Mariah Carey (born March 27 1970) is an American R&B and pop singer-songwriter, record producer and occasional actress. She made her debut in 1990 under the guidance of Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola, and became both the most successful and best-selling artist for that decade, according to Billboard magazine and the World Music Awards.
After marrying Mottola in 1993, albums such as Music Box (1993) and Daydream (1995) consolidated her position as one of Columbia's most successful acts. Carey separated from Mottola in 1997, and her proceeding albums presented her in an attempt to distance herself from the career trajectory that he had plotted for her; they presented a more overtly sexual and hip hop-oriented sound and image. In 2001, issues between Carey and her label executives led her to part ways with them, and she signed a lucrative deal with Virgin Records shortly after. However, she was dropped the following year after a highly publicised physical breakdown and the notoriously poor reception of Glitter, her film and soundtrack project. After signing to Island Def Jam Records in 2002, she returned to the forefront of popular music in 2005 with the success of her ninth studio album The Emancipation of Mimi.
Since her debut, Carey has scored seventeen number-one singles on the U.S Billboard charts, the most by a solo female artist. In 2003, she was declared "the most successful" and "number-one selling female artist in the history of recorded music" by the IFPI. She is also well-known for her five-octave vocal range, where the use of the whistle register and melisma are central features of her singing style.
Biography and music career
Early life and discovery
Carey was born in Huntington, New York. She is the third and youngest child of Patricia Hickey, a former opera singer and voice coach of Irish American Roman Catholic extraction, and Alfred Roy Carey (né Núñez), an aeronautical engineer of mixed African American and Hispanic-Venezuelan descent. She was named after the song "They Call the Wind Maria", from the musical Paint Your Wagon. Carey's older brother Morgan suffered from epilepsy, while her older sister Alison developed a drug addiction and was arrested for prostitution in 2005. As a multiracial family, the Carey household was met with racial slurs, hostility, and sometimes violence, causing the family to move frequently around the New York area. The strain on the family led to the divorce of Carey's parents when she was three years old. Carey had little contact with her father, and her mother worked several jobs to support the family.
Spending much of her time at home alone, Carey turned to music as an outlet. She began singing at the age of four, and first performed in public at the age of six. She began writing songs while in grade school, and her mother and the members of her opera company were impressed with her talents when Carey hit a cue note that her mother had missed. Carey attended and graduated from Oldfield Middle School and Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, New York, although she was frequently absent due to efforts to break into the music business. After moving to New York City and completing five hundred hours of beauty school, she eventually landed a role as a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr.
In 1988, Carey met Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola at a party, where Starr gave him a demo tape. Mottola played the tape while leaving the party and was very impressed by what he heard. He returned to the party to find Carey, but she had already left. Nevertheless, Mottola tracked her down and signed her to a recording contract. This Cinderella-like story became part of the standard publicity surrounding Carey's entrance into the industry.
1990–1992: Early commercial success
Carey's professional music career began with the release of her eponymous debut album, Mariah Carey, in 1990. Carey co-wrote all of the compositions on the album with songwriter-producers such as Ric Wake and Rhett Lawrence, and would continue to co-write nearly all of her material for the rest of her career. The album ascended to number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart a year after its release, where it remained for eleven weeks. It produced four number-one singles, making Carey a star in the United States. Elsewhere, however, the album's success was limited. In 1991, Carey won her first two Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her debut single "Vision of Love".
Emotions, Carey's second album, was released in the fall of 1991 to critical and commercial success. Britain's Q magazine described Emotions as "a technically perfect example of mainstream R&B...[it] sashays with the customary elegance of a multi-million dollar production, and Carey's pipes are...in fine fettle". Its first single, the title track "Emotions", gave Carey the distinction of being the only recording act in history to have their first five singles reach number-one on the U.S. Hot 100 chart, but the album's follow-up singles failed to maintain this feat. Carey had been lobbying for the ability to produce her own songs, and beginning with Emotions, would co-produce most of her material. She would also begin writing and producing for other artists, such as Penny Ford and Daryl Hall, within the coming year.
