Ranking the Best Mariah Carey Albums

In case you needed a reminder of the universal appeal of Mariah Carey’s music, my wife comes home with the receipts.

As I was literally working on this post, Mrs. Soul In Stereo strolled in from the grocery store to tell me what she witnessed:

“‘Always Be My Baby” was just playing in the store,” she said. “And everyone was singing along – adults, kids, all races.”

Mariah can be a pretty easy target for Internet slander these days, thanks to the constant drama, reality-show hijinks and disastrous New Year’s Eve performances. But one thing no one will ever take from Mariah is her ability to make music that transcends cultural barriers and shatters sales records. Her voice has helmed some of the biggest songs in R&B and pop history.

Today, let’s look back at the albums that made her an icon.

Let’s revisit Mariah’s legendary discography, ranking them from bottom to top. This list will exclude her greatest hits, Christmas and live albums and will stick to her studio LPs.

Take a look back at the songs that still have us singing in unison almost 30 years later.

glitter

12. Glitter (2001)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3 stars out of 5

Edd said: Good lord, let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? Mariah’s infamous 2001 film was hilariously awful – seriously, go back and watch it, it’s the most unintentionally funny travesty to make the big screen. The soundtrack, though, lacked the film’s, um, unique charms. Glitter wound up as a mostly forgettable collection of 80s-themed tracks but a handful of them are worth a listen.

Forgotten favorites: “Want You,” “All My Life,” “Loverboy (Remix)”

memoirs

11. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (2009)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: On one hand, this album was unfairly overlooked as Mariah’s silly feud with Eminem overshadowed its release. On the other, fans didn’t really miss out on a lot anyway. There were several strong offerings scattered throughout (“Up Out My Face” remains a guilty pleasure) but the set was just a little too bloated and uneven to reach the next level.

Forgotten favorites: “H.A.T.E.U.,” “Up Out My Face,” “Angels Cry”

me i am mariah

10. Me. I Am Mariah … The Elusive Chanteuse (2014)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (read our review here)

Edd said: After taking a half-decade off to experience the joys of motherhood, MC roared back in 2014 with renewed focus and yet another weirdo album title. Despite a couple of head-turning singles that raised anticipation for the release, the finished product suffered from the same fate as the previous imperfect memoir – great songs lost in a bloated, uneven package. This one has gone on to become something of a fan favorite in recent years and that’s cool – it’s not a bad release but it could have been so much better.

Forgotten favorites: “Make It Look Good,” “Camouflage,” “Faded”

charmbracelet

9. Charmbracelet (2002)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: After the previous year’s Glitter fiasco, Mariah quickly returned to right the wrongs of the prior effort. The result was Charmbracelet, which felt much more true to Mariah’s core sound. Big ballads, aching love songs, hip-hop-laced singles – the formula was there but the execution was slightly off. Still, there are more than a few underrated cuts on this one.

Forgotten favorites: “Boy (I Need You”),” “The One,” “You Got Me”

rainbow

8. Rainbow (1999)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Mariah’s always been a bit of a musical chameleon, and those colors really shine on Rainbow. Although it’s packed to the brim with hip-hop stars of the era (Jay Z, Missy Elliott, Da Brat, Snoop Dogg, even Master P and Mystkial come through) it still feels much more like a pop record than anything else. However, she still makes time to revisit her soulful roots as well. As with most of her lesser releases, this album struggles to find focus at times but it’s a great showcase of her artistic diversity.

Forgotten favorites: “Heartbreaker (Remix),” “Bliss,” “X-Girlfriend”

mc2

7. E=MC2 (2008)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: This album took a bit of a beating back in 2008 for sounding a bit too similar to Mariah’s previous effort, The Emancipation of Mimi. I mean, even the title basically screams Emancipation Part 2. But if you’re gonna find inspiration from an album, pattern yourself after a great one – and that’s exactly what E=MC2 does. As with the previous release, Mariah scales back the sparkles and gumdrops to add a bit more sass to her vocals. Arguably this is MC’s most unappreciated release.

Forgotten favorites: “I Stay In Love,” “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time,” “OOC”

emotions

6. Emotions (1991)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Don’t talk to Mariah about sophomore slumps, she’s not here for it. MC’s second release set the tone for her dominance of the 90s – massive singles, blockbuster ballads and impeccable vocals. Emotions allowed Mariah to branch away a bit from her pop origins and embrace her gospel roots to great effect. This album proved she could really do it all.

