In her new memoir, “The Meaning of Mariah Carey,” the singer-songwriter with a record 19 chart-topping hits and that famous five-octave range goes deep into some very dark places. “There’s a lot of stuff that I’m dealing with in the book that I have never dealt with, even in conversation with some of my closest, closest friends,” she said.
The youngest member of an interracial family, she was three when her parents divorced. Growing up with her mother, a trained opera singer, they lived in near-poverty with chronic instability, moving 13 times.
But with one sustaining constant: Mariah Carey had a vision of success.
“Sunday Morning” host Jane Pauley asked, “If I’m reading your book correctly, even as a child, you felt a certain inevitability about that, right?”
“I always knew that I would do this, and it was just a matter of when it was going to happen,” Carey said. “Because I came from, you know, a broken and dysfunctional family without money for things that most people have – when I say without money, I mean, like, we really didn’t have much of anything!”
It was a bleak and scary childhood that she spun into gold, and platinum.
“Because I felt like such an outsider, which is a theme I’ve dealt with in my music from the beginning, in terms of being a Black woman who was also of mixed race,” said Carey. “Because when someone is visually ambiguous, like myself, there’s a certain – there’s a lot of different misconceptions that come with that.”
Pauley said, “One of the most painful episodes in the book happened when you were in middle school and hanging out with girls that were, I mean, every middle school has its mean girls, right?”
“They weren’t, like, the ultimate cool girls of the school,” Carey said, “but they were very pretty and they were different than me because they were White girls who kind of could wake up and just look fabulous with their hair, that didn’t need to be tended to and dealt with. But for someone with the actual texture that my hair is where it’s curly, it’s frizzy and it’s this and it’s that, my mother kind of being oblivious to the fact that we need condition and we need to figure out this child’s hair!”
So then these “pretty” girls invite her to spend a weekend: “I was so excited and innocently thinking, Oh, this is gonna be great. And then, I just felt utterly betrayed because they cornered me in order to just completely derail me and use words we don’t say.”
“The words that you’re thinking, yeah, over and over and over and over again?”
“Over and over and over in a chant.”
Fast forward five years — one of the most powerful names in the music industry, Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola, discovers a teenager named Mariah Carey. When they married in 1993, more of us knew her name than his.
Pauley said, “You’re the power couple in the music industry. But one of you didn’t have any power, and that was you.”
“Right,” said Carey. “I did not have any power in that relationship.”
She was 23. He was 44! “I was a kid in his world, and I just kept making money for the company. Just kept goin’ in and making records and making records and writing songs and feeding the machine. And I was living my dream, but it was also a nightmare.”
“Storybook Manor” is what she named the mansion the two of them built together with all the trappings of success. As she describes in a chapter she called “Princess. Prisoner.” she felt trapped.
“When you’re young and you’re an artist and everybody else is going out and experiencing the limelight I wasn’t doing that,” Carey said. “I was, you know, living in this beautiful mansion but it was very lonely and hard to just even catch my breath to have a phone conversation.”
Carey and Mottola divorced after five years. Finally free, and at the peak of her recording career, she trie3d movies, leading to the darkest chapter of her life.
“Glitter” was loosely based on her life. It bombed. “I couldn’t even say the word ‘glitter,'” Carey said. “It’d be, like, people around me, we had to say ‘sparkle’ instead of ‘glitter’!”
2001, noted Pauley, was a year the tabloids tried to eat Carey alive.
“The ‘Glitter’ era, it was an intense time,” Carey agreed. “There’s very few people who understand, like, being under the constant scrutiny of the world, or the press.”
Her low point she described was going six days with just two hours’ sleep. “That’s not acceptable. But I allowed myself to be put in a position for that to happen. I was working so hard and I wasn’t about to let everything I’d worked so hard for just to slip away. So, I worked myself into the ground.”
And into treatment, late in the summer of 2001.
Pauley asked, “Where were you when the twin towers fell on 9/11?”
“I was in a very dark place that ended up almost completely destroying my life,” Carey said. “But when the towers were collapsing, I left that place, and somehow survived, like we all had to. I had my own personal drama attached to it, ’cause that was the day that ‘Glitter’ [the album] was supposed to be released.”
“But it was the day you were released from a place …”
“From a place that I didn’t belong, a facility.”
Ten days later, Mariah Carey reappeared in the spotlight, singing a song America needed to hear, “Hero”:
“And honestly, it was such a rough time for us all that my own personal drama fell by the wayside,” she said.
Carey not only wrote “Hero,” but 18 of her #1 hits. She was inducted this year into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Last year, 25 years afterdebuted as an instant holiday standard, it hit #1 on the Billboard chart.
A gift from her “Lambs,” as her fans are known. She calls them her “Lambily.”
“There’s just no way to describe the fact that it is a real relationship that I have with my fans,” Carey said. “And, no, it is not lip service. It is genuine gratitude for them, and for them validating my existence.”
Now, a devoted mother to nine-year-old twins with former husband Nick Cannon, at 50 Mariah Carey is looking forward to the chapters yet to come.
Pauley asked, “Your life is kind of like your range; the lows are incredibly low, the highs are incredibly high. And you gotta deal with ’em both.”
“I know, and it’s so interesting that you say it like that because it’s sort of like, what would you rather have? Like, access to meeting all of the icons and all the fabulous moments, but then the lows are extremely low? And where I’ve had to come up to just feel, like, worthy of basically anything is, you know, it’s been a long journey and we’re still on it.”
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Story produced by Kay Lim and Robbyn McFadden. Editor: Lauren Barnello.
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