Two questions: where exactly do you go from being the biggest selling female recording artist of the 1990s? And what is there left to achieve in a career that has seen Mariah Carey attain as many figurative records as she has released vinyl ones?
The facts speak for themselves. Her last album "Rainbow" spawned her fifteenth #1 single on the US Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart, an accomplishment third only to The Beatles (20) and Elvis Presley (17 or 18, depending on whether one counts "Don't Be Cruel" b/w "Hound Dog").
The lead-off single "Heartbreaker" registered the biggest first week sales ever more than 271,000 breaking the long-standing 59 week record established by the Beatles in spending 60 weeks in the charts. More #1 albums (4) than any female artist in the 1990's Mariah was the first female artist to see two of her albums "Music Box" and "Daydream" reach the 10 million mark in sales and is the only female artist to have eight albums certified triple-platinum or better. In fact, Mariah's entire album catalogue has achieved RIAA multi-platinum status with quadruple platinum albums in the shape of "Emotions" and "Butterfly." Impressive is not an over-abused description here. New Artist, Best Album for her eponymous titled set and Best Single "Vision of Love," a bundle of American Music Awards, Billboard Awards, World Music Awards, Billboard Artist of the Millennium and a host of other coveted music gongs and you would be forgiven for assuming that Mariah Carey just might have lost the inner-drive and hunger for success and world-domination. Okay, we all know the tabloid stuff about Mariah being ripped off rotten with early contractual producer deals and the suggested "career move" marriage to Sony boss Tommy Mottola all of which reportedly left the lady with something of a cash crisis when she departed Sony last year but she has had something of a mind-boggling run of success and her £60 million record deal has obviously removed the fear of ending up shuffling along the streets penniless!
And yet, still in her early thirties, all things equal, Mariah Carey still has years on her side and the desire to boldly go where few women have gone before. Her next move? Easy, become a born-again Virgin...well, if it's good enough for Queen Elizabeth I!
"Actually, I am not about world domination. That has never been motivation of mine..." reveals a hyper Ms. Carey, chatting furiously away with this fortunate scribe (how else to describe anyone having a quiet tete a tete with one of the world's most arresting women) in her hotel room on the eve of her debut album release through new label Virgin Records the soundtrack to the film "Glitter" in which Mariah stars alongside Max Beesley.
"People have asked me if I see Janet (Jackson) as a rival. Well the short answer to that is no; yes we're label competitors but I think of Janet as an inspiration, not as a rival. We're on the same team and I would wish to encourage her, not compete. "Control" is one of the all-time best albums ever bar none...so anyone with that amount of talent and determination demands respect.
"I went to Virgin because they clearly know how to handle an artist of Janet's calibre and type. Had I gone to Arista, people would inevitably have made up same stuff about Whitney and myself."
In keeping with the tradition of her previous album which featured special guests as Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Da Brat, and Snoop Dogg the new set sees Mariah collaborating with some interesting people including Busta Rhymes, Mystikal, DJ Clue, Cameo, Rick James and, talking of Janet's "Control," Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
The liaison continues the partnership which began with "Rainbow" a first meeting which led the super-producers to hail Mariah as a "talented artist who outworks everybody."
One of the most intriguing fruits of their collective labours is a cover version of Cherelle's "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On." Many pop fans would, no doubt, cite the Robert Palmer version as definitive. However, Mariah and the composers themselves have given her opinion on that particular debate in emphatic style literally re-vocalling over the 1984 backing track, originally to be found on Cherelle's "Fragile" debut album.
"People think it's a Robert Palmer song..." affirms Mariah, back straight, on a mission"... and it's, like, no disrespect to him but I grew up on the Cherelle record. Jimmy and Terry are musical heroes of mine and they suggested we re-sing the background and they gave me the original master to work with.
"I did another track with Jimmy and Terry with Eric Benet called "Want You" on which I asked for that classic SOS Band feel."
Indeed, eighties cover versions (and 'version excursions') have played a big part in Mariah's creative process since the days of "Fantasy" (Tom Tom Club) and "Honey" (Body Rock). Given that the "Glitter" movie is set in the eighties, this album proves no exception.
"Rick James provided a song called "All My Life" for me. He's like wow! I know he's notorious and all that stuff but he's made some of the greatest music in history. All I love the way he works with female artists just look what he did with Teena Marie and the Mary Jane Girls" Look indeed!
"We used the Cameo joint "Candy" as the basis for the single "Loverboy" and Larry Blackmon (Cameo's extrovert lead singer) was brilliant about reworking the original. He came into the studio and started doing that whole "strawberry, raspberry" thing (Mariah imitates Larry's inimitable drawl) and me and my friend were in awe. We're old Cameo fans you know!"
There is also an interesting version of Indeep's seminal dance cut "Last NIght A DJ Saved My Life" featuring Busta Rhymes going ballistic over a faithful DJ Clue rendition...
"Busta was sick (sick as in wicked). Absolutely SICK! He did this car screeching noise and came up with the classic line that is so Busta...'Pay attention...form a line and focus.' I love Busta's sense of humour and energy.
"Basically on the album you have 2001 versions of eighties classics. There is also a loop of Tom Browne's "Funkin' For Jamaica" which Mystikal raps over (on the track "Don't Stop"). On the album you've got Busta and Mystikal doing their stuff but in the 80s-based movie, you have a faithful original reading because it would have sounded anachronistic to have Busta and Mystikal doing their thing in the eighties."
According to Mariah all that Glitters is black, white and gold. Contrary to popular misconception, the film, written by Kate Linear of "What's Love Got To Do With It" and "Set It Off" fame is not autobiographical. In fact, the only comparison Mariah sees between herself and the character she plays, Billie, is the fact that they are both mixed-race and successful solo artists.
"Basically, the plot is that the girl named Billie gets taken away from her mom and placed in foster care because her mom is an addict. Her mom promises to come back for her one day but, as I make my appearance in the film as the adult Billie, her mom obviously hasn't kept her promise. Even though Billie achieves stardom, fame and all the trappings, it is tinged with sadness because she has lost the love of her mom.
"People are suggesting that this autobiographical or at least semi-autobiographical. They ask me whether I feel abandoned by my mom or maybe by my father. I'm like NO! It's a fictitious character and the story line is entirely fictitious as well. It's very entertaining and adsorbing but it is fictitious.
"The whole thing about being mixed race is important to me, more so than anything I've ever done. My dad is a black Venezuelan and he marries my mom at 137th Street in Harlem. She is white, Irish-American. Her family disowned her for that. My dad was in the US army in the forties and really struggled to be accepted amongst a lot of hostility.
"I was on Oprah (Winfrey) one time with my mom and this eighteen year old mixed race girl, Bridget told me that until my first album came out she didn't know where she fitted in. Then there was this seven year old girl, Hailey, who brought tears to our eyes as she told us that she would sit on a lunch table alone with black kids on one side and white kids on the other feeling awful, lonely and weird. She had written poems just like I used to and one of them went: 'Am I invisible? My shirt is red. My pants are blue. Can you see me?'
People find it necessary to categorize people. And mixed race people often disrupt their rigid view on the world. When will we learn to accept each other as human beings? If I can say I've achieved anything in the world it has been to provide a platform for mixed race people to have a sense of knowing who they are and being proud."
Long live the "remix" generation.