Forgotten favorites: “Till the End of Time,” “And You Don’t Remember,” “If It’s Over”

mariah carey

5. Mariah Carey (1990)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Y’all know what they say about first impressions. And when your debut album sells FIFTEEN MILLION copies worldwide, you can bet your name won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Longtime fans remember how “Vision of Love” catapulted Mariah’s career to the stars but that was just the beginning – subsequent singles and a dazzling array of album cuts made this one of the best releases of the decade.

Forgotten favorites: “Prisoner,” “All In Your Mind,” “Vanishing”

music box

4. Music Box (1993)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Are y’all still sick of “Hero?” Lord knows I am. Radio, TV, your school choir – that song was EV-ERY-WHERE in 1993. I still remember our neighbors blasting it in the middle of the night in the mid-90s. And while that song wore out its welcome three presidents ago, the album Music Box has stood the test of time. At 32 million copies sold worldwide, including diamond status here in the U.S., this remains Mariah’s biggest commercial release, and for good reason. The set boasts unbelievable pop and R&B tracks, several of which have become some of MC’s signature songs. I STILL skip track No. 2 to this day but I’ll never skip over this incredible album.

Forgotten favorites: “Anytime You Need a Friend,” “All I Ever Wanted,” “Music Box”

emancipation

3. The Emancipation of Mimi (2005)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: There is no way this album should have been this good. After nearly a decade of drama and so-so releases, MC delivered an album – 15 years after her debut, mind you – that blew away nearly everything in her legendary catalog. This was more than a redemption album; the blend of pop, soul and hip-hop helped breathe life into a genre that was starting to lose its way. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s the album that endeared Mariah to a whole new generation of R&B fans. More than a decade later, this is arguably Mariah’s most beloved released – just ask around online (believe me, I did).

Forgotten favorites: “Stay the Night,” “One and Only,” “Get Your Number”

daydream

2. Daydream (1995)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Daydream is a phenomenal album, y’all don’t need me to explain that. But what often goes unsaid is how important this album is to Mariah’s evolution as an artist and its impact on hip-hop. This was the album that began MC’s flirtation with hip-hop elements in her music, resulting in unexpected collaborations with spectacular results (teaming Mariah and ODB in 1995 for the “Fantasy” remix would be like Tamela Mann and 21 Savage on a track today – well, if 21 Savage wasn’t embarrassingly awful.) Mariah discovered a new sound, hip-hop gained new commercial credibility and we all were treated to unforgettable hits.

Forgotten favorites: “Underneath the Stars,” “Long Ago,” “Melt Away”

butterfly

1. Butterfly (1997)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Deciding between Butterfly and Daydream for the top spot almost came down to a coin flip – both albums are near flawless in their execution. But Butterfly gets the slight nod simply because of its enduring legacy. “Honey,” “My All,” “The Roof,” “Breakdown,” the remake of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” – nearly every one of the album’s 12 tracks are game-changers on their own. That’s why Butterfly almost feels like a greatest hits album – wall to wall hits in a literal golden package. It’s Mariah at her best.

Forgotten favorites: “Fourth of July,” “Whenever You Call,” “Fly Away”

What’s your favorite Mariah album? How would you rank all 12? Let us know below.

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21 Comments

  1. Going in order of #1 – 12: BUTTERFLY; TEOM; CHARMBRACELET; DAYDREAM; MARIAH CAREY; GLITTER; MUSIC BOX; E=MC2; EMOTIONS; MOAIA; MIAM..TEC; RAINBOW

  2. 1. Mariah Carey
    2. Emotions
    3. Music Box
    4. Rainbow
    5. Emancipation of Mimi
    6. Butterfly
    7. Daydream
    8. E=MC2
    9. Me. I Am Mariah.
    10. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
    11. Glitter
    12. Charmbracelet

  3. 1Daydream
    2Music box
    3Butterfly
    4Emancipation
    5Mariah carey

    That’s it.

  4. #1: Daydream
    #2: The Emancipation of Mimi
    #3: Honey
    #4: Music Box
    #5: Mariah Carey

  5. 1.Mariah Carey
    2.Emotions
    3.Music Box
    4. Mariah’s soul died, and there are no other releases that are any good.

