Great Expectations

Mariah Carey's Single-Packed New Disc Could Put Her In Elite Company.

Billboard (US) April 5, 2008. Text by Ann Donahue.

Albert Einstein created E=MC2 as the formula to express his law of conservation of energy. Mariah Carey, needless to say, has a different interpretation.

On a recent Monday morning, she flew the red-eye from New York to Los Angeles, stopped by Ryan Seacrest's morning radio show to chat, recorded a background vocal track for the song "I Stay In Love" for her upcoming album, then went through hair and makeup and recorded a video for Wal-Mart's "Soundcheck" series, which will be used as bonus footage online and played in stores.

By the time all of this was done, it was just past noon. Her afternoon consisted of another radio interview on rhythmic KPWR (Power 106) Los Angeles, and then a return to the studio at night to work on mastering the album.

For Carey, "E=MC2" — due April 15 via Island Def Jam — is the representation of her formula for success, and it's one that requires an extreme expenditure of energy.

"It becomes nothing other than living for the marketing of the record," Carey's manager Benny Medina says.

After the comeback success of 2005's "The Emancipation of Mimi," 38-year-old Carey is in overdrive to make "E=MC2" another hit. A multitude of promotional plans — from mobile initiatives to copious TV appearances — are designed to appeal to fans of the classic balladeer Carey and her current hip-hop incarnation.

Sitting in a mixing room at Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood, Carey does seem a touch weary. But this is Mariah Carey, so you're immediately distracted by the blingy-to-the-max gold, platinum and diamond bracelets that extend almost to the elbows on each of her arms. Armed with a small Evian atomizer and soothing throat spray, Carey's a bit hoarse. But her excitement about the new album still bubbles through.

"There is some heavy stuff on some of the songs," she says. "I was trying to be as honest as I could — it's almost like it wasn't a choice for me. And then there are the songs that are still honest, but they're fun."

One of these fun songs is the first single, "Touch My Body," which has made its way up to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 — and that's without any digital sales of the song, which didn't start until March 25. (On the Hot 100 Airplay chart, it resides at No. 4 for the week that ended March 25.) It's a coy love song, made immeasurably appealing by a video featuring Carey as the bombshell fantasy of a geeky IT guy.

"Mariah loves to collaborate with writers and producers, and we had success with Tricky [Stewart] and The-Dream," Island Def Jam Music Group chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid says. "She went into the studio with them, we closed the door, and when we opened it up they had several ideas, one of which became 'Touch My Body.' "

While "Mimi" sold 5.8 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, making it the top-selling album of 2005, and spawned the Hot 100 No. 1s "We Belong Together" and "Don't Forget About Us," Reid denies that this success puts added preassure on "E=MC2."

"We can't compete with the work we've already done," he says. "That represented that time period, and this represents this time period. We can't make records for how things were yesterday."

To its credit, like "Mimi," the new album is much more than a catchy leadoff single. The 14 tracks range from lung-busting ballads like "Bye Bye" and "I Wish You Well" to club-thumpers like "Migrate" and "Side Effects."

If "E=MC2" scores big, Carey could find herself in elite chart company. She's currently tied at No. 2 with Elvis Presley for the most Hot 100 No. 1s, with 17. The Beatles hold the crown with 20.

"I think it would be phenomenal," Reid says of the prospect of Carey besting the Beatles' record. "But the real goal is to create music the whole world can sing. And if we break records and set some milestones while doing that, that would be beautiful."

On "E=MC2," Carey teams again with "We Belong Together" and "Don't Forget About Us" producer Jermaine Dupri on the reggae-tinged "Cruise Control," which features Damian Marley; the ballad "Love Story"; and back-to-back love-gone-wrong odes "Last Kiss" and "Thanx 4 Nothin'."

"What I usually do is go to Atlanta to work with Jermaine, we write the song, then I take it and leave and do my vocals," Carey says. "Then we work on the mix together afterwards — that's how I work with everybody."

Carey started recording the album last summer in several houses she rented in Florida, as well as her favorite vacation spot in Capri. "There's something kind of important to me about going there when I'm working on an album," she says. "There's something about the Mediterranean that's amazing for my voice."

