THE MARIAH NETWORK
She has a new record, a new record label and a new movie. Sean Plummer waits 'til the midnight hour for pop superstar Mariah Carey.
NEW YORK In New York City, the stars shine 24/7.
Within hours of touching down at LaGuardia, this reporter rode down his hotel elevator with rap star Eve, spotter Buffalo 66 director Vincent Gallo strolling down West Broadway, and waved hello and goodbye to Toronto rapper Choclair, in town for a basketball game.
But, of course, the brightest stars shine at night so it is appropriate that Profile's interview with pop diva Mariah Carey should take place at midnight in a luxury suite of the chi-chi Hotel Pierre. Carey is full-bore into promotion mode for her new album Glitter, due August 21. Produced mostly by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige), it's the first record in a four-album deal with Virgin Music after parting ways with her long-time label Columbia Records. The new deal will allegedly pay the 31-year-old singer upwards of $25 million. Glitter is also, like Prince's Purple Rain album, the de facto soundtrack for Carey's first starring film role. Set in the early '80s, Glitter (which is due in theaters August 31), casts Carey as Billie, an ambitious young singer in New York who hooks up with a DJ (English actor Max Beesley) who promises to make her a star. Singer Eric Benét and rapper Da Brat co-star. Carey came up with the original story and let screenwriter Kate Lanier (Set It Off, The Mod Squad) shadow her for two years in order to capture the flavour of her life as a pop superstar (although she insists that the film is not autobiographical). She also co-produced Glitter, which was in development for almost four years before filming began last summer in Toronto and New York.
In addition to doing interviews for Glitter, Care is also midway through production on an independent film called Wise Girls filming in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She co-stars with Mira Sorvino and Melora Walters as Rachel, a Staten Island waitress working in a mob-run restaurant. Wise Girls will probably make its way to theaters next year.
And that's not all! The workaholic night owl also recently purchased her own penthouse in downtown Manhattan; shot a video for 'Loverboy', Glitter's first single, with photographer-turned-video-director David LaChapelle in L.A.; greeted staff at her new label; and recorded tracks for a song written for her by funk pioneer Rick James.
Which is why I don't complain about the interview's late start, especially after Mariah herself brings me a glass of wine as we settle down to talk. She's exhausted but eager to dish. She's also polite, sweet, forthcoming and animated beyond belief, so much so that any misgivings this reporter had about meeting a genuine superstar melt away with her handshake. After some friendly chat about our respective pets - Mariah has a Jack Russel terrier named Jack ("very original") and a cat named William D. Kittycat which she picked up in Toronto ("he's Canadian") - we talk about the making of Glitter (the movie and album), growing up in the '80s, and finally being in complete control of her career.
You have tons of assistants and handlers. Are they all necessary?
Honestly, need more handlers than I have! The truth is that... I work so hard due to my own choices. It's my choice to be going to Canada tomorrow to continue filming another movie while, after signing this enormous deal and working on doing things with my record that a lot of artists - I can't speak for everybody - but most of the artists that I know, they don't do the mastering, they don't do the sequencing necessarily, they don't sit in there for every little mix and vocal ride and obsess over it. Because I cannot leave it up to others.
You write and produce much of your own music. Many pop artists don't, especially these days. Has your involvement in your own music helped ensure your career longevity?
I think that has a lot to do with it. The funny thing with me is that, especially with this record, I've worked with a lot of artists and a lot of producers that are really much more cutting-edge and hardcore. I was at a dinner for BET (Black Entertainment Television) last night and somebody was saying 'you really like rappers that are gruff.' And I'm like 'that's what I like', and yet I also love doing ballads. Especially for this record, a lot of the ballads were written to enhance certain scenes or certain aspects of my character's issues. But there isn't one person that is the middle person between that side of what I do and the ballads. So it's sort of like I am the only through-line here.
You're well known for your ballads and pop songs but you've worked with 'gruffer' rappers like Snopp Dogg, ODB, Ludacris and Da Brat. Do you ever feel creatively restricted by your image?
See, I don't know what my image is. All I know is that some people know 'Fantasy' with ODB and some people know the pop version. And I think that's because as a child I grew up her and I listened to mix shows. I listened to DJ Red Alert, I listened to whatever was happening that was not the five songs in heavy rotation on the pop station, because I was too 'okay, I know that. What's next?' And so [one of] the first record[s] I ever bought was a Sugar Hill Gang record, and [I] listened to it over and over to learn the rap.
But I also love Barbra Streisand and had that in my house. My mother is an opera singer. I also loved - and lived for - Olivia Newton-John, and I also really liked The Cars, you know what I mean? So it's this weird bunch of influences that I had.
I read once that the music you listen to at age 14 remains the most important music in your life. Do you remember what you were listening to at 14?
Of course! I was listening to WBLS, KISS FM and KTU... which basically played Cherrelle, Alexander O'Neal - both two urban artists who were produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who I worked with on this thing - Cameo, 'She's Strange'; rap records that were just starting to take off.
Were you into Prince?
Totally into Prince.
How about Purple Rain?
I saw that movie ten times with my friends. We went over and over and over to see that movie. It was the best!
Did Jam & Lewis give you some perspective on that time, especially given that they were in Purple Rain as members of The Time?
I'd tell them 'you guys, how about this song?' and they're like 'how do you even know that?' My influences were the DJ's that were playing their obscure records, or people that were even influenced by them; the S.O.S. Band, all those records that I lived for.
Given your intimate involvement with your music, how did it feel to give up power to a director and a studio?
Because I was doing the music [for Glitter] I was kind of the consultant in a lot of ways, and I still am because they're integrating my songs in this thing and I've written a lot of them to tell the story.
And now on this new project that I'm doing, on Wise Girls, it's cool to just go. I'm ready to go back to the movie right now after this frenzy of press. The thing about Wise Girls is I go there, I give myself over to the director and to the scene that I'm in with Mira or Melora. It's... really refreshing. I don't want to be a control freak. I don't want to do that, but in music, or music-related things, I kind of have to be.
Living in a bubble as you do, what brings you back to reality?
I was saying to myself when I left Halifax last time, I said, [falls into a Brooklyn accent] because I was talking like Rachel all the time and it was a little bit messed up because I have long nails and I was saying 'I don't know how I'm going to lose Rachel.' I really like Rachel because she's very aggressive and when I'm in this mode I should be like 'bing-bop! Na, I'm not doing this.' [reverts to her own voice] But I'm like 'how am I going to come back to this other thing that I have to go be?', because I'm really enjoying being Rachel right now.
But it's alright. Look, I can handle anything. I'm grateful to be where I am, I'm grateful to be doing this for a living. It's crazy right now but no one's... [telling] me what to do. I've chosen to do this and that's the deal.