Although she had fulfilled several concert dates to support her debut album, Carey had not embarked on any major public tours. Her first widely-seen concert appearance was on the television show MTV Unplugged in May 1992, and her performance proved that her vocal abilities were not, as some had previously speculated, simulated using studio techniques. In addition to acoustic versions of some of her earlier songs, Carey premiered a cover of The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" on the special with back-up singer Trey Lorenz. The duet was released as a single and became Carey's sixth number-one hit in the U.S., while her Unplugged setlist was later released on the EP MTV Unplugged. Entertainment Weekly called it "the strongest, most genuinely musical record she has ever made...Did this live performance help her take her first steps toward growing up?".
1993–1996: Worldwide popularity
Carey, then 23, and Tommy Mottola, 43, had become romantically involved, and in June 1993 they were married in an Episcopalian ceremony in Manhattan. Her third studio album, Music Box, was released later that year, and became her most successful album worldwide. It yielded her first UK number-one hit, a cover of Badfinger's "Without You", as well as the U.S. number-one singles "Dreamlover" and "Hero". Carey's attempt at a mellower work than her previous efforts was met with generally positive reviews, with Billboard magazine proclaiming it as "heart-piercing...easily the most elemental of Carey's releases, her vocal eurythmics in natural sync with the songs". Some were less praiseful: All Music Guide said Carey "blended into the background and let the tracks guide her, instead of pushing and exploding through them", and Rolling Stone's Stephen Holden criticised "Carey's lyrics, which are made up entirely of pop and soul clichés".
Following a hit duet with Luther Vandross of Diana Ross' "Endless Love", Carey released the holiday album Merry Christmas in late 1994. In addition to covers of traditional Christmas songs, it contained a very successful original holiday song, "All I Want for Christmas Is You". The single became her first number-one hit in Japan and was described as "a well-crafted Phil Spector tribute" by Roch Parisien, who dismissed Merry Christmas as an "otherwise vanilla set". The album was popular with the public, becoming one of the most successful Christmas albums of all time.
In 1995 Carey released Daydream, which combined the pop sensibilities of Music Box with modern R&B and hip hop influences. It became her largest-selling LP in the U.S., and its singles achieved similar success: "Fantasy" became only the second single to debut at number-one in the U.S. and spent twelve weeks at number one in Canada, "One Sweet Day" (a duet with Boyz II Men) spent a still-record sixteen weeks at number one, and "Always Be My Baby" appeared at number one on the 1996 year-end airplay charts. Daydream generated career-best reviews for Carey and was named one of 1995's best albums by publications such as the New York Times, who wrote that its "best cuts bring pop candy-making to a new peak of textural refinement" and noted that Carey's songwriting "has taken a leap forward, becoming more relaxed, sexier and less reliant on thudding cliches". Carey was the recipient of several awards following the success of the album and received six Grammy nominations, but lost in all categories.
1997–2000: Independence and new image
Carey and Mottola separated in 1997. Although she had often projected the image of a happy marriage to the public, in reality she had felt emotionally and psychologically abused by Mottola, whom she often described as controlling. Their divorce became final the following year.
Carey's 1997 album Butterfly saw her continuing to move in an R&B/hip hop direction, while the lyrics and music video for lead single "Honey" presented a more overtly sexual image of Carey than had been previously seen. "My All" (the album's fifth single) was her thirteenth U.S. number-one, an unprecedented feat for a female artist. J.R. Reynolds said Butterfly "pushes the envelope", a move that he thought "may prove disconcerting to more conservative fans", but Reynolds still praised the album as "a welcome change". A review in the Los Angeles Times said: "[Butterfly] is easily the most personal, confessional-sounding record she's ever done...Carey-bashing just might become a thing of the past". 1997 also marked the year that Carey became a major songwriter and producer for other artists, contributing to the debut albums of Allure, 7 Mile and Blaque. She also wrote songs for the soundtracks to the films Men in Black (1997) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), and began to develop her own film/soundtrack project, All That Glitters. Towards the turn of the millennium Carey became a prominent figure in hip hop music, and collaborated with both new and established rappers.
