Mariah Carey (born March 27, 1970) is an American pop and R&B singer-songwriter, record producer, and actress. Carey made her debut in 1990 under the guidance of Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola and became the first recording act to have her first five singles top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Following her marriage to Mottola in 1993, a series of subsequent hit records established her position as Columbia's highest-selling act. According to Billboard magazine, she was the most successful artist of the 1990s in the United States.
Carey took full creative control over her image and music following her separation from Mottola in 1997 and introduced elements of hip hop into her album material. Her popularity was in decline when she left Columbia in 2001 and she was dropped by Virgin Records the following year after a highly publicized physical and emotional breakdown and the poor reception of Glitter, her film and soundtrack project. Carey later signed with Island/Def Jam and after an unsuccessful period, she returned to the forefront of popular music in 2005.
In 2000 the World Music Awards named Carey the best-selling female artist of all time, and she has recorded the most U.S. number-one singles for a female artist. In addition to her commercial accomplishments, she is well-known for her melismatic singing voice, vocal range, power (see vocal belting) and technical ability. However, some critics have said that Carey's efforts to showcase her vocal talents have been at the expense of communicating true emotion through song.
Carey was born in Huntington, Long Island, New York. She is the third and youngest child of Patricia Hickey, a former opera singer and voice coach of Irish American extraction, and Alfred Roy Carey (formerly Nuñez), an aeronautical engineer of African-American and Venezuelan descent. As a multiethnic family, the Careys endured racial slurs, hostility, and sometimes violence, causing the family to frequently relocate throughout the New York and Rhode Island areas. The strain on the family led to the divorce of Carey's parents when she was three years old.
Carey had little contact with her father, and her mother worked several jobs to support the family. Spending much of her time at home alone, she turned to music as an outlet. She began singing at around the age of three, performing for the first time in public during elementary school, and was writing her own songs by junior high. Carey graduated from Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, New York, although she was frequently absent due to her popularity as a demo singer for local recording studios. Her renown within the Long Island music scene gave her opportunities to work with musicians such as Gavin Christopher and Ben Margulies, with whom she co-wrote material for her demo tape. After moving to New York City, Carey worked numerous part-time jobs to pay the rent and completed five hundred hours of beauty school. Eventually, she became a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr.
In 1988 Carey met Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola at a party, where Starr gave him Carey's demo tape. Mottola played the tape while leaving the party and was very impressed with what he heard. He returned to find Carey, but she had left. Nevertheless, Mottola tracked her down and signed her to a recording contract. This Cinderella-like story became part of the standard publicity surrounding Carey's entrance into the industry.
Carey co-wrote all of the original compositions on her 1990 debut album Mariah Carey and continued to co-write nearly all of her material for the rest of her career. She expressed dissatisfaction with the contributions of producers such as Ric Wake and Rhett Lawrence, whom executives at Columbia had enlisted to help make the album commercially viable. With substantial promotion it ascended to number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, where it remained for several weeks. It produced four number-one singles and made Carey a star in the United States, but its success elsewhere was limited. Critics rated the album highly, and Carey won Grammy Awards for "Best New Artist" and "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance" (for her debut single "Vision of Love").
Emotions, Carey's second album, was conceived as an homage to Motown soul music (see Motown Sound) and saw Carey working with Walter Afanasieff and the dance group C&C Music Factory. It was released soon after her debut album in the fall of 1991, but was neither critically nor commercially as successful; Rolling Stone described it as "more of the same, with less interesting material ... pop-psych love songs played with airless, intimidating expertise". The title track "Emotions" made Carey the only recording act to have their first five singles reach number-one on the U.S. Hot 100 chart, though the album's follow-up singles failed to match this feat. Carey had been lobbying to produce her own songs, and beginning with Emotions, she would co-produce most of her material. "I didn't want [Emotions] to be somebody else's vision of me," she said. "There's more of me on this album." She began writing and producing for other artists, such as Penny Ford and Daryl Hall, within the coming year.
