Ever since Ariana Grande moved away from acting to launch a pop career, when she was posting videos of herself singing and performing covers of songs – namely ones by Mariah Carey – she has been constantly compared to the legendary diva. This peaked (for the first time) when she recorded a version of Carey’s song “Emotions” – one of the hardest pop songs of all time. Now, she did quite well actually – her range on the cover spanned 4 octaves, a few notes short of the original, and she managed to do her best to replicate (yes, “replicate”) the same riffs and runs Mariah did. Since then, Ariana has continued to perform Mariah songs – whom she says is her all-time favourite singer and called her “the best singer on the planet” – and her vocal styling is quite obviously very much influenced by her. So does that make her as good or better than Mariah? Many “Arianators” have called their idol “the next/new Mariah Carey”, say she is better than her as a singer (even when Mariah was at her peak in the 90s) and sang “Emotions” better than Mariah, not to mention all the insults towards Mariah’s age, deteriorated voice, image and perceived personality. Well, here I am going to debunk all those opinions (except the last ones) and will provide facts and evidence to back up my statement that no, Ariana is not – in any way, shape or form – a better singer than Mariah… and that not only includes then, but also now.
DISCLAIMER: This piece is mainly objective and I am using constructive criticism. I am not a “Lamb” – I like Mariah, think she is definitely one of the greatest singers of all time, but am not a hardcore fan. Nor am I a “hater” of Ariana – she seems nice, has talent and a good voice, I just do not particularly like it or her songs and absolutely detest those who ignorantly think she is anywhere near as good as Mariah, let alone better than her. This is also about a comparison between their voices and abilities, not their successes, music, personalities and not the conditions of their voices/health.
Here are some of opinions I’ve heard or read by Ariana fans or Mariah haters that they seem to be confused with actual facts based on musical knowledge and vocal pedagogy:
1) Ariana’s version of “Emotions” shows more range and skill than Mariah’s.
Really? Mariah’s range in the song spans from C3 to E7, Ariana’s spans from E3-E7. Mariah’s runs were created by her and perfectly executed – Ariana EMULATES these runs to the best of her ability, but they are NOT as well executed. Also, listen carefully to the two versions – Mariah accesses the whistle register with complete ease, while Ariana does not to the same extent.
It should also be noted that Mariah has performed the song countless times over the past 20+ years, while Ariana has NEVER performed it live at all. Could she do that and do it the same way or better? We’ll see… So far, she has yet to show she can emulate the recording and her use of the whistle register since then has been limited, and well, not particularly good. There is also speculation that studio miracles were responsible for “touching up” Ariana’s version… Of course this has not been proven and I’m unsure myself but there is that to think about until Ariana does perform it live – if she does.
2) Ariana has better control of her voice and better technique.
Now let’s break it down, shall we?
Lower register (below Middle C):
- Mariah: Resonant, can sustain notes in this area and phrase well (and can go even lower).
- Ariana: Weak, unsupported, breathy from Middle C and below.
Mid range (Middle C to E5):
- Mariah: Has power, great resonance, good agility, well-supported.
- Ariana: Limited power, limited resonance, some agility, sometimes too throaty.
Upper belting range (up to A5):
- Mariah: Retains power, resonance, agility and fullness of timbre pretty much throughout.
- Ariana: While she can hit notes here easier, this is only really due to her light, high voice and her nasal placement. But her voice thins out, becomes shrill and more nasal in this area.
Falsetto (breathy in tone and lacks vocal dynamics – more flute-like):
- Mariah: Uses a lot – well supported, great agility, musical and creative (with runs).
- Ariana: Uses a lot – good agility, but weak.
NB: Falsetto is not considered a real register and should therefore not be considered particularly impressive if one has strength in this area of the voice, since it is not hard to achieve from a technical aspect for practically anyone.
Head voice (fuller in tone – more bell-like, with a “ring” to it):
- Mariah: Doesn’t use a lot but has great agility, power and resonance.
- Ariana: Doesn’t use a lot and lacks power and resonance.
I’ll get to this part in more depth later.
- Mariah: Can manipulate her timbre (rich, husky, smooth, light, girly, etc.), good sense of pitch, great interpretative skills, seamless register switches, proficient technique.
