The last time Mariah Carey performed at the Royal Albert Hall, in 1994, she was the biggest superstar on the planet, with each new album redefining sales records and – thanks to a five-octave vocal range – audible frequencies. In 2019, after a tumultuous, diva-cementing career that’s taken in commercial lows (2001’s Glitter), Phoenix-like comebacks (2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi), and Christmas-themed tours that made regional pantomimes look like Chekhov, Carey’s keen to remind people of her legacy, one that stretches from TV talent show melisma to modern pop and R&B via the likes of Ariana Grande.
While this latest world tour is named after last year’s excellent Caution album, it rightfully places the hits front and centre, with Carey acting as our bedazzled compere. Undeniable classics like the ebullient Always Be My Baby, featuring an onstage cameo by her twin children AKA Dem Babies, is introduced with an unnecessary “Who knows this one?”, while remixed versions of Fantasy and Anytime You Need a Friend are followed by “that was a remix”. During Caution’s Stay Long Love You she glides off stage after singing only two lines, leaving four bare-chested male dancers to perform the song without her, returning at one point in a flashing LED dress she’ll later ask to be turned down for fear it’s overshadowing her.
At first, the close proximity of the audience seems to baffle her – “It’s interesting us being on the same level” she says between sips from a diamond-encrusted water bottle – but as the show goes on she relaxes into it, signing autographs mid-song (including a DVD copy of her musical Glitter) and offering her feather boa to a fan “to look after” before taking it back a couple of minutes later with a purred “thank you dahling!”. If the stereotype of a diva – and it’s a role she plays up to here, referencing her recent meme-ready Billboard Music awards appearance before a barn-storming Love Takes Time by dramatically discarding a tissue – is rude and aloof then Carey chooses to parlay it into something more camp. After an incredible, one-off performance of Endless Love in honour of that last appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1994 with Luther Vandross, another moment of improvisation is thwarted by her piano player who suggests they need time to rehearse. “We’ll do it tomorrow night instead” she says briskly, before offering an exaggerated eye roll. During Heartbreaker, meanwhile, she gets one of her male dancers to dress up as Bianca, her brunette love rival from the video, and the pair engage in possibly the most low energy “fight” ever witnessed.
The playfulness, however, is kept in check just enough to keep the focus on that gold-plated voice. It scales new highs on the double whammy of Dreamlover and Emotions, is utilised perfectly on the more downtempo GTFO, and growls deliciously on the lower parts of the Spanish guitar inflected My All. During a closing run of We Belong Together, Hero and Without You – the latter two performed in a sparkly pink Princess dress – there are signs of fatigue but by the end everyone’s too high on fabulous to notice.