’t we support our musicians and recognize music as the challenging performing art that it is? It’s okay to have an off day, and if it has to happen, this is how it’s done.