During 1998, Carey had a romance with New York Yankees baseball player Derek Jeter, who was also biracial. She would state later that while the timing was not right for their relationship, it did teach her that multiracial families could function well. That year saw the release of the album #1's, a collection of her U.S. number-one singles up to that point. Included amongst the new material on the album was "When You Believe", a duet with Whitney Houston recorded for the soundtrack to The Prince of Egypt that won an Academy Award for Best Song. The album sold well, but a review in NME magazine labelled Carey "a purveyor of saccharine bilge like 'Hero', whose message seems wholesome enough: that if you vacate your mind of all intelligent thought, flutter your eyelashes and wish hard, sweet babies and honey will follow". Also that year she appeared on the first televised VH1 Divas benefit concert program with singers such as Aretha Franklin and Shania Twain, though Carey's alleged prima donna behavior had already led many to consider her a diva. By the following year, she had begun a relationship with singer Luis Miguel.
Rainbow, Carey's sixth studio album, was released in 1999. Like Butterfly, it was comprised of pop and more R&B/hip hop-oriented songs; Carey intended them to express her feelings about her divorce two years previously. Both "Heartbreaker" and "Thank God I Found You" — the former featuring Jay-Z, the latter featuring Joe and boyband 98 Degrees — reached number one in the U.S. However, despite several other collaborations with artists such as Usher and Snoop Dogg, Rainbow became her lowest-selling LP up to that point. Reviews were not as favourable as those of her previous releases, with The Washington Post characterising the album as "a major disappointment". Although the recipient of several awards in recognition of her decade-spanning career such as Billboard's Artist of the Decade Award and the World Music Award for the world's Best-Selling Female Artist of the Millennium, a further sign of decline appeared when the double A-side "Crybaby"/"Can't Take That Away" (the final release from Rainbow) became her first single to peak outside of the U.S. top twenty. Via her website, Carey publicly accused Sony of mishandling the release of the single.
2001–2004: Personal and career struggles
Following a successful decade at Columbia Records, Carey finally ended her contract and signed a five-album deal with EMI's Virgin Records worth a reported US$80 million. Just a few months later in July 2001, it was widely reported that Carey had suffered a physical and emotional breakdown. She had left voicemail messages on her website (which were quickly removed) to her fans complaining of being overworked, and her relationship with Luis Miguel was ending. Carey made a notorious appearance on MTV's Total Request Live, where she handed out popsicles to the teen-aged audience and began what was later described by some as a "strip tease". By the month's end Carey had checked into a psychiatric hospital, and her publicist announced that she would be taking a break from public appearances.
Her much delayed semi-autobiographical film, titled Glitter, was panned by most critics upon its release and became a box office failure (see below). Its soundtrack album Glitter, released by Virgin, generated her worst showing to date on the U.S. charts. Kevin C. Johnson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dismissed the album as "an absolute mess that'll go down as an annoying blemish on a career that, while not always critically heralded, was at least nearly consistently successful", while Blender thought: "After years of trading her signature flourishes for a radio-ready purr, [Carey]'s left with almost no presence at all". Lead single "Loverboy" reached number two on the Hot 100 thanks to a price cut, but the album's follow-up singles all failed to chart.
Shortly after the disastrous release of Glitter and just before Christmas, Columbia released a second compilation album, the 2-CD Greatest Hits. In early 2002, Virgin decided to drop Carey from their roster and they bought out her contract for $28 million, as an addition to the $21 million paid the previous year when signing, giving her another round of bad publicity. Later that year, she signed a three-album contract with Island Records' Def Jam. To add further to Carey's emotional burdens, her father died of cancer.