Although she had occasionally performed live, stage fright had prevented Carey from embarking on any major tours. Her first widely-seen concert appearance was on the television show MTV Unplugged in 1992, and she said she felt that her performance proved her vocal abilities were not, as some had previously speculated, simulated using studio techniques. In addition to acoustic versions of some of her earlier songs, Carey premiered a cover of The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" with back-up singer Trey Lorenz. Released as a single, the duet reached number one in the U.S. and led to a record deal for Lorenz, whose debut album Carey produced. Because of strong ratings for the Unplugged television special, the concert's set list was released on the EP MTV Unplugged, which Entertainment Weekly called "the strongest, most genuinely musical record she has ever made ... Did this live performance help her take her first steps toward growing up?"
Carey and Tommy Mottola had become romantically involved during the making of her debut album, and in June 1993 they were married.
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds consulted on the album Music Box, which was released later that year and became Carey's most successful worldwide. It yielded her first UK number-one, a cover of Badfinger's "Without You", as well as the U.S. number-ones "Dreamlover" and "Hero". Billboard magazine proclaimed it as "heart-piercing ... easily the most elemental of Carey's releases, her vocal eurythmics in natural sync with the songs", but TIME magazine lamented Carey's attempt at a mellower work: "[Music Box] seems perfunctory and almost passionless ... Carey could be a pop-soul great; instead she has once again settled for Salieri-like mediocrity." Most critics slated a subsequent U.S. tour. Carey said, "As soon as you have a big success, a lot of people don't like that. There's nothing I can do about it. All I can do is make music I believe in."
Following a successful duet with Luther Vandross on a cover of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross' "Endless Love" in late 1994, Carey released the holiday album Merry Christmas. It contained both cover material and original compositions such as "All I Want for Christmas Is You", which became Carey's biggest hit in Japan and in subsequent years emerged as one of her most perennially popular songs on U.S. radio. Critical reception of Merry Christmas was mixed, with All Music Guide dismissing it as an "otherwise vanilla set... pretensions to high opera on 'O Holy Night' and a horrid danceclub [sic] take on 'Joy to the World'". It became the most successful Christmas album of all time.
In 1995 Carey released Daydream, which combined the pop sensibilities of Music Box with downbeat R&B and hip hop influences. Carey said that Columbia reacted negatively to her intentions for the album: "Everybody was like 'What, are you crazy?'. They're very nervous about breaking the formula." It became her biggest-selling LP in the U.S., and its singles achieved similar success: "Fantasy" became the second single to debut at number-one in the U.S. and topped the Canadian chart for twelve weeks, "One Sweet Day" (with Boyz II Men) spent a still-record sixteen weeks at number one in the U.S., and "Always Be My Baby" (co-produced by Jermaine Dupri) led the Hot 100's 1996 year-end radio airplay chart. Daydream generated career-best reviews for Carey and publications such as The New York Times named it one of 1995's best albums; the Times wrote that its "best cuts bring pop candy-making to a new peak of textural refinement ... Carey's songwriting has taken a leap forward, becoming more relaxed, sexier and less reliant on thudding clichés". A short but profitable world tour augmented sales of the album, which received six Grammy Award nominations.
Carey and Mottola separated in 1996. Although the public image of the marriage was a happy one, she said that in reality she had felt trapped by her relationship with Mottola, whom she often described as controlling. They officially announced their separation in 1997, and their divorce became final the following year. Carey hired a new attorney and manager soon after the separation, as well as an independent publicist. She became a major songwriter and producer for other artists during this period, contributing to the debut albums of Allure, 7 Mile and Blaque through her short-lived Crave Records imprint.
