Ultimate albums

Wednesday 11 June 2003

Mariah Carey's Butterfly was the critical flashpoint in the pop diva's career - when she says she severed the chains that shackled not only her music but her spirit. This episode of VH1's Ultimate Albums documents Mariah Carey's daring 1997 flight into independence.
Butterfly was recorded during the most tumultuous time in Mariah's life. Her marriage to Sony CEO Tommy Mottola was coming to an end and she was breaking away from the corporate managers and handlers that shaped her career, turning her into a pop princess.
In Ultimate Albums, Carey frankly discusses how, after eight years, she bristled under the constraints that came with being a superstar. And for the first time, she opens up about her marriage to Mottola, calling it a "confining relationship" and referring to their home in Long Island as "Sing Sing".
With the release of Butterfly, Mariah Carey redefined her sound and her image. She produced every track on the album. She embraced the hip-hop sound and opened up emotionally in her lyrics. And with the production of her controversial video for "Honey", Mariah ditched her girl next door image and turned herself into a sexy diva of desire.
Fans responded to Mariah's sonic shift. Butterfly's first single "Honey" became her 12th straight number one single, breaking the record held by Whitney Houston and Madonna. And the album went on to sell nearly 9 million copies worldwide. Though Butterfly was far from her most successful record, Mariah says it remains her truest.
In 1997, Mariah Carey didn't need to prove herself to anyone but herself. She had sold millions of records and tied Whitney Houston and Madonna for the most No. 1s by a female artist - all by the tender age of 27. But following the New York diva's divorce from Tommy Mottola, the CBS exec who discovered her and shaped her career, there was a question in the air: could Mariah soar on her own? She told VH1 about how her troubled childhood, love for hip-hop, and sexy video led to Butterfly, and her greatest personal triumph so far.

VH1: Where did you get the inspiration for the title Butterfly?
Mariah: Butterfly was about leaving one section of my life and moving on to another. The title track was a wish list of things I hoped somebody would say to me, but I wrote it as though I were talking to someone else. The lines "Spread your wings and prepare to fly/ For you have become a Butterfly/ Fly abandoningly into the sun" is like someone saying, "Do your thing." There's another line: "Wild horses run unbridled/ Or their spirit dies." You can't restrain a free spirit - either you're going to break them or they're going to leave and never come back.

VH1: You originally wrote "Close My Eyes" four years before Butterfly. How did it happen?
Mariah: I had just done my first concert for a TV special in Schenectady, N.Y. I hadn't done anything other than Unplugged and little one-off shows with a piano player, so if was like my first real concert. I got off stage and went home to this really pretty farm in upstate New York. I was taking a bath and looking out the window - one of my favorite things. The moon was out and I was reflecting on my life. It was the first time I really sat and took it all in. It's almost like I watched my whole career go by. I took a breath and said, "I've really accomplished something. What did it take to get here?" That started the concept for the song. I wrote the whole first verse and kept it in the back of my mind - I didn't even write it down - for like four years. Fast forward to '97, and while writing Butterfly, I picked up where I left off after the first chorus.

VH1: So the song could be about your career so far.
Mariah: There are a lot of different things in the song that are personal and symbolic for me. A lot of my fans get very specific about that song because they apply it to their lives. I've read the letters and they really relate to that song. I don't want to say what my symbols are because it's about whatever they want to read into it. I like to keep some of those things for myself.

VH1: What was it about this album that allowed you to let all these emotions come out?
Mariah: I guess I was putting my foot down and trying to be free. It's like when you've been confined for a long time. You're like a kid in school and then it's recess. Butterfly was almost like recess. [laughs] I was still going through a confusing personal change. The line in "Close My Eyes", "I feel like a child as I look at the moon/ Maybe I grew up a little too soon," encompasses the whole thing really.

VH1: Tell me a little about your childhood, and the things you learned too soon.
Mariah: Well, it's hard for me to get specific about that. I saw a lot of stuff as a child that some people don't even see who live to be in their 70s. My life is something most people don't understand. A lot of dysfunction went on.

VH1: The song "Outside" is about never fitting in. Did you draw on childhood memories for that?
Mariah: I wrote "Outside" as a multi-racial person and having the feeling there's no one the same as you. That's how I felt growing up. It wasn't the easiest thing to go that road alone. I have a lot of memories like being in kindergarten and drawing a picture of my family and the teachers are going, "You're using the wrong color! Why are you making your father brown?" That's the first time that I felt like there was something wrong with me. I always hated my name because it made me feel different. Now when people come up to me and they're like, "This is my baby, her name is Mariah," and it's an interracial baby, I feel like, "Okay, I'm not alone like I used to be."