- Ariana: Little weight or colour to the voice (only has one sound – light, high, shrill), good sense of pitch but poor enunciation, limited musical creativity, nasal placement, though has a relatively healthy technique that does not push her voice beyond its limits.
3) Ariana could “sing circles” around Mariah today.
Firstly, check out this video below comparing both of them at around the same age when they both released the debut and second albums. Is it fair? Is Ariana as good as Mariah was back then? Short answer: no.
Now, while it’s true Mariah’s voice has declined over the years – this is due to nodules ageing the voice and overworking in the first ten years of her career more than anything to do with her technique (overall, it’s not perfect but as close as probably any singer could get) – could Ariana outsing her today? I believe it would be close (particularly in a live setting), BUT:
- Mariah’s enunciation is still better
- Mariah can still sustain notes with good vibrato
- Mariah’s technique is still relatively good and healthy (some rasp in the belts, probably the main area of deterioration)
- Mariah can still sing well in the whistle register
- Mariah still has a better lower register
- Mariah still has greater musicianship, creativity and more complex runs, as shown in her song “Heavenly” (see below)
4) Ariana can sing in the whistle register better.
This is a common one! It seems anyone who can hit high notes these days is immediately compared to Mariah (much to the Elusive Chanteuse’s despair), from Christina to Leona and now Ariana. However, unfortunately, none of them – not even Christina – is better than her at singing in the whistle register and the last two still seem to be in shadows of the moniker “the new/next Mariah”…
Now, Mariah’s use of the whistle register is beyond brilliant – her technique is practically perfect technique, she has amazing agility, is powerful and resonant and can sing words and phrase in the whistle register. However, there is sometimes a slight breathiness/raspiness due to nodules, though this has nothing to do with her technique or ability to hit them. Check out what she can do with ease and consistency in this register and why she is one of the best of all time at using it:
Ariana, on the other hand, prefers to use falsetto instead (note: it’s unhealthy to push falsetto that high) and has rarely shown she can sing well in the whistle register, though there has been some improvement. Unfortunately, overall she has limited control of it and the notes are usually strained or forced and weak. Check out the video of her below singing “high notes” – but very few of those that are live are actual whistle tones.
5) Mariah looks like she’s in pain when singing – Ariana doesn’t.
This is probably the most laughable comment. Facial expressions do not always correspond to how a person is singing. I also, long ago, initially thought that Mariah looked like she was straining – and this is more obvious in her later years – but as mentioned above, her technique is good and she rarely forces or strains any part of her voice, except again, sometimes in her later years. Yes, these days Mariah does struggle singing harder parts of her bigger songs live but Ariana’s flaws are probably just as prominent. So forget about looking at their faces when they sing and listen to them instead and to be fair, here’s two recent live performances by them for you to see and hear for yourselves:
Ariana: The title of this video “Ariana SLAYS Break Free” is misleading (sorry, couldn’t find another video), because slay she does not. Her voice sounds thin, she is not very audible above the backing track (even if you turn it up louder), her enunciation is still poor, she is breathy (and she’s not moving about that much, if anyone wants to make that excuse) and slightly pitchy.
Mariah: Completely live and undubbed (I think, anyway) – unfortunately a rarity for her these days – this is her singing a song that is relatively similar to Ariana’s in terms of difficulty (i.e. not very). Her enunciation is good, her voice has resonance, power, she’s singing with an open throat, quite good support and technique and her pitch is on point throughout most of it. But is she straining? Does she look pained to you?
So, again, who is the better singer then and more interestingly, who is better now? In studio, Mariah is still better and there is barely a trace of any “studio miracles” or auto-tune. Live, they are both patchy (and pitchy) sometimes and Mariah’s performances are usually lipped (for most of the song or the hardest part) or dubbed over for a better sound quality. But of course, we’re looking at how they sing – which includes the technicalities of singing and the command and control they have over the voices, range and registers – not the state of their voices. Even if the question was “who has the better voice?”, Mariah would still come out on top, for hers is more versatile, interesting and more powerful – even today.
Perhaps this post was informative to many of who you read it and maybe even changed the minds of some of you that were not sure or thought Ariana is better. Or maybe you agree with me? Anyway, thanks for reading it – feel free to leave your comments (I’m seriously interested on who comments and what is said, especially from “Arianators”) and I’ll leave you with this rather hilarious image: