Higher And Higher

Mariah's mama told her she was going to hurt herself is she kept belting out those high notes. But the girl wouldn't listen. Now she can't rest until she takes it to the next level — wherever that is.

Vibe Magazine by Laurence Vetu Galud

Vibe (US) November 1998. Text by Danyel Smith. Photography by Laurence Vetu Galud.

Dewy and still damp from the shower, Mariah Carey has put on a little powder and a little mascara. Her big mane is wet and close to her scalp. She's in blue boxers and a tank and is listening to old Stevie Wonder. It's midnight, and we're 40 miles north of San Francisco. While we split a bottle of merlot and munch on Monterey Jack cheese, Mariah seems very much like the kind of 28 year old who could sell more than 5 million albums when she was just out of high school. Since that 1990 introduction, she's gone on to sell more than 80 million albums. Married a mogul almost twice her age. Got divorced before she was old enough to be too mad about it. Started and walked away from her own record label. Dated one of the best athletes in America. Always endured much mulatto melodrama.

Now she's recorded a big ballad with Whitney Houston as she prepares to release her new album, tentatively titled The Ones — a collection of all 13 of her No. 1 top singles, plus four bonus tracks. All this to say that the best-selling female recording artist of the decade seems confident yet slightly mystified. Ecstatic but slightly troubled. Expansive and slightly paranoid. Bossy yet gracious.

She's fighting a copyright lawsuit, getting ready to star in films, and still singing all the time. Miss Mariah — much dissed, much loved — makes jokes but isn't one. Like her new single with Jermaine Dupri, she seems a big "Sweetheart." But while she floats like a butterfly, one gets the impression she can also sting like a bee.

My doctors showed me my vocal chords and why I can hit those high notes. It's a certain part of the chord that not many people use — the very top. My natural voice is low. I have a raspy voice. I'm really more of an alto. But my airy voice can be high if I'm rested.

How did you come to be using that part of your chords?
When I was little, I'd listen to Minnie Riperton.

"Back down memory lane..."
Exactly. I used to hear it in the car sometimes. I would get her records, and I tried but I never could do it.

When I was little, I'd talk in this really high whisper, and my mom would be like, "You're being ridiculous." I thought if I can talk like that I can sing like that. So I started [she goes higher and higher and higher] just messing around with it. I'd practice and practice, and she'd be like, "You're gonna hurt yourself." I'd tell her, It doesn't hurt. If I were to try and belt two octaves lower than that, that would be a strain.

Tell me about the new single with Jermaine.
Remember that song "Sweetheart" by Rainy Davis? It's a remake of that. I was like, Jermaine, let's just do a remake. I was thinking of the old songs I used to listen to when I was in school. It's a really cute record. Young girls'll like it the way I liked it when I was growing up.

Tell me about the song you did with Whitney.
I wish I could tell you more about it, but unfortunately, Kenneth [she uses her fingers to make quotation marks] "Babyface" Edmonds has that under wraps. We've done our vocals, but now he's in the process of changing it around. I kinda liked it the way it was. It's called "When You Believe," for The Prince of Egypt soundtrack.

One of those big ballads...
It's a very big ballad but in an inspirational way. The movie is about Moses. That she and I came together on this particular song is important. It's not just like, Here we are, Divafest '98... I don't think we're trying to outsing each other. You really do hear the differences in our voices.

What are the differences?
She just has a really rich, strong mid-belt that very few people have. She sounds really good, really strong. I guess I sound airier and lighter than her.

Was it dramatic being in the studio with her?
Not at all.

You guys are supposed to have this rivalry...
You know what's funny? When I came out, people had comments. That had a lot to do with me being put with producers she'd worked with. When you're a young girl, you don't have control, and you're being marketed as the New Little Diva.

And there's already a Diva. You guys never had beef?
I never even really talked to her until this. We never had any issues between us. The media and everybody made it an issue. Over the years, as I got more control over my music, I did my own thing. I don't think we even do similar things at this point.

But I mean, if we were talking about the pop princess of the late '80s and early '90s...
I didn't come out until the '90s [laughter]. And I hope to be around past the '90s. I don't want to just be categorized as "of this era." My goal is to have a career that stands. Otherwise, what's the point?

