The ultimate diva move is proclaiming, with a straight face, that you are not a diva.
“That word is so overused,” a laconic Mariah Carey mused from the Met Philadelphia stage last night, shrugging while a pair of her dancers fluttered in her orbit, touching up her foundation and cooling her off with a folding fan.
Carey, 49, has always had a cunning, and cutting, sense of humor, but that was more or less the only glimpse of levity she afforded her enthusiastic Philadelphia crowd. Short but ultimately satisfying, her roughly hour-long Caution World Tour set was built for efficiency, mixing truncated classics with new singles and a week’s worth of outfit changes.
The show, among the last of Carey’s North American performances in support of 2018 album Caution, was preceded by a cocktail reception debuting The Met’s Grand Salle, overlooking the orchestra floor. Access to this roomy 3,400-square-foot lounge is touted as part of the venue’s ticketed VIP experience. Its gilded pillars, marble bar, and soaring barrel-vault ceiling adorned with twinkling starburst chandeliers certainly screams soigné, but like many schmoozy spaces of this ilk, attendees seemed more concerned with being seen than any scenery. Still, the upmarket ballroom was a natural habitat for cheeky Carey-like touches, like the all-pink candy table illuminated with neon hearts, or the drag queens distributing plastic tiaras from trays alongside servers butlering Jean-Marie Lacroix hors d’oeuvres.
After a warm-up from DJ Suss One that resulted in some light balcony twerking, Carey opened with current single “A No No,” taking between-song swigs from a silver-sequined water bottle that matched her outfit. But as is the case with any artist with a deep discography, the crowd didn’t really turn up until it heard the opening notes of “Dreamlover,” an early-career number-one from 1993.
“Do we have any lambs here?” Carey asked the audience, dropping the term her biggest fans have adopted to refer to themselves before launching into a medley of her disco-tinged 2014 track “You Don’t Know What To Do” and 1991 mega-smash “Emotions.” She continued this potpourri of contemporary and classic songs all evening. Rearranged versions of “Fantasy” and “Always Be My Baby,” which featured an appearance from her spotlight-ready 7-year-old twins Moroccan and Monroe, led into a trio of offerings off Caution, including the title track, the moody “GTFO” and the clubbier “Stay Long Love You.”
Fans craving vintage Mariah got their fix once she donned a dramatic kelly-green gown to belt out the Butterfly barn-burner “My All,” a look she rounded out with a matching feather boa for a playful mash-up of music from Glitter, the poorly received 2001 movie and album that found new life after a 2018 online fan campaign.
While the preponderance of trimmed and rearranged content throughout — it was a surprise to hear a cheery hit like “Heartbreaker” done downtempo — might have cynics wondering if Carey still has the range, she made it a point to break into the whistle register a handful of times throughout the night, holding her finger to her ear like a proper ‘90s chanteuse. Fifteen albums in, Carey seems to be deploying her sheer vocal talent more strategically, hitting the stratospheric high notes just often enough to remind everyone she still can.