My Sweet Smell Of Success

Claiming that she's the most relaxed she's ever been seems to be working for Mariah Carey...

Ms London (UK) July 4, 2005. Text by Gareth Gorman.

The success of The Emancipation Of Mimi must feel quite sweet...
You know what? It does feel sweet — very sweet indeed. Especially as I'm a songwriter and an artist who's put sooooo much into this record. Just to see the reaction to it has been incredible.

To The Floor and Get Your Number would be my favourites from the album, do you think you'll ever make a wall-to-wall raunched-up album?
I'm not really about that. We can give hints and tease and play around. It's all in fun. I'm not taking myself too seriously on songs like these. It all just came out of a good time, really. The best thing for me with this album is that I can hear the spark that I started out with. Over the years, some songs may have had these really good vocal performances or have other reasons to be proud of them. But this time I hear a consistent feeling of the easier vibe. There was nobody standing over me telling me how to make it.

If you work something too hard or overproduce it, you can lose the original music...
Right. My main goal this time was to keep the production simple and that worked with Jermaine Dupri, The Neptunes and Kanye West's songs, as their style is sparse hip-hop which suits my approach for up-tempo records. With The Neptunes, I've been friends with Pharrell a long time. This time around it finally happened. It was a totally different approach to collaborating for me. I walked into the studio and said something jokingly, about something so hot — it was volcanic, liquid-hot magma or something. Pharrell wrote it down and later went, did you realise that you said this when you came in? I just went, 'No, that's just me being silly,' In the end, it turned out to be my favourite lyric in the song — the way it ended up. Sound-wise and vibe-wise, Snoop was in the next room working on Drop It Like It's Hot. We worked together on Rainbow and we did Crybaby for that. It was one of my favourites, but my label didn't understand the whole collaborating with rappers thing at that stage... hopefully, one day, it can be a re-release. It's always fun to work with Snoop as he's a great guy and a hip-hop legend.

Do you feel across the board and on the whole that you're in a more light-hearted frame of mind now than you were through the 90s?
Oh definitely! I worked every year right from getting out of high-school. I didn't take a break. After going through some difficult stuff and taking a break and going on tour, getting in touch with the fans — getting back into my rhythm. This album is the culmination of everything that I've gone through as a person.

Your spiritual side comes to the fore with the use of Psalms 20:5: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." A good thought to take stock of in hard times.
Actually, I wish it was something someone would have said to me in hard times... The man who is speaking on that track — Fly Like A Bird — is my pastor from my church — Pastor Clarence Keaton. He's a really great person, and he's very down-to-earth. You can talk to him about spiritual things, obviously, but he's just also someone you'd enjoy spending time with. A lot of young people go to his church. It's not about being trendy thing or about being famous or dressing up, it's about having a positive experience. I wanted to start the song out with that, as I feel that for all the people who don't ever get that message but need it, I can be conduit. So someone who isn't expecting to hear that, can now hear it and it may now change their attitude or thoughts on things.

You've also got the various dictionary definitions of 'emancipation' going on in the packaging. I guess then, that if anyone is going to read into things about you, that helps bring along more of a chance of it being right.
(laughs) I think everyone of the definitions I could definitely apply to something in my life that I've gone through, any number of times. It was interesting, as I was looking up the word to see if there was anything in it for when I was writing up the liner notes, kinda 'Let me just see if there's anything I can elaborate on here...' When I found them, I just figured I'd write all the definitions out as they all really apply. It could have been looked upon with this album's title as the coming out of this other side of myself as an artist, or me showing a lighter side or more personal side to my fans. But if you look at one of the other definitions, there's also 'to free...' What's the first one?...

Let's see, it's 'to free from restraint, control, oppression, or the power of another...'
Right. So that has its own implication of things I've been through in my life, and everything there really does. It was just one of those things that happens.

'Mimi' is your nickname used by those close to you. Now, quite obviously, everyone's going to know about it. I was wondering when it started to get used and where?
Actually, it came from my little brothers and nephews — they started it. As you sort of said, we've got to come up with a new nicknames as there's not a special one any more. It just seemed like the right time to do it. LA Reid, who I worked with really closely on the album, he liked using that name. He said that after he got to know me as a person, that it seemed really representative of that fun, more light-hearted side of who I am, as opposed to the professional Mariah Carey that people from the industry or whatever know me as...

I believe there's a Camp Mariah. Where is it, and how did that come into being?
Camp Mariah is in Fish.. (heh!)... It's pronounced Fishkville, New York — upstate New York. I had an idea to do something charity-wise with kids, and I thought that a camp would be a good idea as I went to a publicly-funded camp when I was a kid and hated it! It ws one of the worst experiences of my life. But then, I also went to a camp where my Mom really saved up for this performing arts camp, and that was really interesting. So I hit upon the idea of a publicly-funded camp, but with the experience of the latter. So this camp is in association with the Fresh Air Fund. They give kids who've probably never had the chance and opportunity to leave their own block, and bring them to either host families for the summer or different camps. My camp has career awareness, so there's the fun aspect, but they can also learn about different prospects to explore. There's an audio-visual department, photography classes and so on. It's good fun for me, too.

If you could go back in time to give yourself some advice, what would it be?
I think it would be to trust myself more and to trust instincts. To keep strong enough to stand behind them, because that's the lesson I've had to learn. But then, that's difficult to know when you're starting out in this business as a teenager, surrounded by older, very powerful men.

Have you got any particular, unachieved ambitions — it doesn't have to be musical, it could be hot-air ballooning?
(chuckles) Umm... I went bunjee-jumping, that was always something I wanted to try.

Were you a screamer?
I was! I did it twice in a row. I said, 'If I'm going to do this ever again I better do it now, otherwise I'll be too scared!' I'll probably give skydiving a go. I love all those thrill-seeker moments. But there are plenty of other career things, too... I did this film called Wise Girls with Mira Sorvino. Doing this movie gave me the courage to want to try further in acting. Had I not done it, I probably never would have wanted to act ever again after the horrible experience I had with Glitter. But Wise Girls got all these good reviews, as well as being a good experience — a totally different experience to how stifling the first one was. But I think it was something I had to go through to learn that the quality-level of the people I have to surround myself with in all areas has to be right. With Glitter, I was not surrounded by the right types.

It's a shame it was your first foray, though?
People sometimes have to see a fall to root for you again — that's human nature at times. But doing Wise Girls is the only reason I would bring up Glitter with you. I wouldn't be talking acting with you off my own back. I guess I enjoyed the character aspect. I was this waitress from Staten Island who was this gun-toting broad. Now that's about as opposite from everybody's vision of Mariah Carey as you can get. Becoming that character and going there every day was great for me. I grew so much from it, and the directors that have seen it — who are the type who you really want to see your work — go, 'Oh, I didn't know you could do character work'. So from there, it's a case of that's seen now, wait until there's 'Would you be interested in this?' and that's how I'll take it; starting off again with small, gritty roles. Back in my early days, I just wouldn't have been allowed to due to the foul language and gore aspect. So I'm very grateful for that experience, and we'll just have to see what the future brings...