Blonde Ambition

With more drama in her adult life than a bumper Christmas edition of Eastenders, R&B diva Mariah Carey has a longer story to tell than most. Spilling the beans to touch exclusively in New York, the 140-million plus unit-selling songbird reveals everything you ever wanted to know along with the fact that she's never been in love.

Touch Magazine by Laurence Galud

Touch (UK) December 2002. Text by Toussaint Davy. Photography by Laurence Salud.

And so to Mariah Carey. First question: Is she made? Come on drop the PC-sensibility it's the first question that everybody asks when Touch tells the world that it has interviewed Mariah. Along with that and her reputed enhanced assets, staying prominently at you on the cover. There's no definitive answer to either question, as truthfully one man's madness is another's genius and how many men do you know would ask a lady they just met if her tits were fake? Exactly. On both points, Touch finds itself woefully underqualified but the evidence on one count is compelling, but more of that later.

Sitting in a fairly plain studio just off Times Square in Manhattan where Carey's putting the final touches to her latest LP, Charmbracelet, Touch is surprised to find itself alone with Mariah. No PR handlers. No over-zealous record company execs. No ego fluffers. No minders. And most importantly, no pesky animals. Touch, along with a silver platter of freshly-cut raw vegetables, is all alone with the biggest selling female recording artist of all time. Everybody else is made to wait outside for an hour or so.

Dressed in a low cut denim skit, low cut-off shoulder see-through pink top and sandals, Carey is a number one stunner. The image you see on the CD cover is exactly the same you see face-to-face, it's so unreal up close, it's surreal. One supposes, that speaking to someone who's sold over 120 million records has that illusory effect. We sit on the couch perhaps two feet from one another with nothing but a tape recorder between us. Over the course of the interview Mariah tells Touch that she's strengthened her bond with God. Touch at once finds Mariah super-normal, very personable and extremely chatty, perhaps too much so, as if by continually speaking you won't ask the wrong type of question. But before we begin let's backtrack and fill in the odds and ends that you should know about Carey.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Carey's current record company doesn't mention The Drama in her earlier years, the sort of experiences that inspired the-not-deemed-suitable or-Blockbuster-film Glitter, looked to relate. That film was released week commencing, September 10, 2001, while its soundtrack was released in September 11! So, in hindsight as we all know it didn't stand a chance. Both projects were fated to fail. But Glitter her last album marked a definite Carey recording shift, in which she sought to reinvent herself wholly as a credible urban R&B singer. With our without September 11, it's clear that audiences, even her core fanbase, weren't having any of it. They, and shamefully the world, wanted songs such as Hero that helped Carey shift over 100 million units in the '90s rather than worthy covers of Tom Browne's Funkin' For Jamaica. But it's The Drama that helps create the popular and insatiable Mariah Myth. Even though it's none of our business, Mariah's past marriage, mental state, recording contracts, dating preferences and sex drive are things rightly or wrongly that our celebrity-obsessed minds need to know about. No matter how good or how wholesome the music sounds, it'll always be secondary to The Drama.

So, in order to break the obvious journalistic habits of a lifetime, let's talk about the music. Of the seven tracks Touch hears before press time, there are two stand outs: The One featuring Jermaine Dupri — a slinky club ride. And also the first single Through The Rain, a big sentimental track that'd find great hanging space in Celine Dion's wardrobe, saccharine but worthy. The others: Oh Boy a by-the-numbers Just Blaze track, and a tired Jay-Z and Freeway track (You Got Me) deserve mention only because they fail to showcase Carey's voice, which is after all, one of the world's most distinctive.

Other than the superficial it's nigh on impossible to get any meaningful figures regarding Carey and her massive record deals. So far the facts are these: In December 1999 Billboard Magazine voted Carey Artist Of The Decade. In that decade she sold 105 million united and had a US number one single every year since 1990 with her ex-husband Tommy Mottola's Sony Records. According to The Observer, she was in pre-production on All That Glitters (later Glitter) when she divorced him in March 1998. Virgin/EMI Records is reported to have signed her to a five album deal in April 2001 for between £57 million ($110m) and £96 million ($140m) depending on which reports you believe.

In hospital after her well-reported breakdown in August 2001, Carey claims to have not known where she was but readily admits to "mental and physical exhaustion." Them there was the 'broken plates' incident that resulted in Carey's mother getting her hospitalised at The Northern Westchester Hospital in New York. Here she was pictured with bandaged arms, with rumours of a possible suicide attempt etc. This incident followed her spectacular bust-up with Spanish singing star Luis Miguel, who she claimed she was deliriously in love with two years earlier.

In its first week of release her debut semi-autobiographical film Glitter entered the US charts at 11 taking a paltry $2.5m. The Glitter soundtrack sold two million copies worldwide after Virgin, according to The Guardian spent £7m promoting it. In comparison her debut album, Music Box sold six million. Virgin, according to inside sources, was said to have paid $21m for Glitter.

According to Touch's sources long-term that deal could have been as big as $100m as the deal signed in April 2001 was allegedly for five albums. Virgin were reputed to have paid around £38m ($29m) to end the deal. Billboard reported that the loss for Virgin was $54.3m or according to The Observer £96m ($140m). Whereas UK industry digest Music Week says Virgin/EMI paid Carey £38m just to go!

A new deal with Island/Def Jam was announced on May 8, 2002 trumpeting a "multi-platform integration," said to be more than $20m." The deal, which should make easy reading for Robbie Williams, is described as a "unique partnership" with Vivendi Universal. Basically, Carey's A&R path is decided by an Entertainment Committee comprising Dough Morris (President/CEO Island/Def Jam), Lyor Cohen (Def Jam Music Group, CEO), Jimmy Lovine (Chief of Interscope, Geffen, A&M) and Jorge Larsen (Chairman, Universal Music International). Yet it still remains unclear whether she maintains the absolute artistic control that she enjoyed at Virgin/EMI.