VH1: Didn't your name come from a song?
Mariah: My name comes from "They Call the Wind Mariah", a song from the musical Paint Your Wagon. When I was little, everybody's father or mother would sing the song to me, and I couldn't stand it. No teacher could ever pronounce it. I was like, "Why couldn't my name just be like Debbie or something?" Now I'm happy because at least it's unique.

VH1: Was "Honey" written about anybody in particular?
Mariah: "Honey" probably is written about somebody in particular. [laughs]

VH1: Can a relationship with someone else fuel your music?
Mariah: It does. I can take a scenario from eighth grade and go, "Okay, I'm going to write about this as if it's now." I could take a scenario from the year of Butterfly, and write about it like it's yesterday. I wrote the lyrics to "Honey" in Puerto Rico on this boat. I kept rewinding the track and watching people jet-ski, thinking, "That would be cool for the video." I never think about the video when I'm writing the song, usually, but the whole atmosphere seemed right.

VH1: Both "Honey" and "The Roof" were based around loops of hip-hop records.
Mariah: The original loop on "Honey" was from "Body Rock" by the Treacherous Three. That was Q-Tip's idea. It was my idea to throw in the "Hey DJ" part, because that was always one of my favorite songs. With "The Roof", I based it on a loop from a rap record called "Shook Ones" by Mobb Deep. I was driving upstate in the car one day, listening to the radio. "Shook Ones" was on and I just started singing a melody on top of it.

VH1: Were you afraid such an urban sound was going to be too much of a departure for your fans?
Mariah: I still don't see why people think that. It's not that different from "Fantasy" being based on a Tom Tom Club loop and featuring Old Dirty Bastard on the remix. At the time, people were in shock. "Mariah's working with ODB? How did that happen?" It's always like there's got to be a new story, and the new story is Mariah went hip-hop. Whoa! Butterfly has a lot of ballads on it, too.

VH1: Had hip-hop always been a presence in your life?
Mariah: The minute we heard the Sugar Hill Gang on the radio as kids, we started memorizing it. Hip-hop is an art form that continues to evolve. Music executives would say to me, "This is a fad", and I'd be like, "You don't even know what you're talking about. You guys are the last ones to know sometimes. I've been listening to this music since I was in fifth grade!"

VH1: The "Honey" video got a lot of people talking, too.
Mariah: People felt like my image changed because suddenly I could do what I wanted to. But "Honey" is quite tame compared to some of the videos that are out now by quote/unquote pop artists. Yes, I do strip down and all that stuff, but I'm not like stripping. There's a bikini. To me, it's all very playful and done in fun. It was totally up my alley because who else is going to swim with Gucci stilettos on? That's very me. For the first time, I got the chance to have fun making a video and be myself. Like the running on the beach with the dog? That's me. When you don't see me on TV, that's what I'm doing. [laughs]

VH1: Did your ex-husband Tommy Mottola know what your plans were for Butterfly?
Mariah: I would bring him in the studio and have him listen sometimes, asking him "Do you like this?" That happened once or twice, but it was different than before. I enjoyed listening to music with him. He's very smart. We really connected on that stuff except most of the time I would lean more urban, because that's just what I grew up with.

VH1: Did you miss having his input on the album?
Mariah: No. The truth is, I was the one in the studio for hours and hours. He would come in and give input every now and then. Butterfly was just an extension of where I'd already been going anyway. It was my vision. It wasn't about "Let me get the approval on every single song and every single thing I'm singing and every single hit." [laughs]

VH1: I read when the album was released you cried, like you lost a part of you.
Mariah: It was the first time it was something that was completely my own expression, without anybody holding me back. It was an emotional time for me anyway, but it meant a lot to me. It still does. That record is like the only one that I'll leave on from start to finish.

VH1: With Butterfly did you transform from a girl to a woman?
Mariah: It was a metamorphosis for me, but I don't know if it was a growing up thing. It was more allowing myself to celebrate my life and deal with my life in adult terms. It's funny. It's my friends' favorite album, too. Sometimes when we're on vacation we'll just go and listen to Butterfly. If there is one record that people who aren't necessarily fans of mine were to buy, I would say to get Butterfly. Because you don't have to be a fan of hearing me hit the high note 25 times to appreciate some of these songs that show a different side of me. It's definitely a milestone.

Many thanks to Mariah Daily.

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