Tuesday 11 July 2017

Mariah Carey's "Butterfly" turns 20 this year

20 Albums 20 Years Later remembers and explores the music that touched us back then and still resonates today. Join A Plus as we take another listen to albums released in 1997 and celebrate their contributions not only to the charts but to our lives.

Mariah Carey's Butterfly turns 20 this year | mcarchives.com

In 1997, Mariah Carey was seated comfortably at the top of the music game. With five studio albums under her belt (including two certified Diamond), as well as several chart-topping singles and two Grammys, Carey was already an icon of pop music.

For her sixth studio album Butterfly, however, the 27-year-old chose to continue a transition, begun with her previous effort Daydream, toward hip-hop - a decision that had been met with some apprehension from those around her, but which ultimately paid off. Collaborations with Sean Combs, Missy Elliott, and the Trackmasters helped solidify Carey's new sound, which she then honed for years to come.

Critics took note of this shift, as well as how her recent split from husband and producer Tommy Mottola may have influenced it. Entertainment Weekly speculated that "the album is clearly intended as Carey's declaration of independence, musically and personally".

Rolling Stone, meanwhile, called Butterfly "a transitional album" in which the singer "moves still further away from the warmed-over Whitney Houston of Carey's early recordings and firmly into the milieu of modern, hip-hop-inflected R&B". Reviewer Barney Hoskyns then added, "The surprise is that she does it rather well."

Lyrically, much of Butterfly is sung in the past tense, as Carey reflects on a single night, an entire relationship, or her life thus far. On the other hand, the album's sound, while still drawing heavily on her pop ballad roots, feels like a glimpse into the future - and the more urban-infused sensuality that marked her later career.

The album's first single "Honey" is also its opener. The track, written and produced by Carey with Puff Daddy, Q-Tip, and Stevie J, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and made Carey's new sound apparent from the get-go. It features her signature breathy vocals and stunning high notes, combined with sampled melodies from "Hey DJ" by the World's Famous Supreme Team and "The Body Rock" by the Treacherous Three.

Like later Butterfly track "Babydoll" (co-written with Missy Elliott), the song's lyrics find Carey yearning for her lover's touch. The accompanying music video further highlighted a much bolder sexuality than the singer had previously shown, and which she has fully owned in the decades since.

The album's title song and second single, written with Carey's frequent collaborator Walter Afanasieff, can be seen as a metaphor for Carey's career and personal life. The soaring ballad, along with its later reprise "Fly Away", is a gospel-infused take on the idea that "if you love something, set it free".

"I was writing the song 'Butterfly' wishing that that's what he would say to me," Carey has said of her estranged husband Tommy Mottola's influence on the song, in which she sings, "Blindly I imagined I could keep you under glass. Now I understand to hold you I must open up my hands and watch you rise."

"Close My Eyes", "Whenever You Call", and "Outside" join "Butterfly" as some of the most introspective tracks on the album, as Carey reflects on life changes and lessons learned.

Arguably the most hip-hop of all the songs on the album, "Breakdown" features rap verses from Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, as Carey laments the end of a relationship.

Slant called it "the song of Carey's career", adding that she "lunges toward musical maturity by embracing, not shunning, hip-hop. This is the height of her elegance - and maybe hip-hop soul's, too."

"The Roof"
"The Roof (Back in Time)" was released as a single in Europe. The sexy song samples "Shook Ones Part II" by Mobb Deep, who perform a rap verse on the extended remix. Its lyrics were praised by critics, including Slant's Rich Juzwiak, who wrote, "Mariah the writer is vivid, sometimes shockingly clever (rhyming 'liberated' with 'Moet' is a stroke of genius)."

Much like the very next track on the album, "Fourth of July", the song finds Carey reminiscing about a romantic encounter. This theme of going "back in time" is also apparent on the melancholy "My All", once again co-written with Walter Afanasieff. Similarly, the platinum ballad's sound feels like more of a throwback than its surrounding offerings, showcasing Carey's five-octave voice, and backed by Latin-inspired guitar and percussion, as influenced by her recent trip to Puerto Rico.

"My All"
Butterfly's smooth blend of genres has had an undeniable impact on today's biggest artists. Jermaine Dupri, the producer who helped Carey begin her shift toward hip-hop on Daydream, recently said of her impact, "She's the genius behind every one of these artists that are out now - Ariana Grande, all these artists - they wouldn't be able to do that if it wasn't for Mariah. These were all her ideas."

If you (like this writer) have a more scattered experience with Carey's hits, from the early days of "Hero" and "All I Want for Christmas is You" to the comeback sound of "We Belong Together", Butterfly might do the work of tying up loose ends. Carey herself once said she considers the album her magnum opus.

(A Plus)

BMP from indonesia wrote:
Transition from Whitney Houston to Janet Jackson style. More slow dance, hip hop, interlude between songs, and sexy.
(Friday 14 July 2017; 12:46)

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