Biography: Mariah Carey
Pop diva Mariah Carey sold nearly one hundred million albums between 1990 and 2005 by fusing her soaring, gospel-style vocals with melodious pop, rock, rhythm & blues, and soulful hip-hop music. Her vocal range is remarkably diverse, ranging between five and seven octaves, and she has been compared to Whitney Houston and other lauded female vocalists from the gospel-influenced tradition. Her early music was characterized by lyrics that champion optimism, unwavering devotion, undying love, and a follow-your-dreams chirpiness. Carey branched out in the musical realm of rap and hip-hop in 1997 with her fifth album, Butterfly, hoping to create a rougher, more urban sound and to appeal to a more youthful, cutting-edge audience. Butterfly, in which she collaborated with many of rap and hip-hop's prominent artists, signaled a fresh, new direction for Carey who went on to appear in two motion pictures by 2001. She hit a rough patch in her career in the early years of the new millennium but regained her footing with the success of her "comeback" album, The Emancipation of Mimi.
Carey was born and raised in the Long Island section of New York, the daughter of a white Irish woman and a black Venezuelan man. Her childhood, in sharp contrast to her young adult years, was marked by harsh poverty. Her mother, Patricia, was an opera singer and vocal coach, and her father, Alfred Roy Carey, was an aeronautical engineer. After years of staving off bigotry and weathering such incidents as having their dogs poisoned and a car destroyed by a bomb, the couple parted due to the stress. Mariah, then three years old, lived with her mother; her sister lived with her father, and her older brother soon went off to college. Carey's mother was left to make ends meet on her own, and the struggle was so difficult that Carey and her mother sometimes lived with family friends for months.
Carey demonstrated a clear aptitude for music at an early age. She could sing on perfect pitch as a young child, exactly duplicating a given sound. Carey performed in talent shows as a girl, sang for friends, and performed at local folk-music festivals. By the time Carey was thirteen years old, she was writing her own songs. In high school she commuted to Manhattan to study music with music professionals, and after she graduated from high school in 1987, she moved to Manhattan to seek her fame and fortune as a singer.
Carey worked as a waitress, coat check girl, beauty salon janitor, and part-time backup singer to pay the rent on her apartment in New York City in 1988. While she was working as a backup singer for rhythm-and-blues singer Brenda K. Starr, she attended a music industry party with her demo tape in hand. Sony Music Entertainment President and C.O.O. Tommy Mottola was at the party and ended up taking the tape home with him. According to Entertainment Weekly's Degen Pener, music industry folklore has it that Mottola fortuitously took the tape away from another guest at the party. Mottola, twenty years older than Carey, signed Carey to his label within days of meeting her and hearing her demo tape. Carey left a boyfriend for Mottola, Mottola left his wife for Carey, love blossomed into marriage, and Carey's luminous career was sealed.
Carey and Mottola married with much pomp and circumstance, pouring a half a million dollars into their highly-publicized, fairy-tale style nuptials, and inviting celebrities. The couple then moved into a $10 million estate in the Westchester, New York, community of Bedford. Carey became firmly ensconced in marriage at the youthful age of twenty-three. Mottola was both husband and boss, which sometimes presented a unique dilemma for the couple.
In 1990 Carey released Mariah Carey; her strong debut album sold over six million copies and forced many to take notice of an astounding new talent. Carey received Grammys in 1990 for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocalist for "Vision of Love." The vocals on "Vision of Love" were so impassioned and strong that they sounded almost airborne. Carey's debut album immediately solidified her career and popularity, and prompted comparisons with Whitney Houston, whose vocal style is similarly strident.
Carey released Emotions in 1991, which was nominated for two Grammy nominations: Best Female Pop Vocalist and, with Walter Afanasieff, Best Producer. Emotions served to complement Carey's debut album, underscoring her stature as the leading female vocalist of the vocals-driven pop domain. The songs on Emotions focus on love: the love-struck and the lovelorn. Then, after a successful live appearance on MTV's "Unplugged" series, Carey released her third album, Mariah Carey: MTV Unplugged in 1992.
Carey yielded a record-breaking four consecutive singles number one hit singles from her debut album in 1990 on Billboard's Top Pop Singles Chart for "Vision of Love," "Love Takes Time," "Someday," and "I Don't Wanna Cry." Emotions generated her fifth consecutive number one hit single, rendering Carey as one of the top ten artists with the most consecutive number one hits. In February of 1997, Sony's Columbia Records rewarded Carey with her own label, Crave Records. Carey generates up to $200 million in annual revenues for Sony-owned Columbia Records. The number and diversity of musical awards that Carey has received is mind-boggling.
Carey released Music Box in 1993, which has sold over 23 million copies, and Merry Christmas in 1994; Merry Christmas sold over eight million copies shortly after its release. Daydream was released to critical acclaim in 1995. The multi-platinum Daydream album earned six Grammy nominations and edged her career sales close to the eighty million mark. Daydream also marked the first vocal departure from Carey's tried-and-true range; she presented a softer version of her usual style, allowing the music to occasionally overpower or match her vocals. Critics who deemed her earlier style too overwhelming lavished praise on Daydream's softer sound.
