This morning I turned on the radio during the drive to work and heard one of my all-time favorite pop songs: "Fantasy," by Mariah Carey.
By now, this old song -- almost twenty-five years old now! -- has been talked about and analyzed to death. There is very little left to say about it. Still, it's such a wonderful song that I must try to say a few things that have perhaps not been said about it before.
The song's lyrics tell the story of a woman who fantasizes about having a relationship with a man she barely knows in real life. That's the long and the short of it. In the first verse, she describes seeing him "every night," so perhaps at a neighborhood hangout or while she's at work. The entire remainder of the song is dedicated to describing her fantasy, which mostly consists of keeping him as a boyfriend and making love to him.
These lyrics certainly didn't win Mariah Carey a Pulizter Prize, but the way they're put together make them pack a heftier punch than the average pop song nowadays, even if the basic subject matter is no different. In "Fantasy," the narrator is in complete control of her situation. Often in similar songs, the singers describe their predicament as hopeless or painful; but in Mariah Carey's "Fantasy," we only experience joy. It's the joy of a daydream, written and recorded at a time when one could simply have a sexy daydream about somebody without wading into the politics of objectification or an analysis of what level of fantasy is appropriate.
That joy finds itself replicated in the song's music and instrumentation, and even in the song's music video. The video, directed by Carey herself, shows her in various scenes doing nothing other than singing and having fun, which is precisely analogous to the song's subject matter. We're not pining for a lover here, we're just having a daydream. Pure joy. The song's music is upbeat. The drums are driving, the bass is deep and moving, and Carey's voice is vibrant and declarative. There's not a moody note in the whole four-plus-minutes of the song.
"Fantasy" is such a shocking song to hear in today's world, where music is progressively both more dramatic and more inane. This contrast made me realize something. There is an important kind of maturity being expressed here. It's a simple, plain-faced, heart-on-my-sleeve, unabashed fantasy being had in this song, and yet we don't have to wade through all that in-your-face "Drrty" hyper-sexuality. We don't have to get a description of the fantasy itself. What's important to Carey as she sings about her fantasy isn't the collection of acts she might be imagining, but only how she feels, emotionally about her daydream. Again, it's a song about being happy.
That's being happy, as opposed to being turned-on, or wanting to advance to the next stage of a relationship, or wanting to get the guy's number, or whatever else. It's a simple description of an emotion at a point in time. In order to express an emotion at a point in time, a person has to be aware of that emotion and take ownership of it. So, in a sense, "Fantasy" is a song about a woman taking ownership of her own fun-filled emotions.
This is a far more empowering message than anything you get in modern music today. When I heard "Fantasy" this morning it almost made me weep for what society seems to have lost over the last 25 years. We've lost the mature ability to take ownership of our emotions and express them plainly and openly. And no wonder -- every attempt to do so online is met with a Twitter mob of critics who are ready to find fault with anything you've thought or said, ready to make you pay for not properly genuflecting to the right sacred altars, ready to find hidden bigotry or privilege in any simple fantasy you might express.
It's sad enough that we as human beings can no longer explore our emotions publicly and artistically in such a way, but think what it's managed to do to art itself. When our emotions are so repressed, so is our art, and repressed art just isn't that interesting.
I really miss the Nineties.
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