MARIAHAN AND MISSIAN FANTASIES
BY TAMAR SHAFRIR
Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit “Fantasy”, which she wrote with Dave Hall with credits to Tom Tom Club for the song’s sampling of “Genius of Love”, describes a dreamlike state in which the object of her desire is transfigured into her boyfriend. For Mariah, these “images of rapture” are threaded through with the pain she finds in the gap between her otherwise entirely realistic daydreams and the reality in which this man is unattainable to her. We might define a “Marian fantasy” as one that lies entirely within the realm of possibility, and is thus the more excruciating for its lack.
The writer and critic Amelia Groom once made a list of all of the objects contained in Mariah Carey’s lyrics, as an exercise in list-making and defining the nature of what an object is, entitled all the objects: “door mat, charm bracelet, stone, bone, strawberry, all my diamonds and clothes, honey, Windex, bells, golden petals, brand new white tee, dandelions, yellow cake, my favourite jeans, coffee, teddy bear, ice cream, ribbon, photos of us, her red dress, milkshake, music box, knife, donuts, a whole lot of gel and acrylic, camera, a broken rose, Asscher-cut pink and white engagement ring, gumdrops, sunflower, ketchup, glitter, Jimmy Choos, fries, my phone, medicine, Bacardi, mascara, mistletoe, tears, candles, gelato, black Cavalli shades, super glue, expensive lingerie, weed, cherry wine, two Lego blocks, meteorite, money, mini skirt, puppet…”
Like her lyrics, Mariah’s videos are a mixture of the lavish and the pedestrian, or what these days might be called “basic”. Of course, the references to spectacular luxury are relatively affordable to someone of her wealth. But at their heart, her videos layer an often self-consciously fabricated veneer — the painted film set in “Shake It Off” or the masquerade and roulette game in “It’s Like That”, both from 2005 — over free and universal pleasures like frolicking in the surf or caressing a lover in an eddy of white sheets. Nothing really impossible breaks the illusion that her dreamworld could come true, even if it probably won’t. The most fantastic aspect of Mariah Carey’s videos, in fact, is her ability to sprint over marble floors in stilettos in “Honey” (1997) or speed off in a getaway car trailing an extremely long wedding train in “We Belong Together” (2005). (Or perhaps, in the latter case, it’s that she is eloping with Wentworth Miller, who in real life came out as gay in 2013 in protest of Russia’s enactment of legislation against “homonormative propaganda”.)
The video for “Touch My Body” (2008) could be seen as the apotheosis of fantasy as fictional reality. Here, a computer technician pulls into a driveway lined with palm trees, leading to her mansion. He’s nominally here to fix her Mac, but the Compunerd’s infatuation plunges him into a reverie of flirtation with Mariah. His dreams are filled with pretend versions of real experiences shared with Mariah: playing Guitar Hero, racing remote control cars, brandishing laser tag guns, and even wearing a tuxedo T-shirt. Similarly, the mansion is also full of imitations—neoclassical statues, Renaissance paintings, and Baroque furniture. When Mariah rouses the Compunerd from his daydream, it’s unclear at which layer of reality he has emerged as she sighs, “The download speed was killing me, please tell me you updated it to 802.11n!”
If the most unexpected element of the Marian fantasy is her fluency in WiFi standards as well as body language, the polar opposite can be found in the fantasies of Missy Elliott. Long known for her avant-garde videos and pioneering position as a bold female rapper in a hyper-masculine musical genre, Missy’s songs negotiate a chasm between established modes of representation associated with different typologies of pop music. On one hand, she asserts her parity with macho rappers by laying claim to the same signifiers of success, the Bentleys and Hummers. On the other, she also expresses female sexual power and desire that is directly physical, activated by the prowess of the men around her. The externalised signs of wealth that men use to appear more desirable to women have no effect on Missy, given her own status. As she says in “Hit ‘Em wit da Hee” (1997), “It wasn't your car that had me all in love with you, ‘cause I've got my own ride and a trunk full of tunes…It wasn't your money that had me all sprung out, ‘cause I got my own account and my bills in large amount.” Missy is in search of something more primal, as in “Pass That Dutch” (2003): Spank that, yank that, dutch back now; freak him, freak her, whatever ya choice, didn’t come to judge, I came to get ya moist.”
The “Missian fantasy” explores this longing for a primordial state of carnal desires and passions, so obscured by the material culture of contemporary life, through a reimagining of the world as it is today. In “The Rain [Supa Dupa Fly]” (1997), Missy notoriously wears an inflated trash bag in front of a fisheye lens, as a riposte to studio executives who were worried that her size would impede her career. She also experiments with intricately terraformed hair and jewelled sunglasses that enclose her forehead in a golden claw; as she sings, her lips and eyes morph and swell independently of her face. Breaking the laws of gravity and biology is a common trope in the Missian fantasy, as in “One Minute Man”, (2001), where she levitates while liquid dancing and takes off her head, which continues to sing as her body pops and locks, or in “Get Ur Freak On” (2001), where her head shoots towards the camera on an extendable snake of a neck.
In particular, sexual identity in the Missian fantasy is handled loosely and with little emotional taboos. In “Work It” (2002), she jokes about her date getting drunk on Belvedere and mistaking her for Halle Berry, but immediately follows by assuring listeners, “Girlfriend wanna be like me? Never! You won’t find a bitch that’s even better.” In that same video, she is pulled by an invisible force through a post-apocalyptic playground, spins records in a gigantic hive swarming with bees, walks on her hands and twirls on her head, speaks backwards, inhabits the bodies of Kunta Kinte and a child version of Missy, and eats a toy Lamborghini. But the most transgressive part of the video is still the part where she stretches her hand out to the camera, showing her shorn pubic hair, before blowing it into the lens. In “She’s a Bitch” (1999), meanwhile, she displays her dominance and makes visual allusion to fetish-wear and tools of control and violence in a spiked latex suit or a trench coat worn over ammunition belts, her bald head encrusted with diamonds and wraparound shades.
The Missian fantasy is thus distinguished by its otherworldliness — as she intones in “Lose Control” (2005), “Planet rocker, hypnotic robotic, systematic ecstatic.” This provides an outlet from the entrenched positions imposed by mainstream society, whose hierarchy Missy effortlessly scales through her sheer virtuosity without conforming to its clichés. Yet it shares with the Marian fantasy a sense of poignancy in one key way. The spectre of Aaliyah, the singer who died tragically in a plane crash in 2001, at the age of 22, drifts through the videos, her face appearing in street graffiti on a brick wall, on the back of a denim jacket, in an uncannily animated photo frame. As one of Missy’s closest collaborators, her absence is continuously marked as something that can never be recovered, even in an imaginary world where the very principles of physics have been suspended. While the Missian fantasy challenges the Marian ways in which we pursue and manifest happiness, they are driven by the same belief in love.