THE MARIAH NETWORK
She's been labelled a diva, called a mad woman and tagged The Comeback Queen. She was loved by the media, then slated, then loved all over again. As the mayhem of "The Emancipation Of Mimi", at last, dies down, B&S chats to Mariah about her music, her public image and her breakdown.
Much to the disappointment of Mariah haters, "The Emancipation Of Mimi" broke all kinds of records. The six-times platinum album was the biggest seller of 2005, won a Grammy and spawned numerous number ones. The single "We Belong Together" sold five and a half million records worldwide and became the biggest ever radio song; registering 31.2 million listeners in America alone in one day. After slamming "Glitter" and "Charmbracelet", the critics saluted Carey's 14th album and she was hailed "The Comeback Queen". Mariah says people can all it what they like but she doesn't need a number one song to validate her existence.
"I feel like I shouldn't ever have to prove myself as a musical entity because I never went anywhere," Mariah states in husky tones. She's just woken up after a much-deserved sleep but is anxious to set the record straight on various issues. "And I'm sorry if "Glitter" only sold 3 million albums - some people never do that in their entire career. "Glitter" was only a soundtrack that came out in September 2001. I still think there are some songs on that record that are good and I'm not going to bash it because the world didn't run to the stores and but it in the figures that bought "Mimi"."
Big things were expected from the octave-destroying diva on "Glitter". Mariah had left Sony following nine amazingly successful albums with the label and signed to Virgin for a whopping $80 million. Unfortunately, the release date of "Glitter" meant the soundtrack was marred from the start. Then when the movie, starring Mariah, also took a box office nosedive, it seemed Carey was on her way down with it. Reports of a breakdown flooded the tabloids and shortly afterwards Carey and Virgin parted company following the exchange of several million dollars and some messy courtroom drama. Less than a year after the separation, Carey signed yet another new deal - this time to Def Jam and, accordingly, all ears were pricked for the release of her new album. Though it hit the no. 3 spot in America, the back-to-basics sounding "Charmbracelet" peaked at just number 52 in the UK, selling 4.5 million copies worldwide. That figure may sound, as indeed it is, vast but disappointing in comparison to Mariah's 10 times platinum '93 album, "Music Box", which sold an astounding 30 million copies worldwide.
Three years past and though Mariah reminds me she had success on collaborations with Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes (she sings the hook "Baby if you give to me" down the phone just in case and I feel suitably honoured), rumours of retirement was rife. Then, and it felt like out of nowhere, Mariah was back with a bang - a big, fat bang. The household name had teamed up with Jermaine Dupri and returned to a true R&B sound, reminiscent of the Puffy "Honey" days. The multi-platinum singer was all over the radio, TV, press and net. Though the now, 35-year-old says she is "grateful" for the chart success that "The Emancipation Of Mimi" has brought, she is also baffled when people feel like she's been missing from music's limelight.
"It's not like I went anywhere, like, "No! I can't hear myself on radio! Oh my God!" she jokes, mimicking herself in diva mode. "I was collaborating with artists and enjoying myself and that gave me some time to work on the record that I wanted "Mimi" to be."
Just within minutes of speaking to Mariah Carey, it's clear that she is much more intelligent than her scantily clas videos and far-from-great interviews lead us to believe. She also has the hilarious and very British knack of taking the urine out of herself at any given moment. I suggest that her image doesn't portray her personality realistically and half expect her to slam down the phone. When, thankfully, she doesn't, I ask if Mariah the artist and Mariah the person are two different people?
"When I'm in the studio or writing and doing my work I have fun, but I'm very, very focused," she says. "If I'm doing an interview and they elect to portray me in the way that I actually am, then it's reflected in the article and that's fine. However, alternatively, if people wanna talk about how big my house is or she's flipped her hair in a diva-ish manner or she sat down and toyed with her diamond butterfly ring - that's how I'll be reflected in that particular interview. There's nothing I can do as to how someone slants their interview. I'm me. If I choose to dress in a sexy, provocative manner, I think that's my right. I think that's anyone's right!" As she speaks, Mariah's tone is soft and calm, not defensive or aggressive. "I don't think it's my place to be ultra serious or be a pseudo intellectual for the whole world," she continues. "I don't think that I need to put on a pair of spectacles and a high-neck shirt in order to make the world take me seriously. I am who I am. If I wanna dress up and have my hair done and feel a little bit glamorous then that's what I'm gonna do. I really don't think that the two things have to conflict with one another but I guess they do because that's the way people are. That's been part of my problem my whole life, people judging a book by its cover - to use a bad cliche - but I think many people do. Even the ambiguity of the way I look and the fact that I do make R&B music and that my father's black and my mother's white, you know it's very difficult. People don't feel comfortable unless they can put you into a box and categorise you. So, I think that I'm a little off-putting to a lot of people for a lot of reasons."
Let's not beat around the bush, Mariah's public image during the entire "Glitter" period breakdown was far from rosy. Her talent was scrutinised, her dress sense was ridiculed and certain televised appearances and interviews portrayed a disturbed woman on a fast exit course. Of course, like Mariah Carey days (and she is still a Miss for the record), there's often a ruthless editor on the look out for a scoop who will manipulate words or images to fit perfectly into their own storyline. Mariah herself is, however, the first to admit that was a hard period of her life.
"There was a time, before "Glitter" came out, when I was trying to promote and promote. All I was trying to do was to get a release from Sony. Basically, it was just me fighting against their huge corporate structure. During that time I did reach a low point where I felt that I shouldn't be making music because I wasn't happy. I didn't want to continue promoting because there was nothing left of me - all my energy, everything, was just depleted."
And now? "I wouldn't trade my life for anything," she gushes with confidence. "Even though you've gotta go through a lot of ups and downs to sustain a career like this, there's still more good than bad."