  6. 1. The Emancipation Of Mimi
    2. Butterfly
    3. Mariah Carey
    4. Charmbracelet
    5. Daydream

  7. 1) Charmbracelet
    2) Butterfly
    3) Daydream
    4) The Emancipation of Mimi
    5) Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
    6) Mariah Carey
    7) Glitter
    8) Rainbow
    9) Elusive Chanteuse
    10) Music Box
    11) E=MC2
    12) Emotions

  8. 1. Emotions
    2. Mariah Carey
    3. Music Box

    I like songs after these three albums, but these are the only three albums I listen to from top to bottom.

  9. I became a fan or lamb in 1995 so it was at that time that was crucial to any of her fans to either decide to stay for the long haul or move on and boy did i stay! My top albums are:
    1) Me. I am Mariah… The elusive chanteuse.
    2) Butterfly
    3) Daydream
    4) The Emancipation of Mimi
    5) E=MC2
    6) Rainbow
    7) Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
    8) Emotions
    9) Mariah Carey
    10) Music Box

  10. 1. Butterfly
    2. Mariah Carey
    3. Music Box
    4. Rainbow
    5. TEOM
    6. EMC
    7. Daydream
    8. Charmbracelet
    9. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
    10. Emotions
    11. Glitter
    12. Me… I’m Mariah

  11. 1. The Emancipation of Mimi
    2. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
    3. Emotions
    4. Music Box
    5. Mariah Carey
    6. E = MC2
    7. Daydream
    8. Butterfly
    9. Rainbow
    10. Charmbracelet
    11. Me, I am Mariah
    12. Glitter

  12. 1. Butterfly
    2. Daydream
    3. The Emancipation of Mimi
    4. Me… I am Mariah
    5. Mariah Carey
    6. Emotions
    7. Rainbow
    8. E=MC2
    9. Music Box
    10. Glitter
    11. Charmbracelet
    12. Memoirs

  13. 1. Daydream
    2. Butterfly
    3. Mariah Carey
    4. E=MC2
    5. The Emancipation of Mimi
    6. Me. I Am Mariah
    7. Rainbow
    8. Memoirs
    9. Music Box
    10. Emotions
    11. Charmbracelet
    12. Glitter

  14. 1. The Emancipation of Mimi
    2. Butterfly
    3. E=MC2
    4. Me. I Am Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse
    5. Daydream
    6. Mariah Carey
    7. Charmbracelet
    8. Music Box
    9. Glitter
    10. Rainbow
    11. Emotions
    12. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

  15. Mariah’s best album that everyone always forgets is MERRY CHRISTMAS

  16. 1. Butterfly
    2. Emancipation
    3. Daydream
    4. Caution
    5. Music Box
    6. Vision of Love
    7. Emotions
    8. Rainbow
    9. E=MC2
    10. Glitter
    11. Charmbracelet
    12. Memoirs
    13. Elusive Chanteuse

  17. 1.Merry Christmas- Her best work imo. Has her most classic song AIWFC. It’s a album where you don’t have to skip a track. It’s timeless in a way her other 90s work isn’t.

    2. Butterfly- This is the album where she finally let us know who she is and what she likes as a person. She finally stopped oversinging and let the tracks breathe and the focus was on the storytelling/lyrics rather than vocals and big showy hooks. It’s also her only 90s album where the lead single was not the strongest showing on the album.

    3. Emancipation of Mimi- a great victory lap/redemption for Mariah. This is the album that made me a fan. It was her best album since Butterfly. She stopped splitting her albums into half piano ballad and half hip hop-sampling jams she had recycled since Butterfly. Emancipation reinvented her sound to contemporary r&b with a mix 70s soul and gospel. It’s the album that could make her idol Stevie Wonder proud. It’s a love album but it’s a party album as well and celebrates the most important love:self love. Mimi was feeling herself on this one.

    4. Emotions: Mariah’s Emotions shows off all the colors of her voice and all the emotions that voice can show: from pure joy and bliss on Emotions and To be Around You to the blues on If it’s Over and And you don’t Remember to the haunting quiet storm/moodiness of The Wind and Can’t Let Go. None of the ballads were MOR/typical pop ballad. This album had all the gospel and blues influence that was edited out for Mariah’s debut effort. This album was also Mariah’s vocal peak.

    5. Elusive Chanteuse. An album that had a confusing rollout and title but excellent music. It’s not a album built around the singles. You have to listen to the entire album. Every song is a star. I like how Mariah finally played with disco on songs like You don’t Know what to Do and Meteorite. Mariah should have named this album Moonlight or something surrounding the moon. It’s dark, moody, and spacey and changes shape but about being a bright spot in the darkness like the moon. An album full of breezy midtempos like Beautiful, Faded, and Dedicated but not confined to either one era or genre.