Carey's next album Butterfly (1997) yielded the number-one single "Honey", the lyrics and music video for which presented a more overtly sexual image of her than had been previously seen. She stated that Butterfly marked the point that she attained full creative control over her music, which continued to move in an R&B/hip hop direction with material co-written and co-produced by rappers such as Sean "Puffy" Combs and Missy Elliott, but added: "I don't think it's that much of a departure from what I've done in the past ... It's not like I went psycho and thought I was going to be a rapper. Personally, this album is about doing whatever the hell I wanted to do." Reviews were almost uniformly positive: LAUNCHcast said Butterfly "pushes the envelope", a move its critic thought "may prove disconcerting to more conservative fans" but praised as "a welcome change". The Los Angeles Times wrote: "[Butterfly] is easily the most personal, confessional-sounding record she's ever done ... Carey-bashing just might become a thing of the past." The album was a commercial success, and "My All" (her thirteenth Hot 100 number-one) gave her the record for the most U.S. number-ones by a female artist. Towards the turn of the millennium, Carey developed the film project All That Glitters, and she also wrote songs for the films Men in Black (1997) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000).
During the production of Butterfly, Carey became involved with New York Yankees baseball player Derek Jeter. Their relationship ended in 1998, with both parties citing media interference as the main reason for the split. That year saw the release of the album #1's, a collection of her U.S. number-one singles up to that point. Carey said she recorded new material for the album as a way of rewarding her fans, and it also included "When You Believe", an Academy Award-winning duet with Whitney Houston from the soundtrack to The Prince of Egypt. #1's sold above expectations, but a review in NME labelled Carey "a purveyor of saccharine bilge like 'Hero', whose message seems wholesome enough: that if you vacate your mind of all intelligent thought, flutter your eyelashes and wish hard, sweet babies and honey will follow". Also that year she appeared on the first televised VH1 Divas benefit concert program, though her alleged prima donna behaviour had already led many to consider her a diva. By the following year, she had entered a relationship with singer Luis Miguel.
Rainbow, Carey's sixth studio album, was released in 1999. It was again comprised of more R&B/hip hop-oriented songs, many of them co-created with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Both "Heartbreaker" and "Thank God I Found You" (the former featuring Jay-Z, the latter featuring Joe and boy-band 98 Degrees) reached number one in the U.S., and the success of the former made Carey the only act to have a number-one single in each year of the 1990s. Media reception was generally enthusiastic, with the Sunday Herald saying the album "sees her impressively tottering between soul ballads and collaborations with R&B heavyweights like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Usher ... It's a polished collection of pop-soul." Similar sentiments were expressed in VIBE magazine, which wrote, "She pulls out all stops...Rainbow will garner even more adoration", but despite this it became Carey's lowest-selling LP up to that point, and there was a recurring criticism that the tracks were too alike. When the double A-side "Crybaby"/"Can't Take That Away (Mariah's Theme)" became her first single to peak outside of the top twenty, Carey accused Sony of under promoting it: "The political situation in my professional career is not positive ... I'm getting a lot of negative feedback from certain corporate people", she wrote on her official website.
After receiving Billboard's "Artist of the Decade" Award (see Billboard Music Awards) and the World Music Award for "Best-Selling Female Artist of the Millennium", Carey parted from Columbia and signed a contract with EMI's Virgin Records worth a reported US$80 million. She often stated that Columbia had regarded her as a commodity, with her separation from Mottola exacerbating her relations with label executives. Just a few months later in July 2001, it was widely reported that Carey had suffered a physical and emotional breakdown. She had left messages on her website complaining of being overworked, and her relationship with Luis Miguel was ending. In an interview the following year, she said, "I was with people who didn't really know me, and I had no personal assistant. I'd be doing interviews all day long, getting two hours of sleep a night, if that." During an appearance on MTV's Total Request Live, Carey handed out popsicles to the audience and began what was later described as a "strip tease". By the month's end, she had checked into hospital, and her publicist announced that she would be taking a break from public appearances.
Critics panned Glitter, Carey's much delayed semi-autobiographical film, and it was a box office failure. The album Glitter, inspired by the music of the 1980s and released on September 11, 2001, generated her worst showing on the U.S. chart. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dismissed it as "an absolute mess that'll go down as an annoying blemish on a career that, while not always critically heralded, was at least nearly consistently successful", while Blender magazine opined, "After years of trading her signature flourishes for a radio-ready purr, [Carey]'s left with almost no presence at all." "Loverboy" reached number two on the Hot 100 thanks to a price cut, but the album's follow-up singles failed to chart.