Butterfly, released in 1997, ushered in a new era for the twenty-seven year old musical megastar. On May 30, 1997, Mottola and Carey announced that they intended to divorce. Carey highlighted her newfound independence from Mottola by releasing an album with rap and hip-hop undertones—in spite of the fact that Mottola would remain her boss at Sony. Butterfly was precisely the type of album Carey had wanted to release earlier in her career, but Mottola and her label's executives reportedly wanted Carey to stay true to the formula that worked for her from the onset of her career: sweet ballads, soaring vocals, and a wholesome, girl-next-door image.
Carey's aptly-titled Butterfly album included collaboration with a roster of rap and hip hop artists that included Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone from Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony. Her video for the album's single, "Honey," was racier than her established fan base would have expected. In the video, she assumes the role of a "James Bond" type, clad in a nearly strapless black dress, who escapes from her captors only to be chased over land and sea.
It was inevitable following Carey's divorce, that the media would draw parallels between the video for "Honey" and her marriage to Mottola, but in all interviews she denied any deeper, symbolic meaning beyond the video's entertainment value. Carey's divorce from Mottola did not affect her artistic license or hamper their professional relationship. In addition, the critical acclaim of Butterfly reassured those at her label who worried that Carey's established fan base might not accept Carey's new musical direction.
Following the release of Butterfly, Carey teamed with pop diva Whitney Houston on a hit tune, "When You Believe," from the animated film Prince of Egypt in 1998. Carey's 1999 album, Rainbow, also featured a hit single, called "Heartbreaker," which marked a major milestone for Carey who had successfully released a top-of-the-chart song in every calendar year of the 1990s. Late in that decade Entertainment Weekly's Pener reported Carey's intent to pursue an acting career. She made her feature film debut in a 1999 remake of The Bachelor and in 2001 appeared in Glitter, the story of a fictional singer whose life beared more than a passing similarity to Carey's. Carey meanwhile also scored a number two hit song, "Loverboy," that same year.
Carey, who co-writes and produces much of her own material, suffered from extreme exhaustion during the summer of 2001 and required hospitalization for some weeks, which forced her to cancel some performance engagements. This occurred after public displays of erratic behavior, and many people speculated that Carey's hospitalization was for an emotional breakdown. She returned to the stage in late September in order to contribute personal appearances to disaster relief benefit programs to raise money for the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist bombing of New York City.
In early 2002, Virgin/EMI paid Carey a reported $29 million to void the contract signed a year early, which was worth around $100 million dollars. Carey signed with predominantly hip hop label Island Def Jam in the fall of 2002, and began immediately working on her debut for the label. The album, Charmbracelet, released in late 2002, features production by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Jermaine Dupri. It also included a cover of Def Leppard's "Bringin' On The Heartbreak." Although many people in the music industry saw Carey's breakdown and the huge disappointment that was Glitter as a sign the end of Carey's career, Island Def Jam president Lyor Cohen is optimistic, "She's one of pop music's most beloved performers," he told Billboard. "That doesn't change overnight."
In April of 2005, Carey released The Emancipation of Mimi. The album signified a triumphant return to Carey's chart-topping days with an album that glided with pop ballads and bumped with R&B and hip-hop production. Recorded in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Carey's favorite spot, the Mediterranean island of Capri, Carey got the best of the best to work on the album, including Jermaine Dupri, Kanye West, The Neptunes, Snoop Dogg, and Nelly. The title of the record meant a rebirth to Carey, who is called Mimi by her closest friends. "Nobody calls me Mariah except my mother and she doesn't even really call me that…. Mimi was a really personal nickname that only people I really love and care about call me. When I proposed the concept of the title to L.A. Reid, the CEO of Island Def Jam, he was like, 'I love that, because it's the side of you that I'm hearing in this album, a free-spirited person,'" Carey told VH1.com.
In its first two weeks, Mimi sold more than 600,000 copies and landed a number one spot on the Billboard charts. Carey's number one album was a landmark for Island Records; it was the first time a solo act on the label had a number one. The hip-hop dance track "It's Like That," sped up the charts and became a number one track on Billboard's Club Play Chart. In the video for the album's second single, the emotional ballad, "We Belong Together," Carey actually donned the Vera Wang wedding dress she wore when she married Tommy Mottola.
With the help of the club-friendly single "It's Like That," Carey has seemed to recapture her audience. The New York Post called Mimi: "a bold, classy R&B album that will appeal to both adults and kids" and "the best album Carey has made in years."
Subsequently, the album climbed to multi-platinum status and earned Carey three Grammy awards -- Best Contemporary R&B Album and, for the single "We Belong Together," Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song -- thus restoring her status as a megastar. Two weeks before the release of her subsequent album, April 2008's E=MC2, Carey scored her 18th number one hit with "Touch My Body," a feat that pushed her into second place (past Elvis, no less) among all artists with the most chart-topping singles. Although that hit song, along with the late April news that she married Nick Cannon, kept her in the spotlight that year, the remainder of the album's spinoffs weren't nearly as successful; only "Bye Bye" managed to scrape the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. She went back to work fairly quickly, however, and Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel -- featuring collaborations with the-Dream, as well as a cover of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" -- became her 12th studio album upon its September 2009 release. Despite some positive reviews, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel turned into Carey's least successful studio album, generating no big hits. The following year, Carey released Merry Christmas II You for the 2010 holiday season. Not long before its release, Carey announced that she and Cannon were expecting their first child.