You feel you have a lasting talent.
I hope that people feel that way. I know I have a lasting need and desire to sing. That's what fuels me. Getting into acting is something I've always wanted to do. I've been studying since I was a little girl, and now I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a completely different emotional outlet. I'm not looking at it like, I'm Mariah Carey. Put me in a movie. I'm a star. Of course I would love that, but I'm looking at smaller films, smaller roles.

What kind of stuff did you do as a kid?
Plays. I had the role of Mariah in The Sound of Music.

Shut up!
Sixth grade. [She sings] "Doe a deer / A female deer" [laughter].

You did "My Favorite Things"!
[Sings] "Raindrops on roses / And whiskers on kittens."

You should remake that.
Maybe for a Christmas album one year. I used to love that song... I studied acting at, like, an actors' workshop. My mother was an opera singer and was very supportive of everything artswise.

Did you listen to a lot of opera when you were a kid?
Nooooooooooooo. Only what my mother was singing around the house.

Movie stuff, though... what's really about to happen?
The thing I can talk about is gonna be the one where I sing, my musical thing. I'm gonna write the music. Kate Lanier [Set It Off (New Line Cinema, 1996); What's Love Got To Do With It (Touchstone Pictures, 1993)] is going to write the screenplay. I'm really excited about that. It's a love story. I'm going to be writing the songs or choosing the remakes that follow along with the situation. That project's on the fast track. I'm not going into the studio again until it's done. But that's what I said before this number ones thing came up. But hey, everybody knows I'm a workhorse, so...

What is this with being in the studio all the time?
I guess it's because I've always had this very... I don't want to call it ambitious, but... anxious state of being. I always feel like if I don't do This, then maybe something will go wrong. Like, maybe I better do This — if you know what I mean.

I do. But to call Mariah Carey prolific is an understatement. People just don't record as much as you do. Six full albums in right years. Whitney's new album is her first full album in eight years.
But [Sony] would put out like only four singles from one of my albums. Where, like a Janet, [Virgin] would put out, like, seven, and they'd be working the same album for, like, two years. But with me it was like, "Get in the studio! More records! Sing! Sing!"

But your albums had just as many singles.
Uh-uh. Nope. Look at it from the first album on. Like on my MTV Unplugged. which sold ten million, there was just "I'll Be There." I feel I did have more singles on some of those albums..." when people were like, "Oh, she's jumping R&B bandwagon," I said, I wish people would just listen to some of the other cuts on my albums that were never promoted. Then they would understand my favorite songs were songs that never got any light...

"Underneath The Stars" on Daydream is one of my favorite songs I've ever written. On the first album there's "Sent From Up Above" that was very R&B and that was never released. Too many for me to even name. Even with Butterfly, technically, only two singles were released: "Honey" and "My All."

Do you have a say in all that stuff?
Everybody swung it like I didn't want to put something out because I wouldn't accept less than a No. 1 Pop Single. That's not even true. Like I didn't want to "break a streak." My streak was broken a long time ago. I don't even have a streak. I had five number ones, then I had records that didn't go to number one. Whatever. I wanted to put out "Breakdown" with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. That was a no-brainer. Release it. I'll always be upset "Breakdown" never got its shot.

Is that personal to Mariah? Or is that label bullshit?
I think that a lot of people — and I'm not saying anything personal to the label — have had these issues.

You get signed as a kid, you grow up in front of these label execs, and they're used to dealing with you like you're seventeen. I can only imagine that it's a struggle to make people understand, I'm not a kid. This is my shit.
I was even saying it then. I was very precocious. The thing that allows people to press my buttons is that they know I care. People will take advantage of the fact that I don't want to screw things up.

You want to win.
They know that in my mind, part of winning is going to the next place. Not statuswise, just the next place in life. I've tried to be assertive. To be like, Please tell me what's the plan. It's difficult when there are personal relationships involved. For a long time I was not allowed to assert myself. But I'm not all Oh, pity me, poor little singing girl. We make our choices, and we live by them. But sometimes when you make choices when you're really young... like if you have a child when you're still a child, you raise that child; you love that child. I know people who did that, and they would never trade that choice for the world. Like I would never trade my career — which is my child — for the world.

No matter how it went down, it's yours.
Yes. It's mine and it's a blessing that I have it.

