Mariah her own master

Saturday 6 December 2003

Mariah Carey makes no secret that she's tired of talking about her much-discussed emotional collapse of 2001. "Well, I feel like I've gone over this on Oprah, on Dateline, on this one and that, so I'd rather not talk about it yet again because it was two years ago," Carey said. Yet there's no getting around the topic because it relates strongly to where Carey is in her life today. As even she points out, some songs (most notably "Through the Rain") on her current CD, "Charmbracelet", reflect on the changes that have occurred in her life since that time. "That's why Charmbracelet is so important to me, because it marks a place in my life where I learned to take the initiative, to take care of myself more as a human being, not just as a product," said Carey, 33.
Throughout the 1990s, Carey's career had seemed charmed, to say the least. Signed at age 18 to Columbia Records, the Long Island native blasted onto the scene with a 1990 self-titled CD that sold more than 9 million copies in the United States alone. She married Columbia Records President Tommy Mottola in 1993, and over the next four years Carey's career continued to prosper. Overall, during her eight-album tenure at Columbia, she scored 15 number one singles and four of her CDs topped the "Billboard" album chart - "Mariah Carey" (1990), "Music Box" (1993), "Daydream" (1995) and "Butterfly" (1997).
Her total sales were staggering, to say the least - 150 million worldwide, according to Island Def Jam Records. But by the late 1990s, Carey was heading into choppier career waters. First came her breakup with Mottola in 1997. She remained with Columbia for two more albums, "Butterfly" (1997) and "Rainbow" (1999), which sold 3.6 million and 2.9 million, respectively, in the United States. But Carey said her partnership with Columbia grew uneasy when her marriage fell apart. "It felt really hard and really impossible to stay there and still thrive," Carey said.
So Carey moved on, signing with great fanfare to Virgin Records. For that label, she recorded "Glitter", a soundtrack album to the movie of the same title. Carey played the lead role in the film, which was about a young girl who immerses herself in the 1980s club scene while trying to break into the music business. She was roundly thrashed by movie critics for her performance. The "Glitter" soundtrack album suffered, too, selling just 557,000 copies in the United States. (Carey said worldwide sales were 2 million). Some questioned Carey's future in music.
Then things went from bad to ugly. In 2001, as she was promoting "Glitter" and dealing with the much-publicized failures of the project, Carey began to show signs of emotional overload. During a July appearance on MTV's "Total Request Live", her conversation dissolved into an odd monologue about ice cream. That same month, at a record store signing in Garden City, New York, her publicist seized the microphone from Carey after she began ranting to her audience. On her website, Carey posted troubling messages about needing to get a break from the demands of her career and her life.
Then on July 25 came the real meltdown. That day, Carey threw a tantrum (and by some accounts although Carey has denied it some dishes and glasses as well) in her room at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in Manhattan. She was taken from the hotel to her mother's home in Westchester County, where she literally collapsed. Her mother called for an ambulance for her daughter, who then checked herself in to Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn.
Several news outlets reported that Carey had attempted suicide - something Carey has vigorously denied. In Carey's view, her breakdown was simply a product of overwork, as she was trying too hard and doing too much to establish herself away from Columbia and Mottola. She said at that time she was maintaining a relentless pace of public appearances and travel, not eating right and frequently getting only three hours of sleep each night. The exhaustion and frustration, she said, finally caused her to break.
"At that point in my life, I was really spiraling trying to keep everything together," Carey said. "I didn't have the right team around me. I was just neglecting myself. It was just like not treating myself as a human being with the proper respect that one would treat another human being." Carey emerged from her very public crash determined to put her life and her career back on track. And in many respects, she has come out smelling like a rose. Virgin Records, according to several published reports, paid Carey $19 million for the "Glitter" soundtrack CD and was on the hook for another $60 million for the duration of her contract. But stung by the disappointing performance of "Glitter", Virgin bought out Carey's contract, reportedly paying her $28 million.
Then Carey signed with Island Def Jam, netting what's been reported as a $20 million deal for three albums. "Charmbracelet", her first release under the Island/Def Jam deal, however, has delivered mixed results. Released last December, its first two singles, "Through the Rain" and "Boy (I Need You)" fizzled. Sales of the CD, however, have topped 1 million, and Carey has gotten her share of favorable reviews for the record's characteristic mix of slow-jam ballads and hip-hop-inflected uptempo tracks, with some critics calling it her most mature work to date.
And now "Charmbracelet" is getting a second life. A revamped version of the CD, featuring her recent top five hit duet with Busta Rhymes, "I Know What You Want", along with three other tracks that didn't appear on the original version of "Charmbracelet", was released in July. "I Know What You Want" had initially appeared only on Rhymes' CD, "It Ain't Safe No More". "The Busta Rhymes duet, I Know What You Want, has become so successful and we always said I would put it on my album as well. So that was really the catalyst," Carey said, explaining the reasoning for releasing the revamped version of "Charmbracelet". "And then I have the other songs left, and we thought we would re-release it (with those tracks included) because the fans were requesting it. So that's the whole reason behind that." Still Carey's level of popularity remains under question, especially when this spring she scrapped a United States tour of arenas and instead downsized the tour to play theaters.
The singer, though, said her decision to play smaller venues was not based on slow ticket sales. Instead, it's a sign of her independence as an artist. "I think that part of who I am as a performer is interacting with the audience on a personal level, not just standing there on an impersonal stage when you're how ever many feet away from the front row," Carey said. "You feel like you're a thousand feet away from the person who's up in the top, the nosebleed sections. And I've done that. I've already done that. I really wanted to just do clubs. I thought that would be a real cool thing to do, but it just didn't make sense financially. It would be difficult to do that in the way I like to hear my music done, with the band and the production and stuff. "I feel like at this point in my life, I'm in control," Carey said. "I'm in the driver's seat, and I can dictate what I want to do. So if I want to do something that showcases my talent as a singer and songwriter, yet also lets me have my personality, fun moments and the more theatrical stuff and the audience interaction, it's just the perfect thing for me to do."


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