An octave-spanning singer. A Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee. An essential pop icon. A tabloid target. The words “Mariah Carey” encompass a lot in the cultural canon. And with the diva herself finally spilling her full story in the just-released memoir The Meaning of Mariah Carey, fasten your seatbelts, dahling: it’s gonna be a bumpy – but never boring — ride.
Written by Carey with Michaela Angela Davis, The Meaning of Mariah Carey is a heartbreakingly lucid account of her uniquely American rags-to-isolating-riches story. Painting painfully vivid portraits of her lasting childhood scars, biracial identity struggles and enervating battle for personal and professional autonomy and respect, Carey pulls off the damn near impossible task of bringing us into her aspirations, traumas and triumphs with clarity, wit and plenty of Easter eggs to reward Lambs with the eye of an eagle.
Here are 13 things you need to know from the must-read music memoir of 2020 (not even including the delicious tidbit about her secret angst-alt album in the ’90s).
1. Becky’s Always Been Racist
With a white mother and a Black father, Carey says her childhood friends often didn’t realize she was biracial until seeing her father for the first time – and she didn’t realize that was a problem for people until Becky came along. No, literally. As a child, a white friend of hers broke down in tears when faced with the prospect of entering a house with Mariah’s Black father — “And, believe it or not, her name really was Becky,” Carey deadpans. But aside from using humor to sooth some of the sting, the memory is a painful one of innocence lost: “That day, I saw firsthand how their fear hurt him. And his hurt deeply hurt me too. But what was perhaps most painful, that afternoon, was that he saw I saw their fear of him.”
2. She Took the Beatles as a Cautionary Tale
Few would look to one of the most celebrated, successful acts of all time as an example of what not to do, but as a precociously ambitious teen, Mariah was not your usual aspiring singer. When a publishing company offered the then-starving artist $5,000 for publishing rights to one of her songs, she balked. “I remembered seeing a documentary on the Beatles when I was growing up and being shocked that they didn’t have complete ownership of the songs…. I didn’t sell because I believed my songs came from somewhere special inside of me and that selling them would be selling a piece of me.” She adds, definitively: “The music business is designed to confuse and control the artist.”
3. Why She Married Tommy Mottola
Portraying music mogul/first husband Tommy Mottola as committed to furthering her career while controlling her every move, Carey provides some insight into what she did see in him at the start: “Tommy Mottola was just the bitter pill I needed to swallow at a pivotal period in my life,” she writes. “I had some inkling that there was a darker energy that came with him—a price to pay for his protection. But at nineteen, I was willing to pay it.”
4. An Explosive Marital Argument Over Diddy
Carey says Mottola didn’t see hip-hop as more than a fad, and frequently resisted her efforts to branch out into the realm – sometimes with explosive results. When Diddy was beginning to take over radio with the Notorious B.I.G., a label exec asked Carey what she thought about Sean Combs during a group dinner. Carey says she told him “that Puff and Bad Boy were definitely where modern music was headed,” to which she says Mottola “jumped up from the table and began pacing, huffing and puffing around the restaurant. He was so livid he couldn’t contain himself…. Finally, he stormed back. Still vibrating with rage, he slammed his fist on the table and announced, ‘I just want everybody to know that THANKSGIVING IS CANCELLED!'” Carey’s piquant riposte in her memoir: “By God, who was going to recall all the Butterballs?!”
WATCH’The Meaning of Mariah Carey’: Exclusive Clip
5. What She Thought of Ol’ Dirty Bastard
While then-husband Mottola wasn’t impressed with ODB’s “Fantasy” remix verse (“I can do that. Get the fuck outta here with that” she recalls him saying), Mariah was over the moon about it. “It felt like all the fun I had missed out on in my childhood. It made me feel happy. O.D.B.’s energy was something everyone could relate to—he was your loving, fun-ass uncle who gets drunk at all the festivities, at Christmas dinner, the cookout, Thanksgiving.”
6. This Rapper Called Out Her Lifestyle
Usually when a musician is called out for their unsustainable lifestyle, it’s because they’re over-indulging in booze, drugs, sex, you name it. Not Mariah. In her case, the issue wasn’t losing control, it was being controlled. After a trip to get French fries with Da Brat resulted in her husband panicking and putting security on high alert, the rapper primed Mimi for some emancipation: “She said something like, ‘This ain’t right…. You have everything, but if you can’t be free to go to fucking Burger King when you want, you ain’t got nothing. You need to get out of there.'”