What's gonna happen with Crave Records?
The way that story was swung was like Sony shut the label down on me. They did not. I don't run companies. I'm a creative person, someone there to help make records. Like Allure with "All Cried Out." Most new labels don't have a Top Five record their first time out. If anything, I feel guilty about the artists. Seven Mile got folded into 550/Sony. Allure are at Sony also. I'm powerful in my own way, but when you work inside a company, you're controlled by the corporate heads. I'm not a numbers person. This was not my idea. It was sprung on me.

Whose idea was it?
[She smiles; seems a code for her ex-husband, Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola] Oh. [She raises her glass] Cheers. I'm not mad at anything. I was just mad that people thought [Sony] took it away from me because my groups didn't hit. That is not the case.

Or they think you and Tommy had fallen out and he wasn't with it anymore.
Well, eat, drink, dance — whatever. People are going to think what they want to think, and I'm not going to deny or confirm that. [Smiles]

So I've been reading all about your new freedom or liberation or whatever. Everybody's been asking you, "What's it like hanging out with Puffy?"
That stuff is all ridiculous and hoopla and hype. We were at one club one time. Every single article is the same picture.

I know it's fun to party and you've been doing that, but I'm curious about what lessons you learned from being married at such a young age? What would you say to a girl who's, like, nineteen and says I'm gonna marry a guy in his forties?
I don't even know what lessons I've learned. [Long pause] I've learned... What have I learned? I have to think about this for a minute. This is getting into shaky territory... but since I was a little girl I never wanted to get married. I was never going to get married. I would tell my mom, and she'd say, "Don't say that. You're gonna get married."

We all are.
We all do. I was like, Well, you got divorced. I had a phobia about it. This whole [divorce] has only intensified that phobia. I guess I've been hardened by the situation, because the hardest part about it, even during the whole marriage, was not having... the friendship. Because the truth of the matter is — and I know he hates it when I talk about him, but he knows it's true because I just said it to him the other day — when he's being cool, I enjoy him as a person and as a friend. [Long pause] The way that I am, I get pushed to a wall and then I attack. It's a gradual process for me because I am so cautious and so careful. But once you get me to that point, it's over and I can't turn back. That's been my defense mechanism my whole life. I give people a chance. I would love to have someone that I trust fully. But I guess we all kind of re-create what we saw was wrong when we were children. I think in my own little way, by feeling I was doing the opposite, I was doing the same thing.

You know how common that is? Something else that's common among female mega-stars is this lack of trust. People feel like it's something that happens because you get to be large. But do you get to be large...
Because you don't trust anybody? I think yes. Since I was a little girl I had this desire to be a "star," for lack of a better term, because I felt inadequate in a lot of ways, because I felt like an outsider in many ways, because I didn't feel pretty, because I felt unstable... in terms of moving around a lot.

Were you at different schools all the time?
Maybe I ended up in three or four. My mother was there for me. She had a tough time, she worked very hard, and she evolved into a better, stronger person. I admire her a lot. But when I was growing up I was on my own a lot. That feeling has driven me to be who I am. That's what keeps me in the studio album after album. I wish I would have that other kind of mentality that's like, Whatever. But I know I'll get there and it won't be right. I know this attitude comes out of a) insecurity and b) the way I felt growing up and c) knowing it's never going to be right unless I do it myself.

If you don't do it yourself, it's not gonna be right — where does that come from?
You're supposed to be passive and let others take control. A lot of times when I meet people, they are surprised, like, "Oh, you know that?" I couldn't do this and not have some degree of intelligence.

And you have been doing this now for eight years. What makes you extremely happy?
These days? I've been in a depressed week, so it's hard for me to think — and I hate saying that because...

Because then it'll be MARIAH IS DEPRESSED!
I hate that, but I also feel ungrateful when I say that. I should feel blessed. I used to read about stars complaining, and I'm thinking... I'd kill to have one hundredth of what you have. How dare you be unhappy?

But don't you have to allow yourself to be sad?
I know! What makes me really happy is when I'm in good voice and I go onstage and I do my best.

Is there a life outside of your profession?
There was for a minute. And there is when I go out at night and have jokes and have fun. I don't enjoy moping. I always have jokes. Even when I'm crying I'll make up something stupid and laugh through it.

So, Jeter.
[Sad smile] Mm-hmm.

No longer?

So this is not a happy time.
I love his family. I think he has a beautiful family. I care about his sister a lot. We connected because of our similar backgrounds.

