‘Glitter’ turns 20: How Mariah Carey’s 2001 album went from flop to cult classic

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Twenty years ago Saturday, Mariah Carey’s most maligned and misunderstood album, Glitter, was released. Here’s the story of this project, which is now a cult classic.

Mariah had been planning a movie and soundtrack project called All that Glitters since 1997, but didn’t get a chance to work on it until she signed a new five-album, $100 million contract with Virgin Records in April of 2001.

But on July 19, after the release of the soundtrack’s lead single, “Loverboy,” Mariah made a bizarre appearance on MTV’s Total Request Live, handing out ice cream to fans and stripping off her shirt to reveal a more revealing outfit. “Loverboy” failed to reach number one — which, in Mariah terms, made it a “flop.”

After the TRL incident, Mariah posted a voice note on her website saying she’d like to “take a little break.” On July 26, she was hospitalized for two weeks, citing “extreme exhaustion” and a “physical and emotional breakdown.” Mariah would later reveal in 2018 that it was during this time that she was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder.

As Mariah became the butt of late-night jokes, the release of Glitter the album was delayed from August 21 to, unfortunately, September 11. When it finally emerged, critics disliked its ‘80s vibe and felt Mariah was overshadowed by the album’s many guest stars, which included rappers Ludacris, Da Brat, Busta Rhymes, Fabolous and others.

Glitter was the lowest-selling album of Mariah’s career to that point — something she would later blame on the 9/11 terrorist attacks — but when the film also flopped at the box office, Virgin Records dropped her.

Flash forward to 2018: Mariah Carey fans launched a #JusticeForGlitter social media campaign, urging people to buy the album.  It worked: The album ultimately reached number one on iTunes.  A grateful Mariah, then on tour supporting her album, Caution, added a medley of songs from Glitter to her tour set list.

Many music critics subsequently changed their tune, praising Glitter as “brilliant,” “undeniably ahead of its time” and “the perfect ‘80s tribute.”

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