Mariah Carey is unhappy. She says that mumbling, trying to hold back the tears that involuntarily fall from her black eyes. While the rest of humanity would pay to have the tiniest part of her fame or money, she still doesn't enjoy it: "Being famous is something strange, complicated. Every day I force myself to be thankful for everything I've accomplished but I'm still a vulnerable person, I've suffered a lot, I've worked hard to get here but..."
She doesn't finish the sentence. She almost never does. She looks elsewhere and tries to smile. She looks fragile. Maybe it's the cold she's been carrying since she started promoting her eighth album, Rainbow, a week ago. Or maybe it's true: being the female artist with the most albums and singles sold in the nineties (120 million worldwide) "isn't the secret to happiness."
She's sitting in a New York City restaurant, waiting for her limo to pick her up and bring her to the airport to fly to Europe. The happy face she sports on the posters used to promote her album and that these days cover her hometown have nothing to do with the sick and exhausted girl who incoherently talks to Vogue about the meaning of life: "I'm learning to know myself, to accept myself, to be myself. I think that's the key." Throughout the interview, Mariah Carey, 29, constantly repeats three things: "I've been misunderstood and underestimated, I'm a fighter nobody has ever given anything away to and who wants to be free."
To understand her words we must go back to her past. She grew up in New York in the bosom of a humble family, with divorced parents and troubled siblings. Since she was three, she lived with her mother, an opera singer who could sing anything, from Aretha Franklin to famous arias. She became independent at fifteen, working as a waitress while writing and recording her own songs. She wanted to make it in the music business and a miracle happened: in 1988 she met who would later be her prince charming, Tommy Mottola, a Sony Music executive she married in 1993. After listening to Mariah's demo tape, Mottola decided to produce her album. "It was what I wanted the most, to get out of the misery and... become a famous singer!," she says while finishing a glass of white wine.
With her self-titled debut album, she won two grammy awards and sold over 12 million albums worldwide. However, and despite the critics praising the quality of her voice (she has a six-octave vocal range), there were several detractors who criticized the simplicity of her lyrics (classic love and heartbreak songs) and how excessively syrupy her music was. But her ballads, which yielded a large crowd of fans worldwide have slowly made room to other musical genres and Rainbow is the most obvious proof. "I grew up in the streets of New York, hip hop is part of my culture, so it shouldn't surprise anybody that I've started to incorporate it into my records," she says.
She took the first step with Butterfly, her sixth album, collaborating with renowned rappers like Puff Daddy or Krayzie Bone. It's no coincidence that it was the first album after separating from Mottola, in 1997. "He didn't let me do what I really wanted to. That's why, once free, I could start to express who I was musically." she says.
In fact, Mariah constantly talks about a before and after Tommy Mottola. Even though she has always written her own songs, "before" it was him/them (the record label) deciding what to do and "now" it's her who makes the decisions. "I don't blame them. I was young and unexperienced but now I've learnt." So much, that she's even changed the way she speaks about herself: don't dare to say she is "only" a singer because she loses her temper. "I'm a songwriter, producer and a musician." Emphatically.
The creating of Rainbow coincides with her newest relationship: Mexican singer Luis Miguel. "He is a secure man, he accepts me as I am and doesn't interfere with my work." They even recorded a song together for the album but ditched it because they didn't like the ending result. "Our relationship doesn't need to be commercially exploited," she quickly clarifies.
Co-produced with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (renowned producers), Rainbow features appearances by top rappers like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Da Brat or Snoop Dogg. And even though it's undeniable that they have contributed to Mariah's music evolution, her lyrics follow the usual trend and there still are syrupy ballads which will amaze some and... will they keep making others sick? we dare to ask.
"No! Rainbow has a wide musical range with many different influences. My music is changing because I am changing!," she says, obviously offended by the insinuation.
Ok, let's keep calm. Let's change the subject. Her newest passion: acting. She just filmed a cameo appearance on Gary Sinyor's film, The Bachelor, and will start shooting All that glitters this spring, a musical written by Kate Lanier. It's the story of a singer who becomes famous in the eighties and that, of course, stars Mariah. She is also producing the film and writing the soundtrack. "I've always wanted to act. I've been taking acting lessons for almost two years and now all my energy is focused on that. Being an actress is very important to me because it's teaching me how to show my emotions, to not feel embarrassed about how I feel, it's..." (silence and faint smile).
Mariah's biggest idol is Marilyn Monroe. Her admiration for her lead her to invest 106 million pesetas to buy her grand piano on the so-called "auction of the century." "I don't even know if I'll keep it. I would like to donate it to a museum." But there's no museum dedicated to Marilyn, I point out. "Then there should be one. She deserves it. Everything auctioned there belongs in a museum. Marilyn's piano is a piece of American history. I wanted to save it from the plunder. It represents her childhood, her mother, all the struggle she went through as a child and that made her who she was. I grew up admiring Marilyn. She suffered a lot, was misunderstood, always acting dumb but... she was an intellectual in our time!
Does Mariah identify with Marilyn? "I feel a connection to her because I was also an unhappy child, who went through many things and who started to wish to feel good, to do things that would make her feel good, it's tough." Mariah's eyes fill with tears again. But her manager is there, quick to rescue her and bring her to the limo to drive to the airport. "You can finish the interview in the car" says the singer-songwriter-producer-actress.
Driving through the streets of New York one wonders what Mariah thinks about politics. "I'm an artist, I have no opinion about any of that." (Curt). Before she gets upset again, we should change the subject.
Does Mariah sleep on airplanes? "I've suffered from insomnia for years. So I spend many nights talking on the phone, listening to music, watching movies writing songs..." And what about reading? "Scripts." Any writer? "Stevie Wonder. He is the best. He is an inspiration in my life." Any "book" writer? "Oh! she says. Thinks for a while and shoots , Jimmy Angelo." (????)
"Time is running out, we're about to arrive," warns her manager. And with the warning comes the last question. What's Mariah Carey's goal? "To be happy and (hesitates)... to learn how to act, do a good film and to be remembered as someone who fought to realize her dreams."