Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: So. The #hashtag. The stupid marketing attempt of the title betrays the song it supports — you expect something plugged into the mainframe and struggling to keep up with trends. Instead, “Beautiful” is warm and casual and quite timeless-sounding. The sampled drumbreak and Turtles-esque guitar lines (with amp fuzz!) help, but the lovers’ gaze lends the song an ageless appeal. Miguel made drugs and hugs as sweet as each other on “Do You,” but he’s on his best behaviour here, asking Mariah to jump on the back of his bike, trying on matinee idol poses with doe-eyed sincerity. (The dropped curses in the chorus hint to a bout of F-bombs that threaten to unsettle the tone. Let’s hope the clean version is the final album version.) His host sounds great, obviously, but her indisputable vocal control makes the moments that she doesn’t sing just as important. Case in point: her easy “I’m charmed” chuckle in response to her lovelorn partner is theatre, but it feels genuine. At the song’s climax, their aw-shucks laughing outweighs the swirling melodies and time-honoured Mimi High Notes™. You’ll come back for the melodies but yearn for the joy in the play-acting.
Brad Shoup: They wrote a Springsteen track?! This is a true duet, the singers merging territories. Miguel lays out for his more accomplished partner, who made her bones in this summery, moonlit mode. They’re singing over purgatory’s clattering jukebox, which not even Bruce was bold enough to try as a trick.
Anthony Easton: The guitar and tambourine on this are is pure minimalism, as are the opening lines about the back of the bike. The percussion is smart enough, and the handclaps hint at a Spectorian way. The way Mariah sings the odd details — the syllable and sigh and quasi-orgasm, how she stretches “beautiful” beyond reason or talks about red lights — just opens like a lily at noon. It’s a masterpiece of construction.
Edward Okulicz: The groove is retro-dreamy and loose-limbed, but the pleasure is brief; there’s not enough Mariah on this. When her verse throws in a brief trill reminiscent of her ’90s peak (because she had several peaks), it’s magic, though sweet as this is, the song’s no “Dream Lover.” Fine as Miguel is, and cruisy as the song is, it needs more of the kind of ecstacy only Mariah’s voice could give it.
Rebecca A. Gowns: Mariah doesn’t sound like she used to. Not only are her vocal abilities physically impaired, but there are a thousand more production tricks to fill out a voice these days, so she almost sounds like a different person. That being said, it’s not jarring. I like the way that this song combines old and new. It’s got a lot of older pop threads in it, braided with indie pop tropes like the lazy guitar and shuffling beat and handclaps. It evokes pop ballads of the past, but every beat affirms that it belongs on the radio for summer 2013.
Alfred Soto: She sounds good, less raspy than has been her wont, a reminder that on tracks like Brenda K Starr’s “I Still Believe” her harmonies illuminated without making the star squint. Here she functions as a projector of ebullience: the stifled chuckles and indulging herself with the briefest of melismatic runs. But let’s be clear: this is a “Miguel ft. Mariah Carey” performance, and the new star grinds against post-Stax guitar grit and flippy floppy percussion as if this was his eight or ninth consecutive top ten pop hit. I like to think he and Carey fought over the hashtag.
Katherine St Asaph: Mariah Carey and Miguel have made the retcon of the summer. A lot of otherwise smart people are acting like either’s presence on a song is automatically golden, which, like — did “Triumphant (Get ‘Em)” just never happen? Or “Lotus Flower Bomb“? Whatever they did, it’s marketing so deft they never even needed the hashtag. (Which doesn’t even work as a hashtag.) But then, I can’t exactly be objective either; songs where beautiful people sing and laugh about how they’ve chosen other beautiful people always strike me as smug at best and, at worst, cruel. (The line “I can’t pretend it [i.e. looks] don’t mean a thing” doesn’t help; it’s less reminiscent of pillow talk than how guys justify dumping their starter girlfriends.) The guitar and shambolic drums code less R&B than rock, which is worrisome: maybe Miguel took it a little too much to heart when people praised the Zombies bit on Kaleidoscope Dream, or maybe the producers were going for an reupholstered “Hey Porsche” sound — or, for that matter, Ryan Tedder. But damn it, I can’t pretend Mariah’s whistle register isn’t her trump card. Well played.
Patrick St. Michel: The real surprise here is the backing music, which conceals a surprising amount of sadness for something a lot of people are rushing to call the summer jam of 2013. The guitar, beat and synth glisten across this song, but also sound really reserved for something designed to soundtrack the warmest season. It makes the song more intimate, but it also casts a bit of shade on the proceedings, as if both parties here know this can’t really last — like summer itself — so they need to fit all the beautiful stuff in while they can. Maybe it’s just the line about liking how he runs red lights. Regardless, the fact this isn’t a straight-up jam makes it all the better.
Jer Fairall: Mariah clearly gets that this is her duet partner’s moment and wisely lets her latest comeback bid play to his strengths. Best of all, his presence seems to have goaded her into a more restrained performance; her vocal here is easy and playful, resisting any show-off moments in an uncharacteristic acknowledgement that the needs of the song actually do, or at least should, come first. Can a whole Marvin and Tammi-style duet album be next?
Jonathan Bogart: The production rattles and hums with loose Spectorisms (it has that in common with the Dum Dum Girls), but it’s the two principals, flirting and goofing off instead of intoning with appropriate Lynchian solemnity, who ease the retro atmospherics into the bright light of Now. It’s got a little dust on it, but so does pretty much everything I love.
Will Adams: What else to say about something that brings a smile to my face so quickly? My favorite part is in the second half of Miguel’s verse, when those smeared guitars join in. It’s the sound of every golden sunset I’ve seen collapsed into one moment. “Beautiful” knows it’s timeless, so it fakes you out with the “My Girl” intro then plays you out with an outro of ad-libbing from a pair so perfect I could listen to them la-dee-da for days. Summer is here.