Time to throw out the stereotypes about Mariah Carey.
Yes, she has a Midas touch that has resulted in 55 million album sales in six years. Yes, she’s been a corporate darling who even married a record-company president. Yes, she has a voice with a high enough range to bring rain. And yes, she’s had a rags-to-riches life that reads like a Hollywood script.
But the truth is, Carey answers to no one but herself. She is not a malleable puppet. She’s not just a pretty face on MTV.
With each new album, the 25-year-old Carey has become more confident, more in control, more able to articulate what she wants and to get it.
“I’m at a place where I’m more comfortable now - and I feel that it shows in the music,” says Carey, whose latest album, “Daydream,” hit the stores on Tuesday. It will be followed by a prime-time TV special (to be taped soon at Madison Square Garden) and a national arena tour by Christmas.
“I’m looking forward to the whole touring experience again,” Carey says from her upstate New York home. “I’m starting from a different place inside of myself this time. I’m more relaxed.”
Carey is definitely more self-assured and relaxed on her new album, which just spun off a No. 1 single in the dance-propelled “Fantasy.”
As she says: “I really tried to let myself go and not edit myself too much this time and to play with different melodies more.”
The breadth of music is startling, from traditional R & B to edgy hip-hop, from a rearranged track by dance-rockers the Tom Tom Club to another by arena-rockers Journey. She also enlists the songwriting help of the Grammy-winning Boyz II Men and Babyface, two street-cool acts that enhance her pop/soul lyrical style. And it’s all done in the service of her signature diva sound, not at the expense of it.
“When I work with someone, no matter who it is, it still has to have my sound on it,” says Carey, who previously wrote with Carole King and C&C; Music Factory. “It can’t be like I totally conform to somebody else’s vibe and sound and negate what my own sound is. I like to work with people who are more street in terms of the music they make. Then I put my thing on top of theirs.
“It gives me the most pleasure to interact with new people in writing songs. It helps me to grow,” adds Carey, whose own growing up has not been as smooth.
She grew up poor on Long Island and Manhattan, switching schools and moving 13 times with her divorced mother. Carey later worked as a waitress and hat-check girl before her music caught on.
Caught on, of course, is putting it mildly.
“‘Exploded” is a better word, since Carey’s first five singles shot to No. 1, including “Vision of Love,” “Someday” and “Love Takes Time.” All of which has enabled her and husband Tommy Mottola (president of Sony Records) to buy a $2 million mansion in Westchester County, though it hasn’t diminished her will to work hard.
“I try not to take anything for granted,” she says. “I walk around the house and I look at things and I just remember what it was like not so long ago. I think that there will always be that person who didn’t have enough growing up and who had this huge desire to have a career, to have any career in music, really. I’m very fortunate.”
Carey has come a long way from the 4-year-old girl who would listen to the impossibly high vocal flights of ‘70s star Minnie Riperton and try to emulate them. “I remember hearing her song, ‘Loving You,’ all the time and trying to hit the high notes in it. I never could - for a while. I guess it was just a great ambition of mine to use my voice in that way. … I started to try to find old records of hers and listen to her style. I just thought it was an incredible gift that she had.”
Ditto for Carey’s vocal gift, though Carey is acutely aware that some critics poke fun at the “dog whistle” elevation of her voice.
“I have to let the criticisms shake off of me,” she says. “But on the new album I tried to be more selective with where I placed my higher register. I tried to use it more as a texture rather than coming right out with the in-your-face thing.
“I think at times in the past I have gotten carried away with it, because it’s something I enjoy and it’s a very freeing feeling. But on the new album I tried to tone it down and just use it in a more creative way, as a background part.”
Carey, in fact, sings many of the background vocals on the album. On tour, she’ll again use the Price Sisters and Melanie Daniels - gospel-trained singers whose range approximates her own. But in keeping with the increased control she exerts over her studio work, Carey was quick to experiment with the backup vocals. “I like creating a wall of sound from nothing but just your own voice,” she notes.
Her creativity also suffuses the new hit “Fantasy,” a pulsating track based on “The Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club (featuring Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads).
“It was one of my favorite songs growing up,” says Carey. “We sampled a part of their track and put my song on top of their sample. … So it’s not like a remake. It’s really a completely new song on top of a remake.”
Incredibly, the song “Fantasy” sold 230,000-plus copies in its first week, becoming just the second single in history to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The other was Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone.” Carey has actually met Jackson a few times and says he once complimented her on her version of the Jacksons’ “I’ll Be There,” which she had done for an “MTV Unplugged” show.
These days, Carey also remains active in nearby Camp Mariah, a camp for disadvantaged Fresh Air youths from the city. She gave $1 million to the camp last year, and it was renamed in her honor.
“The kids are also going to be involved in our upcoming TV special,” she says. “I think the camp gives them hope. I hang out with them, and they can see that I’m a normal person just like them. It helps them think that they can achieve their goals as well. They relate to the fact that they have a chance.”
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