And Carey again called on her friends for an assist in front of the mic on "E=MC2," with Young Jeezy taking a turn on "Side Effects" and the omnipresent T-Pain featured on "Migrate." (He also backed Carey during her recent performance on "Saturday Night Live," when she debuted the song.)

Two versions of the "E=MC2" CD will be sold, a basic with a listed price point of $13.98 and a deluxe edition with a fold-out poster and an iPod skin overlay for $21.95.

"There's all this research that shows people want more," Island president Steve Bartels says. "They're looking for more value and more things that come with it. With big artists, we know there is going to be initial demand for the music, but we want to provide consumers with a choice."

For Carey, those consumers are across the map; she is the rare artist whose appeal spans the younger MTV crowd and the older VH1 demographic alike. "The beautiful thing about Mariah is her fan base," Island Def Jam senior VP of marketing Caron Veazey says. "She has fans from 12 to 70 years old. Some artists, as they grow, they don't garner new fans. She does."

For "E=MC2," Carey's strategy is to lure new fans with several big-ticket promotional appearances. She will be heavily involved with Fox's "American Idol" this year, appearing on the show's charity effort, "Idol Gives Back&,quot; and acting as a mentor/guest judge the week "E=MC2" comes out. "She loves working with developing artists, and she has such a body of work to pull from," Veazey says. "It was a perfect fit."

In addition, she recently filmed behind-the-scenes footage for MTV's "52/52," which will play during the release week for "E=MC2" as promotional spots on the channel — totaling 11 hours of exposure — as well as archived online and for wireless devices. Carey also performed at the premiere party for MTV's docu-soap "The Hills" at the end of March, with footage streamed the day after the event on

On April 16, BET will air an exclusive Carey performance, taped in early March, that showcases "E=MC2." In addition, Carey will make the traditional circuit of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," as well as morning and late-night talk shows in the weeks surrounding street date, according to label executives.

Internationally, Carey will visit Japan, Europe and the United Kingdom for promotional stops; in January, Reid held a listening party in London for press and label execs where tracks including "Migrate," "I'm That Chick," "Bye Bye," "O.O.C." and "Touch My Body" were played.

"They went nuts," Bartels recalls. "All our international divisions have now submitted these incredible plans — they want Mariah in their country. Some artists are great in certain territories — but she transcends the globe."

But despite all the work of the Carey brain trust to make the album a hit with the public, the most important aspect of "E=MC2" for the singer was that each song conveyed something private.

"I do feel like it's my responsibility," Carey says. "I was given a gift, I know that music comes from God. It got me through things before I was known to the world, before I was on the Billboard charts. Music healed me. Music helped me. It was important for me to express where I was coming from."

Mariah Carey Q&A

She May Be Ready For A Nap After Nonstop Promo, But Mariah Carey Is Poised To Soar All Over Again

With the success of "The Emancipation of Mimi" and this new album, it seems that you've found a comfortable home at Island Def Jam.
I love the fact that [Antonio "L.A." Reid] and I have the relationship that we do. He was talking to me today, and he was like, "Yeah, I'm a frustrated producer! I want to be a producer!" I'm like, "I think you're not a frustrated producer — I think you're quite the accomplished producer, but you happen to be excellent at doing lots of things." It's just such a plus for me to be able to work with somebody who understands music, who can sing something to me and I can sing it back to him. We can go back and forth with concepts rather than just a corporate person who doesn't relate to me on the same wavelength, like an artist.

"E=MC2" crosses a lot of genres. There are a few ballads, but there's definitely some hip-hop and even some gospel-tinged songs and a bit of a reggae beat.
I'm really a festive person, and that's what came across with the "Mimi" album. I hate it when people are like (uses a dramatic voice): "She's taking a new direction with hip-hop." I'm like, "Will you please freakin' research?" I've been doing this for a long time — working with (writer-producer) Dave Hall on "Dreamlover," using the "Ain't No Half-Steppin' " loop.

I think that it was Q-Tip — he said this to me in '97 — that I was really the catalyst for so many of these artists who are now trying to infuse [songs with hip-hop]. It was just digging in the crates with Dave Hall and coming up with, "Hey, let's use this loop!" And from then on, I did it anytime I could. The next was "Fantasy," which was a groundbreaking moment for me, the ability to be able to work with Puffy.