7. Derek Jeter Might’ve Stolen First Base, But Then They Waited
In The Meaning of Mariah Carey, she admits her emotional affair with baseball pro Derek Jeter started during her marriage to Mottola. Even so – and despite a rain-drenched rooftop kiss that directly inspired the lyrics of her Butterfly standout “The Roof (Back In Time)” – they didn’t get fully physical until after her divorce. “Neither of us had wanted to cheapen our romance by cheating on my marriage,” Carey writes. “It would’ve been justified—they were such seductive situations, and my miserable marriage was in ruins at best—but it wouldn’t have been right.” She freely admits that despite the many rumors attached to her over the years, “Derek was only the second person I had slept with ever.”
8. She Wishes Lady Di Had Lived to See Social Media—Here’s Why
Carey describes clocking a shared sadness in Lady Di’s eyes at a Vogue party. “She had that look— the dull terror of never being left alone burning behind her eyes. We were both like cornered animals in couture.” In response to the tabloid hyenas and hunters, Carey paints social media as liberating force to predatory press. “Our fans can come to our defense, bring all the receipts, and create a united front so strong than no bland host or commentator or ravenous paparazzi can even begin to compete with their influence. We are the media. I only wish Princess Di had lived long enough to have Instagram or Twitter. I wish she had lived to see the people become the press.”
9. Family Trauma Runs Deep
There’s a lot to unpack with Mariah’s fractured family, from her father and brother’s all-out brawls to her mother’s post-divorce boyfriends, one of whom threatened to chop them up (and strangely, he was one of the good ones). Even with all that, her relationship with her older sister might be the most fraught of them all. Here’s what Mariah alleges with blistering brevity: “When I was 12 years old, my sister drugged me with Valium, offered me a pinky nail full of cocaine, inflicted me with third-degree burns, and tried to sell me out to a pimp.” There’s more to it than that, but far too much to summarize here.
10. Glitter’s Dull Reception
By Mariah’s own admission, a lot went wrong around the time of Glitter: “a collision of bad luck, bad timing, and sabotage.” Aside from the personal exhaustion, she was suffering that affected the promo (which she says was exacerbated by family meddling), Carey goes deep on what went wrong with the acting in Glitter, too. “I felt my acting was really inhibited for many reasons by the acting coach, who by this time I believe had become too invested in my career. I don’t want to slay her, but she prevented me from doing my best by projecting her own personal shit onto the movie…..Though the whole process wasn’t great, I did feel I gave some good performances (which would have been more evident with different edits).”
11. The J.Lo Shade Is Present and Accounted For
And at different layers! For those who don’t know why Mariah’s infamous “I don’t know her” dig was directed at Jennifer Lopez, it’s because… well, try to follow along.
– While making the soundtrack to her 2001 movie Glitter, Carey and producer Clark Kent selected an obscure Yellow Magic Orchestra sample for lead single “Loverboy.”
– According to Carey, “After hearing my new song, using the same sample I used, Sony rushed to make a single for another female entertainer on their label (whom I don’t know).”
– That “female entertainer” was Jennifer Lopez, who at the time was the music biz priority for Carey’s ex-husband Mottola, making the decision to grab the same sample seem pointed.
– After the sample double-up, Carey redoes her song to de-emphasize Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker.”
– Industry pundits see “Loverboy” as underperforming because it went No. 2 on the Hot 100 and not No. 1 like past Carey smashes; the competing song with the same sample (Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real” ft. Ja Rule) went No. 1.
Okay, all caught up? Well, buckle up. In addition to brushing off the “I don’t know her” bit for her memoir, Mimi takes the title of the competing song and turns it into a dig at this “female entertainer” many pages later: “After all that shit, ‘Loverboy’ ended up being the best-selling single of 2001 in the United States. I’m real.” Unfortunately, the memoir does not come with a shovel to scrape your jaw off the pavement after that burn.
12. Michelle Obama Was the First Person Who Knew She Was Having Twins
While performing a Christmas In Washington special in front of the Obama family, Carey took up then-husband Nick Cannon’s suggestion that the FLOTUS should be the first person to know their secret. “I seized the moment and whispered in her ear that I was having twins. After I sang ‘One Child,’ Michelle Obama, our forever historic First Lady, became the first to know we were having two children.” BTW: unlike her split with Mottola, Carey has kind words for ex-husband Nick Cannon, even opining that “I think Nick and I could have worked it out between the two of us, but egos and emotions got inflamed.”
13. Might Mariah Retire?
When Mariah was backstage with Diana Ross for a Divas Live concert in 2000, the supremely pioneering singer said something that Carey writes she’s “been reflecting on” a lot these days. “As she was flawlessly putting on her own makeup (she went to beauty school too!), she said, ‘Mariah, someday, you’re not gonna want to have all these people around you.’ I believe that ‘someday’ is not far away.” Cue the eyes emoji, followed by the crying emoji, followed by the crying Lamb emoji (wait, does that exist?).