Columbia released the low-charting album Greatest Hits shortly after the failure of Glitter, and in early 2002 Virgin bought out Carey's contract for $28 million, which created further negative publicity. Carey said her time at Virgin had been "a complete and total stress-fest ... I made a total snap decision which was based on money, and I never make decisions based on money. I learned a big lesson from that." Later that year, she signed a $20 million contract with Island Records' Def Jam and launched the record label MonarC. To add further to Carey's emotional burdens, her father died of cancer that summer.
Following a well-received supporting role in the film WiseGirls, Carey released the album Charmbracelet, which she said marked "a new lease on life" for her. Sales of Charmbracelet were moderate, and the quality of Carey's vocals came under severe criticism. The Boston Globe declared the album as "the worst of her career, revealing a voice no longer capable of either gravity-defying gymnastics or soft coos", and Rolling Stone commented: "Carey needs bold songs that help her use the power and range for which she is famous. Charmbracelet is like a stream of watercolors that bleed into a puddle of brown." Singles such as "Through the Rain" failed on the charts and with pop radio, whose playlists had become less open to maturing "diva" stylists such as Carey, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.
"I Know What You Want", a 2003 Busta Rhymes single on which Carey guest-starred, fared considerably better and reached the U.S. top five. Columbia later included it on the remix collection The Remixes, Carey's lowest-selling album. That year, she embarked on the Charmbracelet World Tour and was awarded the World Music Chopard Diamond Award for selling over 100 million albums worldwide. In 2004 she was featured on rapper Jadakiss' single "U Make Me Wanna", which reached the top ten on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
Carey's ninth studio album The Emancipation of Mimi was released in 2005 and contained contributions from producers such as The Neptunes, Kanye West and Carey's longtime collaborator Jermaine Dupri. Carey said it was "very much like a party record ... the process of putting on makeup and getting ready to go out ... I wanted to make a record that was reflective of that." Mimi became the year's best-selling album in the U.S., won three Grammy Awards (including "Best Contemporary R&B Album") and received some of Carey's most favourable reviews in some time; The Guardian defined it as "cool, focused and urban ... [some of] the first Mariah Carey tunes in years I wouldn't have to be paid to listen to again". The second single "We Belong Together" held the Hot 100's number-one position for fourteen weeks (her longest run at the top as a solo artist) and was the biggest hit of 2005 in the U.S., while "Shake It Off" made Carey the only female artist to occupy the top two positions on the Hot 100 simultaneously. "Don't Forget about Us" became her seventeenth number-one in the U.S., which tied her with Elvis Presley for the most number-ones by a solo act according to Billboard magazine's revised methodology (their statistician Joel Whitburn still credits Presley with an eighteenth). By this count Carey is behind only The Beatles, who have twenty number-ones.
Carey began her first world concert tour in three years, The Adventures of Mimi, in summer 2006. According to a backstage interview with Entertainment Tonight, she has already begun work on her next studio album, which is expected for release sometime during spring 2007. Also in 2007, she will receive a "recording star" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Carey began to take professional acting lessons in 1997, and within the coming year, she was auditioning for film roles. She made her debut as an opera singer in the romantic comedy The Bachelor (1999) starring Chris O'Donnell and Renée Zellweger, and CNN derisively referred to her casting as a talentless diva as "letter-perfect ... the "can't act" part informs Carey's entire performance".
Carey's first starring role was in Glitter (2001), playing a struggling musician in the 1980s who breaks into the music industry after meeting a disc jockey (Max Beesley). While Roger Ebert said "[Carey]'s acting ranges from dutiful flirtatiousness to intense sincerity", most critics panned it: Halliwell's Film Guide called it a "vapid star vehicle for a pop singer with no visible acting ability", and The Village Voice observed: "When [Carey] tries for an emotion—any emotion—she looks as if she's lost her car keys." Glitter was a box office failure, and Carey earned a Razzie Award for her role. She later said that the film "started out as a concept with substance, but it ended up being geared to 10-year-olds. It lost a lot of grit ... I kind of got in over my head."