Right now everything is kind of merged together because pop is such a nebulous format, in my opinion. You'll hear a hip-hop record next to sort of a rock-sounding pop beat, or a country song. Aretha Franklin can still have a hit — look at "A Rose Is Still a Rose" — it's just her talent is shining through. She can work with anybody at any time in her life. Same thing with Patti LaBelle and Luther [Vandross], God rest his soul, before he passed away. The true talent will always come through.

And after the success of "We Belong Together," "Don't Forget About Us" — co-produced by Bryan-Michael Cox — and "Shake It Off" on "Mimi," you've teamed up with Jermaine Dupri again for several songs on "E=MC2."
JD is the best. I love him, I really do. We have such similar influences. It's funny because a lot of our favorite records from growing up are really the same. Back in the day we did the [R&B] remix of "Always Be My Baby." The original version was a hard track, if you listen to the bass — but it was very poppy on top. I knew JD could do it, even though he hadn't really worked with somebody like me before. I knew he was just incredibly talented. He's really just honed his skill as a producer in so many ways. I'm a fan and a friend.

Do you ever think about surpassing the Beatles with their 20 No. 1s?
I do, because people bring it up. (laughs) But it's not like I sit around thinking about that type of stuff while I'm creating something. I did write this record in terms of wanting it to be a lot of songs that could potentially be singles, because people like that.

You write or co-write almost all your songs — what's your process? What inspires you to write?
For each album, I try to have a book that I write the whole thing in. It started — this was a long time ago. I don't have birthdays, I only have anniversaries. (laughs) But actually, this was the last birthday party I had... I think it was my 21st birthday, even though I'm only 12. We had it in advance. (laughs) Cyndi Lauper came to the party, and I've always been a big fan of hers since I was growing up. She gave me this book, and I wound up writing the whole "Music Box" album in this book, which I still have.

Jay-Z said something to me that was really interesting, and I don't even know if he really remembers this. He's known me for a long time, and he's like, "You need to use some of your phrases in your music." I have my own little slang that I make up and say stupid stuff just for laughs. [On] the song "O.O.C." — that's a Swizz Beatz track — it means, "Out of control." So me and my friends will say that to each other, like, "OK, you're a little O.O.C. right now, tone it on down." Da Brat, who's a really good, close friend of mine since we worked on "Always Be My Baby" — we wrote the lyrics together, and it was so fun. By saying (sings), "I get so O.O.C./So out of control, baby," we could explain it.

When somebody was helping me type up the lyrics, and they wrote "Out of Control" in parenthesis [by the song title], I was like, "Get rid of that. It's 'O.O.C.'! Let them figure it out! It's not that tough! I say it in the next line!"

The "Touch My Body" video is hilarious.
Thank you. That was a [director] Brett Ratner and me collabo. (laughs) I love Brett because he is like me. If I'm eternally 12 — because he's a little bit more naughty than I am — he's eternally 15. He has a great sense of humor, obviously, and he knows that I have a sense of humor and he feels that people don't recognize that about me. And I'll do stuff that I'm totally joking and they're like (uses mean girl voice), "Why is she doing that? Why is she doing the treadmill with her high heels on?" I'm like, "It's a freakin' joke! It's 'Cribs'! Hello! It's a freakin' joke!"

Have you thought about touring for this album?
It's come up, and I'm probably going to do it, but I don't know exactly how we're going to do it or when. I'm thinking probably September. But I think it's important to tour with this album, because there are so many songs that I really want to sing live, that I really enjoy. Fun songs, like "I'm That Chick" or "O.O.C.," and then the ballads, of course. I really want to do "I Wish You Well" and "I Stay in Love" and "Bye Bye."

And now that you're in promotional mode, does it ever get daunting?
I'm totally ready for a nap. I'd love a nap... It's a little tiring to have this kind of schedule. As long as I'm straight up in promo mode, it's cool, but I'm still doing little things on the record — we're mastering... [But] I'm collaborative about it. I like to hear what other people have to say. I wouldn't feel like an artist if I didn't. I wouldn't feel like I was truly the architect of the record. And why do it, then?.