A few interesting facts for you: Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez are both 44, they've both had twins, they're both actresses and they're both releasing long-awaited new albums this month.
They're both wearing curve-hugging outfits on their album covers, though Lopez looks like she's put hers on back-to-front, and they've both chosen titles that seem to be self-reflexive declarations of identity.
Sure, Carey might have released 14 albums to Lopez's eight, and sold three times as many albums (150 million compared to 40 million), but they're women at fairly similar career points, so it's interesting to see how they've differed in their approaches to these records.
Though they both stay relatively true to past releases, I Am Mariah seems unworried about fashions of chart hits or radio -- it's very much in the same vein as past Carey albums. A.K.A. sees Lopez mixing up her game, experimenting with different versions of J-Lo, and giving her collaborators (including rappers like Iggy, T.I., Rick Ross, and Nas) plenty of room to add their stamp.
I Am Mariah was executive produced by long-time Carey collaborators Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox, and they keep that reliably slick, golden sounding RnB at the centre of the record. It's a comfortable space and Carey's vocal abilities are once again well-showcased, but sometimes it's all too slow and predictable -- Cry, Faded, Camouflage offer little to distinguish themselves.
When Carey adds a little disco revivalism, or a touch of hip-hop, however, that's when things fly. You Don't Know What To Do is a wonderfully 70s-referencing chance to dance; Dedicated, with it's Wu-Tang sample and Nas contribution makes nostalgia sound fresh; and though Beautiful is a little on the superficial side, it's a bona fide earworm.
Carey knows how to create something fresh without losing long-time fans, but sometimes she seems determined to sit on her past laurels. J-Lo, on the other hand, is all about firing off new club hits and making the most of the summer fun vibe, injecting plenty of vivacious attitude into A.K.A. -- the only problem is sometimes it's a little grating, and occasionally loses sight of Lopez's own musical identity.
First Love has the kind of lively spirit and hummability that's made J-Lo a household name in the past, and seems an effortless throwaway hit; Never Satisfied is a perfectly acceptable stadium ballad and gives her an opportunity to put her vocal abilities to the fore; Acting Like That is a compelling slow-burning hip hop cut, even if it feels like more of a showcase for Iggy Azalea than Lopez; and though Booty might have some of the most ridiculous lyrics she has ever been involved with, you know it is going to spend months being spun round club dance floors, and has some of that Beyonce-ish military drum beat appeal that works so well with urban choreography.
But ballads like Emotions and Let It Be Me end up sounding a little Disney, and all the electronic innovations and hooks crammed into I Luh You Papi somehow come off sounding a little overblown and affected.
So while Carey is perhaps a little too comfortable, Lopez is a little too unsettled. The pair have strong musical identities and know how to cut a successful single, but nailing down their current identities proves elusive this time round.
Me. I Am Mariah ... The Elusive Chanteuse
Verdict: Could take leaves from each others' books