Mariah Carey is revolutionary, but Elvis is still King
Note to Mariah Carey devotees: Stop the boasting.
The news of Carey surpassing the King in No. 1 pop singles broke last week, when the diva's "Touch My Body" became her 18th chart-topper, giving her one more than Elvis.
Everybody needs to take a deep breath, because even the ubiquitous Mariah seems to put it all in healthy perspective.
"I really can never put myself in the category of people who have not only revolutionized music but also changed the world," she told The Associated Press last week. "That's a completely different era and time."
At least she sounds levelheaded and philosophical. The rest of us should, too. Carey's accomplishment is indeed impressive, especially for a woman whose recording career began nearly two decades ago. These days, since we live in such a fast-paced, celebrity-saturated society, maintaining pop-culture relevance for, say, one month is difficult enough.
But let's keep three points in mind aimed at helping us understand what is really the not-so-monumental scope of the news.
1. Elvis is dead. His chances of upping his No. 1 singles count are, well, pretty much zilch. So this isn't a race, folks. One of the competitors can't run anymore.
No matter how many times RCA Records repackages Elvis' oeuvre, remixes his proven hits, or even digs up obscure outtakes that sat inside some vault, he won't score another No. 1 smash. His tally won't budge.
2. Digital downloads make it much easier to score No. 1 chart singles. In the age of the iPod, a time when singles are the rage much more so than full albums, it's no longer difficult to reach the summit.
Billboard magazine, the industry bible, tabulates digital download points to help send a song up the charts. Carey's "Touch My Body," which was already enjoying healthy radio airplay, sold 286,000 downloads its in first week. Boom! Off to No. 1 it went. Gone are the days when diligent time and plentiful money took a tune to the top. It's all faster now, which is indicative of the technological world we live in.
So any artist with a lofty track record still hot in the 21st century has a shot at racking up the chart-toppers. Whitney Houston, who already has 11 No. 1 pop hits, could surpass Mariah if her much-touted upcoming CD proves to be a comeback. Madonna has 12 of them. If she ever returned to the good graces of radio and the young iPod generation, she could also prove a threat for Carey.
Heck, even Michael Jackson, with 13, would be a contender if he suddenly repaired his stateside image. In the unpredictable world of popular music, anything is possible.
3. This is about popular music, people. It's not about lasting artistic impact. None of the aforementioned singers, with the remote possible exception of the trend-setting Madonna, will surpass Elvis in sheer creative influence. That man changed the landscape of music. His sound ushered in the rock `n' roll movement. His image spawned an army of copycats - from swiveling hips to sneering mouths - and impersonators who don the elaborate Elvis regalia in glittering tribute.
There's a reason his music continues to reach a new generation of listeners. Ditto for the Beatles, who have the top spot with 20 No. 1 pop hits. Carey will surely pass them, too. But she can't bout with them artistically, either.
Mariah Carey has a great voice. She can belt out a soulful song like "Vision of Love" or "Mine Again," from her 2005 CD "The Emancipation of Mimi," sure to shatter wine glasses. She arrived in 1990 and her success immediately influenced future R&B-pop divas with big pipes. But she didn't create anything new that altered the music pantheon.
This isn't to discount her remarkable chart feat, but she still doesn't come close to Elvis' iconic stature. She's no trailblazer.