Everyone who has heard a few Mariah Carey songs, whether by choice or by accident, has most likely noticed that her music falls into two mood ranges: sad distraught disappointment over love gone wrong or a cheerful upbeat track about dreamy sweet love gone right. One-mood songs are monotonous, throwaway pop, no matter how catchy their ode to love or how sincerely heart wrenching their despair over a breakup may be. One of Mariah Carey's tracks that transcends the one-mood monotony and captures a variety of conflicting and self-contradictory feelings is her 1996-released single Always Be My Baby, from her 1995 album Daydream.

I was always confused about what feeling the song was trying to communicate about love... Its first few lines are performed in a slow, sad voice over light rhythmic syncopation and communicate a message of melancholy acceptance of a relationship that is over.

We were as one babe
For a moment in time
And it seemed everlasting
That you would always be mine


But the rhythmic syncopation, though very light in those lines, already gives us a hint that the song cannot be a sad heartbreak number... Even those melancholy lines that grieve a love lost have a bit of sweetness and dreaminess to them. When a song manages to confuse listeners this way, it is a good sign that it contains complexity. Mariah has often written clear-cut weepy songs with hair-rending, tears-tricking-down-in-a-stream despair, so the mixture of sweetness and bitterness here is something new. But after those first four lines of the song, the sweet dreamy aspect that was previously toned down now comes to the forefront.

Now you want to be free
So I'm letting you fly
Cause I know in my heart babe
Our love will never die


The line "Now you want to be free" loses the soft, slow melancholy tone of the previous lines and is sung on a high, exuberant note... All of a sudden, the lovelorn weeper becomes inspired by something, but I am not sure by what, because heartbreak seems incompatible with joyful exuberance. The next line - "So I am letting you fly" - confuses the listener even more because it seems to switch back into a lower, more melancholy and sad register... The next two lines however - "Cause I know in my heart babe. Our love will never die" are sung in a very rhythmic fast way that brings back memories of Mariah's happiest, most upbeat love songs like "Fantasy" and "Dreamlover."

This second stanza of the song actually points out the inherent contradiction in the song. It turns out that the soft-sung sad-toned promise of letting love go reveals itself as a lie because it is followed by a fast, cheerful declaration of certainty that the love will continue. To realize how crazy and contradictory this is, you really have to step back from the song and imagine its message in a real-life context. Imagine a young woman who talking to a friend about a boyfriend she just broke with. She tells her friend in a sad, rather hushed, and resigned voice that though her life with boyfriend was magical, she will have to let him go and let him live his own life. The friend listens to the distraught young woman but feels uneasy because some unexplained cheerfulness belies her sad voice. A few moments later, the friend's suspicions are confirmed. The seemingly sad young woman drops "the letting go" act and starts talking dreamily about being back with the boyfriend she seemingly let go of just a few moments before.

Now that you've imagined this song as conceiving of a person first letting go of love and then grasping onto it again, it will not surprise you to learn that the shift between these two contradictory messages occurs not once but a few times in the song. In fact, the next few lines after "Cause I know in my heart babe. Our Love will never die." go back to the "I am letting him go" message.

I ain't gonna cry noooh
And I won't beg you to staaaay
If you're determined to leave booy
I will not stand in your waaaay


These lines are a bit more complicated than a first listen would let on.. The woman tells her ex that "I ain't gonna cry noo. And I won't beg you to stay" in a insincere way. Those lines are suffused with a mood of desperation that in fact insinuates that she does want to beg him to stay, but will keep herself from telling him this directly. She'll let the tone of the voice spell out her "secret message."

These two lines sung with despair are where the dramatic, despair-howling Mariah comes out of her shell, but thankfully the R&B rhythm forces those lines to a speed that makes the anguish more mild and infuses it with cheerfulness. The choice of an R&B beat was the right one for Mariah, because this beat manages to suppress her high notes of heartache and agony by counteracting them with upbeatness. This song was also the first time that Mariah hired produced Jermaine Dupri to try out a beat-driven modern R&B sound. The beat is essentially a stylistic device that takes away from the sincerity of the lines that say that the relationship is over by revealing something cheerful and hopeful about its outcome. When I previously wrote about the phone conversation in which a friend suspects that the distraught young woman shows a suspicious cheerfulness in her voice while talking rather sadly about a breakup that she has accepted, it was to show how the syncopation undermines the song's "letting go" message.

P.S:
Now, the two lines that follow "I ain't gonna cry noo. And I won't bet you to stay" also confirm the suspicion that the woman does not accept the breakup. The lines "If you're determined to leave boy.. I will not stand in your way." are louder and more insistent than the two before and though the hint of sadness is still present in them, it is much weaker.

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