Touch: So Mariah Carey's coming back? How are you feeling?
Mariah Carey: I'm feeling good, very good.

T: Of the five tracks I've heard The One with Jermaine Dupri had some strong urban appeal. Now that you are with the Island Def Jam Group what can your urban fans expect from you?
MC: Let's not forget that I also have my own label called MonarC.

T: Yeah, I know don't worry we will talk about that.
MC: They can expect the same things that I've always done. The drama's affected me as a person therefore affecting me as an artist but I have a lot of hot club records that may ho on as bonus tracks that may go on to a separate CD. The One is just a taste of one of the slower tracks. I did a lot of stuff with Just Blaze (Cam'Ron's Oh Boy).

T: So what are you going to put out on ManarC?
MC: I'm already working on a record with one girl who's a 13 year old Brazilian/American and we're doing some really hot records together and there's a couple of groups we're talking to. My records will all have the MonarC stamp. Jerrt Blair, who's the President of MonarC worked at Sony as head of promotions knows what he's doing.

T: So what makes you confident that MonarC will work this time round for you as a label as your previous one Crave crashed spectacularly?
MC: I didn't want the other label that was somebody else's plan for their own reasons. I got involved cos it wasn't that hard for me to say, OK, let me write a couple of songs and I feel bad cos the groups were cool. It wasn't really my fault and maybe one day I'll get the chance to explain that to them.

T: If you sell 100 million records this time round will you be worth $100,000,000?
MC: In one album or in the next ten years? Will I be worth it?

T: Yeah, I'm referring to a quote you made saying that you sold 100 million records but you weren't $100,000,000.
MC: Well, it's actually 140 million records and no I'm not. I don't know about worth being the right statement because we are all priceless as human beings.

T: Er, OK. Over the last 18 months what's been the most difficult day?
MC: Well there was one day when I hadn't slept in six days and I had like 25 interviews and my assistant was in another country so nobody was bringing me food or asking me what I needed. Next thing I know I'm on camera so I didn't even have two seconds to perk up. I'm very much a people-pleaser so I'll go along. Then I got so exhausted. That was the worst cos I was physically unable, incapable of getting up, sleep deprivation is real. It sounds like bullshit celebrities make up but it's literally torture. That was intense. Days later when I collapsed from exhaustion, the whole world was trying to say I tried kill myself. I looked at it and thought what was happening?

T: Where did that rumour come from then?
MC: I don't know all I know is that it was there, and I'm too much of a God-fearing person and too much of a spiritual person to even remotely consider that as possibility. I grew up believing what I saw on TV or read in the papers.

T: You obviously don't find it hard talking about the last 12 to 18 months. Have our troubles changed your approach to the music business?
MC: I think so. I did not have a picture perfect childhood people don't realise that. In America it's very tough being in a bi-racial situation. Most people don't even understand what that is. They don't get that you have a black father and a white mother. It was really difficult. I had to deal with the fact that my mother's family cut her off for marrying my father, so I was like what does that make me? Was I some horrible creation cos I didn't look like the little blonde hair, blue-eyed girl from down the street and yet at the same time I didn't quite look like my cousin from the South Bronx so I was like, 'What am I?'

T: With the benefit of hindsight how do you reflect now on the whole Sony incident, being signed to them, the whole Tommy Mottola saga, the whole Virgin deal going pear-shaped? What are your thoughts?
MC: Well, you cannot put Sony in the same category as the Virgin experience as one was almost a ten year thing twisted with personal entanglements. It was beneficial for us both but it was really time for me to go and in the end I made a snap decision based on the money and I'll never do that again cos I've never done it before. I grew up with nothing and I almost signed my publishing away for $5,000 and that was like $10 million to me.

T: Well, I guess, if you haven't got any money that is a million dollars.
MC: Somehow there has always been a guardian angel watching over me in many situations where I could have been destroyed, being in a relationship that is so controlling can be very tough if you're not strong and people around you think you could be in physical danger. Some people will talk about it, some won't. I won't talk about any more.

T: Tell me about your reputation for being a diva, are you as bad as everyone thinks?
MC: What do you think?

T: I don't know. I've just met you and time is ticking away. All I've got are those rumours on
MC: Do you really believe that stuff though?

T: Hmm, surely, there's an element of truth in everything right? It may not be good, it may not be bad but it's there.
MC: I used to care and get upset but they can make stuff up and will continue to. I'm not mad it's their job. It doesn't sell papers to say I met Mariah Carey and she was cool.

T: But you're not.
MC: (laughs)

T: Love life. Discuss.
MC: It's ironic cos I can count on one hand the amount men I've been with in my life. When Butterfly had just come out I woke up and my limo driver was suing me and was making up all these stories and the headline was a picture of me wearing the shirt from Fantasy and the headline was, "Sexcapades!" It made me laugh.

T: Tell me about the whole Glitter experience?
MC: Basically, that experience sucked. It was very confining when you're working in the big Hollywood system if you're not calling the shots. It becomes a watered down thing. The role of Billy was never written with enough zest to be a real part.

T: Do you look back on that with regret?
MC: I look back on it with some regret. It was geared at 11 year olds and during the week of September 11th nobody was leaving their house.

T: So are you in love at the moment?
MC: No.

T: Is that a good or bad thing?
MC: I don't know. I think I like to glamourise situations. I'm good at writing about love.

T: Yeah, few express it better or bigger.
MC: Well, I'm just waiting for the right person.

T: Have you ever been in love?
MC: I don't know maybe I was once.

T: Are you looking?
MC: Not really cos when you do it won't come to you.