Carey, Mira Sorvino and Melora Walters co-starred as waitresses at a restaurant run by mobsters in the independent film WiseGirls (2002), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival but went straight to cable in the U.S. Critics commended Carey for her efforts: The Hollywood Reporter predicted, "Those scathing notices for Glitter will be a forgotten memory for the singer once people warm up to Raychel", and Roger Friedman, referring to her as "a Thelma Ritter for the new millennium", said, "Her line delivery is sharp and she manages to get the right laughs". WiseGirls producer Anthony Esposito cast Carey in The Sweet Science, a film about an unknown female boxer who is recruited by a boxing manager, but it never entered production.
Carey was one of several musicians who appeared in the independently-produced Damon Dash films Death of a Dynasty (2003) and State Property 2 (2005), while her television work has been limited to a January 2002 episode of Ally McBeal. Carey joined the cast of the indie film Tennessee in 2006, taking the role of a waitress who travels with her two brothers to find their long-lost father.
Carey has said that from childhood she was stimulated by soul and R&B musicians such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin and Al Green. Her music also contains strong influences of gospel music, and her favourite gospel singers include The Clark Sisters, Shirley Caesar and Edwin Hawkins. As Carey began to imbue her sound with hip hop, speculation arose that she was making an attempt to take advantage of the genre's popularity, but she told Newsweek, "People just don't understand. I grew up with this music". She has expressed appreciation for rappers such as The Sugarhill Gang, Eric B. & Rakim, the Wu-Tang Clan, The Notorious B.I.G. and Mobb Deep, with whom she collaborated on "The Roof (Back in Time)"
Carey's debut album received criticism for being too similar in style to the work of Whitney Houston, and throughout her career, Carey's vocal and musical style, along with her level of success, have been compared to Houston and Celine Dion. Carey and her peers, according to Garry Mulholland, are "the princesses of wails ... virtuoso vocalists who blend chart-oriented pop with mature MOR torch song". In She Bop II: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul (2002), writer Lucy O'Brien attributed the comeback of Barbra Streisand's "old-fashioned showgirl" to Carey and Dion, and described them and Houston as "groomed, airbrushed and overblown to perfection". Carey's musical transition and the use of more revealing clothing during the late 1990s were in part initiated to distance herself from this image, and she subsequently said that most of her early work had been "schmaltzy MOR". Some have noted that unlike Houston and Dion, Carey co-writes all of her own songs, and the Guinness Rockopedia (1998) classified her as the "songbird supreme".
Carey can cover all the notes from the alto vocal range leading to those of a coloratura soprano, and her vocal trademark is her ability to sing in the whistle register. She has cited Minnie Riperton as the greatest influence on her singing technique, and from a very early age, she would attempt to emulate Riperton's high notes, to increasing degrees of success as her vocal range expanded. According to most sources, she has a five-octave vocal range, though some credit her with as many as eight octaves. In 2003 her voice was voted the greatest in music in MTV and Blender magazine's countdown of the 22 Greatest Voices in Music. Carey said of the poll: "What it really means is voice of the MTV generation. Of course, it's an enormous compliment, but I don't feel that way about myself."
Carey's voice has come under considerable scrutiny from critics who believe that she does not effectively communicate the message of her songs. Rolling Stone magazine said in 1992, "Carey has a remarkable vocal gift, but to date, unfortunately, her singing has been far more impressive than expressive ... at full speed her range is so superhuman that each excessive note erodes the believability of the lyric she is singing." The New York Daily News wrote that Carey's singing "is ultimately what does her in. For Carey, vocalizing is all about the performance, not the emotions that inspired it ... Does having a great voice automatically make you a great singer? Hardly." Some interpreted Carey's decision to utilise what she described as "breathy" vocals in some of her late 1990s and early 2000s work as a sign that her voice had begun to deteriorate, but she has maintained that it "has been here all along". An article in Vibe magazine indicated that Carey's singing style highlights weaknesses in other aspects of her music: "The impressiveness of her voice—as well as her tendency to oversing—make the blandness of her material all the more flagrant".
