Mariah interview at

Wednesday 3 November 1999

A flu-afflicted Mariah Carey applies some lip balm, leans back on the lounge chair in her plush suite at midtown's Peninsular hotel, and rolls her eyes. "He was busy doing other things," she tells me when I ask her latest and ninth album, Rainbow, doesn't feature the services of her thus-far ever-present Sony Music in-house tunesmith, Walter Afanasief. After all, Walter A, as he's known, is the musical force that helped sculpt Carey's most successful ballads - such as "Vision Of Love," "When I Saw You," "Hero," and "One Sweet Day" - and he has been with her for almost a decade.
Mr. A's unavailability only adds fuel to the currently raging cauldron of rumors concerning Carey's relationship with her label. Dubbed "The Queen Of Sony" by staffers during her marriage to head honcho Tommy Mottola, Carey, despite her megastar status, seems to have been banished from the Sony kingdom's inner sanctum. Carey does little to downplay the frostiness of her relations with the label that at one time dictated her every move.
"My situation is far more complex and unique because of the personal aspect of what it used to be, so I have to do what I do and do it to the best of my ability," she shrugs. "When you're involved in a situation where you're really young and you're surrounded by strong, older, powerful people who are in cahoots with each other, you think you're powerless, but you're not. It's not that I didn't know what I was contributing, it was just that I felt afraid and scared and insecure and no one really empowered me. I know, though, there's a lot of people up there who still work very, very hard for me and I still have a good relationship with."
Afanasief's absence resulted in Carey inviting veteran producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and David Foster along to the Rainbow party instead. It's not a move she regrets.
"I think, especially with Jimmy and Terry, they added a different dimension musically," she enthuses. "I felt for a long time that on the crossover ballads I've had before I was always trying to get the same feel that they had on their crossover hits like 'On Bended Knee.' I told them how great it was to sit there and not have to say, 'No, not so schmaltzy.'" That last comment is a poorly disguised dis to Afanasief. "What I love about [Jam and Lewis] is even if it is poppy and crossover, it's still rooted in R&B, which is what I love."
Jam and Lewis co-produced one of the most brutally honest songs Carey has ever committed to tape, the dark and revealing "Petals." Some of its lines read, "I've often wondered if there's ever been a perfect family/ I've always longed for undividedness/ And sought stability." Later, she sings, "I gravitated towards a patriarch/ So young predictably/ I was resigned to spend my life/ With a maze of misery."
"I can't say exactly what it means because it's very personal," she begins when explaining the song. "The reason I called it 'Petals' is because it's about relationships that are now static and I don't think I can ever pull them back in. It's also about parts of my life that are now gone. Then it leads into 'Rainbow,' which is the hopeful part, and finally into 'Thank God,' which is happy, so there's kind of a theme. 'Petals' was the last song I recorded for the album. The bridge ["So many I considered closest to me/ Turned on a dime and sold me out dutifully/ Although that knife was chipping away at me/ They turned their eyes away and went home to sleep"] addresses a lot of my anger about people who saw me in a really bad state and just let it go because they were afraid to say something. There are people that I want to say certain things to, and I hope they hear it and get it on a lot of levels."
In addition to Jam and Lewis, Carey, who's currently having a luxury townhouse built in New York's Tribeca district, also co-wrote the defiant "Can't Take That Away (Mariah's Theme)" and dramatic "After Tonight" with ballad hitmeister Diane Warren.
"We have our own different styles," she says of her relationship with Warren. "Sometimes what she does is the opposite of what I do and I'll say, 'No, Diane, I hate that," or 'No, Diane, we just said that word two lines ago. We can't say it again.' She gets really obsessive over stuff at times, but we get on with each other, so I can be very open with her like that. She very cool, funny, and unique."
With the ballads and midtempos accounted for, Carey called upon previous collaborator Jermaine Dupri ("Always Be My Baby") to work on the choppy, acoustic guitar-flavored "How Much" featuring Usher, and the currently high-flying Kevin "She'kspeare" Briggs (TLC, Destiny's Child) for the spirited, quickfire "X-Girlfriend." Indeed, unlike her earlier works, Carey albums today tend to be all-star collaborations. Apart from the aforementioned guest stars, other artists featured on Rainbow include Jay-Z ("Heartbreaker"), Snoop Dogg ("Crybaby," Carey's favorite song on the disc), Da Brat & Missy Elliott (the "Heartbreaker" remix), Mystikal & Master P ("Did I Do That?"), and Joe & 98 Degrees (the warm, rousing second single, "Thank God I Found You"). But despite all her collaborators, for the most part, Carey was left entirely to her own devices to record Rainbow (unlike those of previous albums, many of the vocals were recorded outside of the U.S., in the idyllic coastal spot of Capri, Italy). Obviously, after a decade of music-making, Carey seems to have the art of accessibility down pat. Visually she's hard to ignore, and musically she's made the fine line between pop and R&B her own. Only she could be trading lines with Jay-Z and Snoop one minute and covering Phil Collins's classic '80s tearjerker "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" the next.
The success of Rainbow's first single, "Heartbreaker," and its comic music video (at the time of this interview, the song was sitting happily at the top of the pop charts, and the video was the most requested clip on MTV) are both sources of obvious pride to the songstress. "It was more about the acting and the humor, which I think is one of the good things about it," she says of the video. "Yes, I could have pyro crap going off all over the place and have special effects, but it was more interesting to me to play [two] roles and have characters and even have a little fight scene in the middle."
Talking to Carey - whose favorite two film characters are the gangster's moll (she renders me a convincing impression) and over-the-hill Broadway star in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway - about her dual-role performance in the "Heartbreaker" video, it's clear that the big screen now figures prominently in her future plans.
"I'm due to get back into the studio soon to record the soundtrack to the movie I'm about to shoot, All That Glitters," she reveals. The film, which follows the life of an aspiring singer in the early '80s, has had Carey flicking back through her record collection.
"Now I've had this experience with Jimmy and Terry, they're gonna executive produce [the movie] with me. It's great, because they have all the old sounds, so it'll sound completely authentic. They knew how records were made back then," Carey elaborates. "I've also spoken to a few other people from that era - like Rick James, who's referenced in the film - and we're probably going to write some songs together, too. That era is my childhood and those were the songs that inspired me."
The original superfreak and Mariah Carey. My, how things have changed! "My new motto is 'None of this matters,'" she declares. "'Just have a good time.'"


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