Following a well-received supporting role in the independent film WiseGirls (see below), Carey released a new album, Charmbracelet, which she said marked "a new lease on life" for her. Charmbracelet sold poorly, and the quality of Carey's vocals, which had previously been perceived as her strong point, came under severe criticism. The Boston Globe declared the album as "the worst of her career, revealing a voice no longer capable of either gravity-defying gymnastics or soft coos", and Barry Walters of Rolling Stone commented: "Carey needs bold songs that help her use the power and range for which she is famous. Charmbracelet is like a stream of watercolors that bleed into a puddle of brown". Singles such as "Through the Rain" failed both on the charts and with pop radio, whose playlists had become less open to maturing "diva" stylists such as Carey, Whitney Houston and Céline Dion.
"I Know What You Want", Carey's 2003 duet with Busta Rhymes recorded for his eighth album, fared considerably better and reached the top five in the U.S. Columbia later included it on the remix collection The Remixes, which failed to find an audience and became Carey's lowest-selling album. That year, she was awarded the "Diamond Award" by the World Music Awards show in honour of selling over 150 million albums worldwide. She was featured on rapper Jadakiss' single "U Make Me Wanna" in 2004, which reached the top ten of Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart.
2005–present: "Return of the Voice"
Carey's ninth studio album, The Emancipation of Mimi, was released in 2005. It was advertised as "The Return of the Voice", though Carey maintained that the voice had always been there. Slant magazine wrote: "whatever the songs lack, they make up for in restraint – brevity keeps you wanting more". A critic for The Guardian defined it as "a tough cookie of an album" and "cool, focused and urban...the first Mariah Carey tunes in years I wouldn't have to be paid to listen to again". It became the year's best-selling album in the U.S. (the first by a female solo artist to do so since 1996) and won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album. Its second single, "We Belong Together," became the biggest hit of 2005 and Carey's career: it topped the U.S. charts for fourteen weeks, reached number one in several other countries, was honored as the world's most-played single of the year at the World Music Awards and received two Grammys. "Don't Forget About Us" became Carey's seventeenth number-one in the U.S., tying her with Elvis Presley for the most number-ones by a solo artist according to Billboard magazine's revised methodology (their own statician, however, credits Presley with an eighteenth). By this count Carey is behind only the Beatles, who are currently credited with twenty number-one singles.
Carey made her film debut as an opera singer and one of the former girlfriends of Jimmie (Chris O'Donnell) in The Bachelor (1999), a romantic comedy starring O'Donnell and Renée Zellweger. Critical response to Carey's cameo appearance was lukewarm: Paul Tatara from CNN derisively said Carey's casting as a talentless diva was "letter-perfect", and Tony Lee simply stated "no, she can't act".
Carey's first starring role was in Glitter, a 2001 film that had been in development as a vehicle for Carey since 1997. In it she played Billie Frank, a struggling singer and songwriter who breaks into the music industry after she meets DJ Julian Dice (Max Beesley). Reviews were scathing; while Roger Ebert gave mild praise for Carey's performance, saying, "Her acting ranges from dutiful flirtatiousness to intense sincerity", most other critics panned it: Stephanie Zacharek called Carey "numbingly bland" in her role, and Michael Atkinson observed, "when she tries for an emotion—any emotion—she looks as if she's lost her car keys". Glitter was a box office failure, and Carey earned a Razzie Award for her role. She has since referred to the film as "a diva moment".
Carey next appeared co-starring with Mira Sorvino and Melora Walters as a tough-talking waitress in the independent film WiseGirls, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002. Critics who saw the film lauded Carey for her efforts: Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter predicted "Those scathing notices for Glitter will be a forgotten memory for the singer once people warm up to Raychel", and Roger Freidman, referring to her as "a Thelma Ritter for the new millennium", said "her line delivery is sharp and she manages to get the right laughs". WiseGirls producer Anthony Esposito cast Carey in another film, The Sweet Science, about an unknown but talented boxer who is recruited by a determined female boxing manager. However, the project later fell into development hell, while WiseGirls was not given a theatrical release and went straight-to-cable in the United States.
