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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Fantasy" is mid-90s pop bliss with an early 80s new wave skeleton

The path between Talking Heads and Mariah Carey is surprisingly straight. And oh, isn't it fitting to talk about Mariah today of all days?

Nope. Not doing it. Not giving in. No, sir / ma'am / [insert correct identifying description here].

I refuse to accept the first of November as the beginning of 'holiday season.' Not only are we still nearly two months from Christmas, but there's another major holiday between now and then. Let Thanksgiving happen, and then have Black Friday be your holiday season kickoff.

...Oh, who am I trying to convince? I'm fighting a losing battle with the masses — and maybe even with myself. After all, I was compelled enough to get out these feelings and then some. (Admittedly, it doesn't help that I found out today that Hanukkah begins in November...)

I get Thanksgiving is perhaps the least flashy of the non-memorial holidays, and I get that the turkey meal makes it even more like Christmas Lite... but people, enjoy the fall while it lasts. Don't just look ahead to winter, especially in a place like the Bay Area where we don't even get snow. Don't blast "All I Want for Christmas Is You" when we're closer to Halloween than Christmas.

Now, I won't forcefully stop you. I'll just judgmentally glare your way when I hear you singing it. As for me, I'll prevent myself from even getting close to critically thinking or writing about that song and others by getting Mariah Carey out of the way now rather than later. The world's premiere turn-of-the-millennium pop diva has a plethora of non-holiday smash hits, and my pick of the bunch is "Fantasy," a track which turns an early 80s new wave sample into the backdrop for one of the downright happiest-sounding songs of the 90s.

Yep, this is a mighty good distraction from... whatever I was talking about before. I don't even remember what it was.

"Fantasy" is another one of those songs I came to know before learning about the sample. Despite knowing about samples and delving into the database at from time to time for years, it was only three or four years ago when I discovered that the main beat was sampled. More than anything, that's a sign of how little I listen to 90s music; as I've discussed before, the decade is a gap between my parents' area of pop music listening and my own. The sample may have come from the 80s, but my parents weren't into new wave, so it took my discovering Talking Heads to get around to learning about Tom Tom Club, a side project of husband and wife Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth.

The instrumental of Tom Tom Club's funky and playful 1981 track "Genius of Love" was sampled by Carey and Dave Hall to provide the basis of "Fantasy." The percussion and bass from the sample are augmented with new layers, making the very early 80s-sounding sample feel more at home in the mid-90s. The high synth that enters in the chorus really drives the 90s sound home — it reminds me of a lot of West Coast hip-hop tracks from the same time. The tracks also have some thematic similarities between them, being lovestruck songs from a female perspective... at least, that's how "Genius of Love" begins, and it's the mood of "Fantasy" the whole way through. In fact, much of the opening lovesick lyrics of "Genius of Love" are repurposed in "Fantasy" as the bridge, further connecting the two tracks:

I'm in heaven
With my boyfriend, my lovely boyfriend
There's no beginning and there is no end
Feels like I'm dreaming, but I'm not sleeping

The bridge, though, is the only location of narrative similarity between the source and the derivative track. Whereas "Genius of Love" speaks of the narrator's current, involved lover, "Fantasy," living up to its name, features Carey caught in a daydream (hey, that's the name of the album off which it's the lead single) about a man she sees "walk[ing] by every night / Talking sweet and looking fine." The reverie only gets stronger throughout the verses and bridge four-minute-and-change track, culminating in the lyrics shown above. Of course, Carey must consistently remind herself that "it's just a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby," to avoid getting too caught up in a vision she is unable make real. In seeing the frequent passerby as such a 'genius of love' himself — see what I did there? — she becomes awestruck to the point of inaction. It sounds like a cheesy movie script when I say it, but I obviously don't have the great production behind, and nearly every singer has an inferiority complex listening to Mariah.

So what if "Fantasy" doesn't have much substance to it? Look at its title, as well as that of its respective album. Daydreams don't have substance; they're fleeting, feel-good visions, and the song is just that sonically. Brava to Mariah for capturing the essence of the title so well, whether she meant to or not.


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