    6. Daydream: An album where the singles were clearly the strongest tracks but where those singles were excellent. Fantasy and Always be my Baby are brilliant. Underneath the Stars is very understated and gorgeous. It’s a dreamy album about longing and wishing.

  18. 7.Merry Christmas II You: Great Xmas album that’s whimsical and fun. It is a testament to Mariah’s songwriting skills and the production on the album that I thought One Child, Xmas Time is in the Air, and Oh Santa were old standards rather than newly written songs. This Christmas album is underrated in her catalog.

    8.E=MC2: This was Mariah at her most fun and cheeky. I love how she focused on more beat-driven tracks like Migrate, Cruise Control, Side Effects, I’ll be Lovin u Long Time, I’m that Chick. This album was like a continuation of Emancipation and at times even more fun/interesting than the former, esp on Touch my Body.

    9.Music Box: This is her most successful album and with songs like Hero and Without You it’s easy to see why. It’s an album full of gorgeous breezy melodies. The down to this album is the amount of filler in comparison to the singles.

    10. Glitter: The Glitter soundtrack is an experiment done well despite the debacle that was the movie. It’s no Purple Rain but songs like Never too Far, Lead the Way, Reflections are great uplifting ballads and the dance tracks really are retro fun. Mariah mixed eras (80s funk and early 00s hip hop) in a way only she knows how.

    11.Charmbracelet: This was a calm and understated album and it was a return to r&b for Mariah after Glitter and Rainbow albums which were more pop and hip hop sounding. Whisper vocals aside, Mariah had some great songs on this album and explored neosoul on songs like Subtle Invitation, Yours, Lullaby. Her cover of Bringin on the Heartbreak is also a favorite.

    12. Rainbow: The Rainbow album with its uplifting/inspirational balladry was a great transition from the Butterfly album to the Glitter album. Despite it being scattershot and third rate compared to Butterfly, some standouts in her catalog are on this album like Petals, Heartbreaker, and Bliss. The Rainbow interlude is also my favorite interlude from her.

    13. Mariah Carey: Mariah’s debut. With the legendary Vision of Love, Mariah’s career began. However, this debut has never been a favorite of mine. I found the songwriting to be too cheesy and the production too much like Whitney’s 2nd album Whitney. I enjoyed the Emotions album far more.

    14.Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel: This is my least favorite Mariah album. It sounded like an album of Dream demos. It was hard to distinguish the difference between some of the songs. The lyrics were more interesting than the actual music/songs. The best song on here was the cover of I Want to Know what Love is. It’s a Wrap is also a standout.

    *I left Caution out of my rankings because it’s too early for me to tell where I place it in her discography

  19. Instead of ranking her best albums I’m just gonna rank them according to my personal favourites.
    1. Butterfly AND Charmbracelet
    To me, both of these albums have no skips and are flawless bodies of work from start to finish. Butterfly is where Mariah was able to show people who she really was as she was more able to focus on songwriting rather than oversinging on boring ballads (I’m looking at you Daydream and Music Box) and she was also able to experiment with hip-hop (all of my fav songs by her are her hip-hop songs). Charmbracelet really gets a lot of heat for its whispery vocals but I think they’re relaxing and add to the slow RnB vibe of the album, its probably one of her most underrated albums ever. Her pen game on this album was truly amazing too. Top tracks: Outside, Breakdown (for Butterfly) and Yours, Subtle Invitation (for Charmbracelet)

    2. Caution
    When she announced another album I was honestly quite scared with what she was gonna release because I didn’t know what Mariah would sound like in today’s music climate, but when Caution dropped I was actually amazed at how great the album was. In my opinion its her most cohesive body of work and though it still sounds like a Mariah album, it still manages to sound fresh and current. Top tracks: Stay Long Love You, Caution, The Distance

    3. Glitter
    I can honestly feel the judgement already. This album is by far her most underappreciated body of work and it baffles me as to why that is. This soundtrack contains the best ballads of her career and she managed to pull off a conceptual 80s-inspired album and managed to make it sound current (well, current for 2001), and vocally this album was amazing, one of her best vocal eras in my opinion. I think people stigmatise this album because of the breakdown and the fact that the movie flopped but that shouldn’t take away from a solid body of work. Top tracks: Reflections (Care Enough), If We