Carey became one of several musicians to make cameo appearances in the independently-produced Damon Dash films Death of a Dynasty (2003) and State Property 2 (2005). Her small-screen work has been more limited: she played a legal client of the title character in Ally McBeal in January 2002, and appeared in an episode of the animated children's series The Proud Family in October 2003.
Carey is credited as having a five-octave vocal range; she can cover all the notes from the alto range leading to those of a coloratura soprano. Her vocal trademark is her ability to sing in the whistle register. She has often been incorrectly credited as having a six or seven-octave vocal range. It has been suggested that Carey's publicists falsely claimed this at the start of her career, although it may also be a misstatement of the fact that Carey frequently accesses the notes situated in the seventh octave.
Carey's voice has come under minor scrutiny from some critics who believe that she does not effectively communicate the message of her songs. Rolling Stone, in a negative review of the album Emotions, wrote "Carey has a remarkable vocal gift, but to date, unfortunately, her singing has been far more impressive than expressive...at full speed her range is so superhuman that each excessive note erodes the believability of the lyric she is singing", while others have referred to her high notes as "dog whistles." In comparison, criticisms were levelled at what Carey herself described as "breathy" vocals in some of her later songs on albums such as Charmbracelet. Said Carey, "Some people are of the opinion that if you have a big voice you should use it all the time...[but] I don't want to hear someone scream at me all the time".
Carey's voice, which is a continual subject of both positive and negative debate, was voted as the greatest voice in music in MTV and Blender Magazine's countdown of "The 22 Greatest Voices in Music", and is believed to have influenced singers such as Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson. In Cove Magazine's poll of the "100 Outstanding Pop Vocalists", she placed second behind Aguilera.
Carey is a philanthropist who has donated both time and millions of dollars to organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the National Adoption Center, VH1's Save the Music Foundation, and the Fresh Air Fund among many others. Carey is well-known nationally for her work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in granting the wishes of the terminally ill Caleb Boulter, who called her "a very real person who overflows with compassion and love for others". As part of her involvement with the Fresh Air Fund, she is the co-founder of a camp located in Fishkill, New York that enables inner-city youth to embrace the arts, be introduced to career opportunities, and build self-esteem. The camp was named Camp Mariah in honour of Carey's work with the Fresh Air Fund, and she received a Congressional Award titled the Horizon Award for her charity work on behalf of children.
Carey performed as part of the America: A Tribute to Heroes nationally televised fundraiser in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and in December 2001 she performed before U.S. peacekeeping troops in Kosovo.
She hosted the CBS television special At Home for the Holidays with Mariah Carey, which documented real-life stories of adopted children and foster families. In July 2005, Carey performed for Live 8 at the Live 8 concert, London with the African Children's Choir. She was also a participant in the Shelter from the Storm telethon following Hurricane Katrina's damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast later that year.
Carey, who considered writing her autobiography with David Ritz, has instead chosen to fictionalize her life story and adapt it into a series of illustrated children's books titled Automatic Princess, about an orphaned young girl who is biracial. Also forthcoming is a clothing and accessories line known as Automatic Princess, as well as a lingerie line, Kiss Kiss, which will be available for women in all sizes. Carey's fashion sense has itself often been criticized for exposing too much of her, or just being poorly put together.
- Mariah Carey (1990, 9× platinum)
- Emotions (1991, 5× platinum)
- MTV Unplugged (1992, 3× platinum)
- Music Box (1993, 10× platinum)
- Merry Christmas (1994, 5× platinum)
- Daydream (1995, 10× platinum)
- Butterfly (1997, 5× platinum)
- #1's (1998, 5× platinum)
- Rainbow (1999, 3× platinum)
- Glitter (2001, platinum)
- Greatest Hits (2001, platinum)
- Charmbracelet (2002, platinum)
- The Remixes (2003, n/a)
- The Emancipation of Mimi (2005, 6× platinum)
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