How did you guys meet?
At a fund-raiser.

Celebrity meeting place. He's a nice guy?
He's a nice guy.

What do you look for in a guy?
Right now I feel so untrusting of men in general. I went from high school to full-blown work to being in a relationship with a much older man.

Do you have that advice I mentioned earlier? If my cousin Ahmber came to you and said she was in love with a forty-year-old guy...
How old is she?

I would day, Are you guys in the same business?

Sort of.
How much control go you have over your own stuff?

I have a lot, but I think he has a lot too.
Over your stuff?

Yes, I'm kind of in it, but he knows a lot more than me because he's forty.
I would say, Just sit back and think about everything before you do it. But you know what? Love is love and life is life and circumstances are circumstances. And all those things come into play.

Definition of independence?
Not feeling confined. Having the ability to run your own life, being responsible for your own actions.

Definition of love?
Full and unconditional trust of another. The desire to be with them all the time, but the knowledge that you shouldn't be with them all the time, and the ability to separate yourself. And to come back to them.

I don't have enough experience to answer that question.

That's pitiful
My own experiences with love and lust? Don't have that many. Sorry, it's not that exciting.

You know that's bananas. You know people are gonna be like, "Tommy Mottola, Derek Jeter, Puff Daddy..."
Two people! Only two people. Hanging out with Puff Daddy — that ain't even in this. Q-Tip? No! That does not exist. Leonardo? None of that! There are two people that are real — that's it. If people think I'm lying, sorry. I wish I could say I was lying. I think it's pathetic! [Laughing] I think I'm a jackass! A moron!

What's the hold up?
First of all with diseases and stuff out there I'm not tryin' to be in everybody's bed. Try that one.

It's not just all free love
[Laughter] It's not all swing this way, swing that way, swing my way, shorty. I'm very protective of myself in that way. I've seen too many people die and be affected by AIDS. For me to get really close to someone I have to trust them or feel a strong connection. Everyone I start that with, somehow it gets spoiled...

Because you're Mariah Carey?
I don't want to fall back on that, but maybe so. I don't know. Maybe I'm just a little ridiculous. When would I have had time? Under the scrutiny I was under? Being married to who I was married to? In the studio? Writing songs? Producing an album every year? Basically, I had time to drive from my house to my mom's house, which was, like, twenty minutes away. I've been separated for like a year and a half now, and you're saying in that period I've been...

Buck wild!
Buck wild crazy!

With all the movie stars. All the fast guys.
No. With the "hard-partying rap posse." That's what they wrote in the New York Post. MARIAH'S SEXCAPADES was the headline. Just the terminology is ridiculous. I'm like, What is my life right now? Why am I waking up and seeing my face next to SEXCAPADES on the front cover? [Laughing] And then you read it and there's no sex!

So you're going to be alone for years?
No! I hope not. I wish I could find someone tomorrow who I could trust and who would care about me and understand me. I'm the girl next door in a lot of ways, but I'm a lot more complex.

A little! The fact you've probably got, like, eight trillion dollars in the bank...
No, not quite eight trillion. Don't forget I paid for half that house. People don't realize that. And that cost quite a pretty penny. Much more than they write it cost [reportedly $2 million]. And I lost quite a pretty penny on that. Not like I'm near broke, but I am crazy cautious.

Do you ever still trip off the black / white thing?
Yesterday we were driving away from Summer Jam. There was so much love in the air. It's a predominantly black crowd, but it's really racially mixed. People were outside waiting to say goodbye and get autographs and stuff, and this one guy says, "Mariah, are you black or are you white?"

That's a classic for you, no?
Classic! And I was just like, I'm mixed, baby! But I'm not offended. The fact that they felt comfortable enough to ask me is good. I guess I've come to terms with it. I'm mixed. That's what it is. If you want me to define it, I can only say my father is African American and Venezuelan. My mother is white; Irish from the Midwest. So I am mixture of these things. I'm not in denial of either of them. But it's not like I'm running around kissing a Blarney stone, thinking I'm Irish [laughter]. Anybody who's mixed knows they're of the black race. It's all right for some reason to say Japanese and black or Japanese and Italian or Chinese and Swedish. But the minute you say black and white...

All over the place. But my family is like a potpourri of color.

So many fams are like that.
I know, but I didn't know many fams like that when I was a kid. So it made me feel outside. But not anymore.