    4. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
    I used to really hate this album because I deemed the songs too similar but I never really gave it a proper chance until a couple of months ago and now I love it. Obviously this album doesn’t compare to Butterfly or anything like that but the production on this album is unashamedly RnB and thats what I love about it and its very sonically cohesive. People need to just look past Obsessed and listen to the deep cuts. Top tracks: Candy Bling, Inseparable

    5. Rainbow
    I feel like with this album Mariah tried to follow the formula of Butterfly but it didn’t really turn out as well. There’s a very clear distinction between the pop ballads and the hip-hop songs which kinda bugs me, but even though its not cohesive, the individual tracks are amazing on their own (except for X-Girlfriend and Did I Do That?). Top Tracks: Bliss, Crybaby

    6. Emotions
    This album is often overshadowed by its predecessor, however I think creatively and sonically this album is far superior. Mariah experimented heavily in Soul and Gospel (and Jazz to a lesser extent) and her power voice during this era really aided her in pursuing this new sound. Though it may sound a little dated, overall this album is amazing. Top Tracks: The Wind, Make It Happen

    7. Daydream
    This album really makes an effort to showcase Mariah’s amazing vocals, but some tracks fall short in my opinion. Majority of the album is great but some of the tracks just sound like Music Box filler rejects that make it difficult to listen to at times. If she was allowed to ditch some of the drab ballads this album would’ve been in my top 3 for sure. In my opinion this album is kinda overrated though and its very clear that Butterfly is her Magnum Opus in comparison. Top tracks: Melt Away, Long Ago

    8. The Emancipation of Mimi
    I see the appeal of this album but I never really clicked with it like I did with Butterfly or Charmbracelet. The 70s-retro-RnB inspired tracks like Mine Again, Stay the Night and Joy Ride are some of the best of her career and I wish the entire album was filled with them, but unfortunately half of the album is made up of forgettable and sometimes irritating mid-tempo RnB songs like One and Only and Get Your Number that are really weak in comparison and drag the album down as a whole. Still a solid body of work though. Top tracks: Fly Like a Bird, Don’t Forget About Us

    9. E=MC2
    I see people all the time claiming that this is her best album and it baffles me as to why people think that. Sure there are a few standout tracks on this album but I feel like Mariah returned to generic pop with this release and the production on it is some of the worst of her career. The single choices from this album still make me angry to this day because she chose 3 of the worst songs on the album (Touch My Body was the only single I liked) instead of going for the more obvious choices like Migrate or Thanx 4 Nothin’. In my opinion it was a massive step down from Emancipation. Top Tracks: For the Record, Migrate

    10. Mariah Carey
    I think a lot of the reason as to why this album is placed down here comes down to personal taste but whatever I think this album was very mediocre as a whole and was not in any way cohesive. I stand by the fact that the songs on the album were only used as a vocal showcase and in many instances her vocals outshined the production by a lot. There are some fun Rnb/dance tracks on here but overall its a very dated album and does not represent who Mariah is as an artist. Top tracks: Someday, Prisoner

    11. Me I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse
    I’ve given this album so many chances but it always underwhelms me. First of all its very hodgepodge, it sounds like she took bonus tracks from all of her previous albums and released them as a body of work. It’s sorta overproduced and her vocals have been noticeably tampered with on many songs, production is consistently messy, and I can’t tell you how much I dislike #Beautiful and Thirsty. I feel like she was trying too hard on this project to stay fresh because there’s not a lot of songs that really scream Mariah to me on this album. But I do commend her for experimenting with a variety of different genres, even if she didn’t pull some off as well as she intended to. There are a couple of hidden gems on here though. Top tracks: Camouflage, Faded

    12. Music Box
    Though it is her best selling album and one of the best selling of all time, it has, is and will always be my least favourite Mariah Carey album. This album has no substance or life and is just one-note from start to finish (with the exception of some mediocre dance and RnB tracks) and is pretty painful to listen to all the way through. I think its overall blandness is what appealed to the masses but this is not who Mariah is at all, it’s what the record company wanted to portray her as: an innocent, boring, girl-next-door figure. The songwriting on this album is very mediocre for Mariah’s standards and is probably her least interesting album lyrically. And in my opinion, it has aged worse than her debut and sophomore albums. This album is also one of her least adventurous albums vocally. Top tracks: I’ve Been Thinking About You, Now That I Know

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