Love is the subject of the majority of Carey's lyrics, although she has also written about themes such as racism, death and spirituality. She has said that much of her work is partly autobiographical, but TIME magazine wrote: "If only Mariah Carey's music had the drama of her life. Her songs are often sugary and artificial—NutraSweet soul. But her life has passion and conflict."
Carey's output makes great use of electronic instruments such as drum machines, synthesizers and keyboards. Many of her songs contain piano music, and she was given piano lessons when she was six years old. Carey said in one interview that she cannot read sheet music and prefers to collaborate with a pianist when composing her material, but feels that it is easier to experiment with faster and less conventional melodies and chord progressions using this technique. Some of her arrangements have been inspired by the work of musicians such as Stevie Wonder, a soul/R&B pianist whom Carey once referred to as "the genius of the [20th] century", but she has said "My voice is my instrument; it always has been." Butterfly Melodies, a tribute album containing piano renditions of some of Carey's songs, was released in 2005.
Carey began commissioning remixes of her material early in her career and helped spearhead the practice of recording entirely new vocals for remixes. Disc jockey David Morales has collaborated with Carey several times, starting with "Dreamlover" (1993), which popularised the tradition of remixing pop songs into house records and which Slant magazine named one of the greatest dance songs of all time. From "Fantasy" (1995) onward, she would enlist both hip hop and house producers to re-imagine her album compositions. Entertainment Weekly included two remixes of "Fantasy" on a list of Carey's greatest recordings compiled in 2005: a National Dance Music Award-winning remix produced by Morales and another featuring rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard, and the latter has been credited with initiating the trend of the pop/hip hop collaboration which has continued into the 2000s through artists such as Beyoncé Knowles and Ashanti. Sean Combs, who co-produced the hip hop remix, said that Carey "knows the importance of mixes, so you feel like you're with an artist who appreciates your work—an artist who wants to come up with something with you". She continues to consult on remixes by producers such as Morales, Jermaine Dupri, Junior Vasquez and DJ Clue, and guest performers contribute frequently to them. The popularity of these remixes, which often sound radically different from their album counterparts, has been known to eclipse the success of the original songs.
Carey is a philanthropist who has donated time and money to organizations such as the Fresh Air Fund. She became associated with the Fund in the early 1990s, and is the co-founder of a camp located in Fishkill, New York, that enables inner-city youth to embrace the arts and introduces them to career opportunities. The camp was called Camp Mariah "for her generous support and dedication to Fresh Air children", and she received a Congressional Horizon Award for her youth-related charity work. She is also well-known nationally for her work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in granting the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, has volunteered for the New York City Police Athletic League and contributed to the obstetrics department of New York Presbyterian Hospital Cornell Medical Center. A percentage of the sales of MTV Unplugged was donated to various other charities.
One of Carey's most high-profile benefit concert appearances was on VH1's Divas Live special in 1998, where she performed alongside other female singers in support of the Save the Music Foundation. The concert was a ratings success, and Carey participated in the 2000 special. She appeared at the America: A Tribute to Heroes nationally televised fundraiser in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and in December 2001 she performed before peacekeeping troops in Kosovo. Carey also hosted the CBS television special At Home for the Holidays, which documented real-life stories of adopted children and foster families, and she has worked with the New York City Administration for Children's Services. In 2005 Carey performed for Live 8 and at the Hurricane Katrina relief telethon Shelter from the Storm.
Carey has participated in endorsements for Berlitz Language Schools and the Aeon English College in Japan, Nescafé coffee, and Intel Centrino personal computers. In early 2006 she launched a jewelry and accessories line for teenagers, "Glamorized", in U.S. Claire's and Icing stores. Later that year it was announced she had signed a licensing deal with the cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden to release a fragrance in 2007. During this period, as part of a partnership with Pepsi and Motorola, Carey recorded and promoted series of exclusive ringtones.