Mariah Carey (born March 27, 1970)
is an American singer, songwriter, record producer and actress. She made
her recording debut in 1990 under the guidance of Columbia Records
executive Tommy Mottola, and became the first recording artist to have her
first five singles top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Following her
marriage to Mottola in 1993, a series of 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
Following her separation from Mottola in 1997, Carey introduced elements
of hip hop into her album work, to much initial success, but her
popularity was in decline when she left Columbia in 2001. She signed to
Virgin Records but was dropped from the label and bought out of her
contract the following year after a highly publicized physical and
emotional breakdown, as well as the poor reception given to Glitter, her
film and soundtrack project. In 2002, Carey signed with Island Records,
and after a relatively unsuccessful period, she returned to the top of pop
music in 2005.
Carey has sold more than 175 million albums, singles and videos worldwide.
She was named the best-selling female pop artist of the millennium at the
2000 World Music Awards. According to the Recording Industry Association
of America, she is the third best-selling female artist and sixteenth
overall recording artist with shipments of over 62.5 million albums in the
US. She is also ranked as the best-selling female artist of the U.S.
Nielsen SoundScan era (third best-selling artist overall). She has the
most number-one singles for a solo artist in the United States (eighteen;
second artist overall behind The Beatles). In 2008, Billboard magazine
ranked her at number six on "The Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists",
making Carey as the second most successful female artist, in the history
of Billboard Hot 100 chart. In addition to her commercial accomplishments,
Carey has earned five Grammy Awards, and is well-known for her five-octave
vocal range, power, melismatic style, and use of the whistle register.
Carey was born in Huntington, Long Island, New York. She is the third and
youngest child of Patricia Carey (née Hickey), a former opera singer and
vocal coach, and Alfred Roy Carey, an aeronautical engineer. Her mother
was Irish American and her father was of Afro-Venezuelan and African
American descent; her paternal grandfather, Roberto Nuñez, changed his
surname to Carey to better assimilate upon moving to the United States
from Venezuela. Carey was named after the song "They Call the Wind
Mariah". Carey's parents divorced when she was three years old. While
living in Huntington, racist neighbors allegedly poisoned the family dog
and set fire to her family's car. After her parents' divorce, Carey had
little contact with her father, and her mother worked several jobs to
support the family. Carey spent much of her time at home alone and turned
to music to occupy herself. She began singing at around the age of three,
when her mother began to teach her after Carey imitated her mother
practicing Verdi's opera Rigoletto in Italian.
Carey graduated from Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, New York. She
was frequently absent because of her work as a demo singer for local
recording studios; her classmates consequently gave her the nickname
"Mirage". Her work in 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 part-time jobs to pay the rent, and she completed 500
hours of beauty school. Eventually, she became a backup singer for Puerto
Rican freestyle singer 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 when
leaving the party and was impressed. 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 the tracks on her 1990 debut album Mariah Carey, and she
has co-written most of her material since. During the recording, she
expressed dissatisfaction with the contributions of producers such as Ric
Wake and Rhett Lawrence, whom the executives at Columbia had enlisted to
help make the album more commercially viable. Backed by a substantial
promotional budget, the album reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200
chart, where it remained for several weeks. It yielded four number-one
singles and made Carey a star in the United States, but it was less
successful in other countries. Critics rated the album highly, and Carey
won Grammys for Best New Artist, and—for her debut single, "Vision of
Love"—Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Carey conceived Emotions, her second album, as an homage to Motown soul
music (see Motown Sound), and she worked with Walter Afanasieff and
Clivillés & Cole (from the dance group C+C Music Factory) on the record.
It was released soon after her debut album—in late 1991—but was neither as
critically or commercially 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 whose first five singles have reached number
one on the U.S. Hot 100 chart, although 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 has co-produced most of her
material. "I didn't want to be somebody else's vision of me," she said.
"There's more of me on this album."
Although Carey performed live occasionally, stage fright prevented her
from embarking on a major tour. Her first widely seen appearance was
featured on the television show MTV Unplugged in 1992, and she remarked
that she felt her performance that night proved her vocal abilities were
not, as some had previously speculated, simulated with studio equipment.
Alongside acoustic versions of some of her earlier songs, Carey premiered
a cover of The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" with her back-up singer Trey
Lorenz. The duet was released as a single, reached number one in the U.S.,
and led to a record deal for Lorenz, whose debut album Carey later
co-produced. Because of high 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 involved romantically 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. The
album maintained a presence on the Billboard 200 for a staggering 128
weeks. It yielded her first UK Singles Chart number-one, a cover of
Badfinger's "Without You", and the U.S. number-ones "Dreamlover" and
"Hero". Billboard magazine proclaimed it "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,
" seems perfunctory and almost passionless Carey could be a pop-soul
great; instead she has once again settled for Salieri-like mediocrity." In
response to such comments, 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." Most critics slighted the opening of
her subsequent U.S. Music Box Tour.
In late 1994, after her duet with Luther Vandross on a cover of Lionel
Richie and Diana Ross's "Endless Love" became a hit, Carey released the
holiday album Merry Christmas. It contained cover material and original
compositions such as "All I Want for Christmas Is You", which became
Carey's biggest single 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 Allmusic calling it an "otherwise vanilla
set pretensions to high opera on 'O Holy Night' and a horrid danceclub
take on 'Joy to the World'." It became one of the most successful
Christmas albums of all time.
In 1995, Columbia released Carey's fourth studio album, Daydream, which
combined the pop sensibilities of Music Box with downbeat R&B and hip hop
influences. A remix of "Fantasy", its first single, featured rapper Ol'
Dirty Bastard. 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 album 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 Singles Chart for twelve weeks; "One Sweet
Day" (a duet with Boyz II Men) spent a record-holding sixteen weeks at
number one in the U.S.; and "Always Be My Baby" (co-produced by Jermaine
Dupri) was the most successful record on U.S. radio in 1996, according to
Billboard magazine. 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." The short but profitable Daydream World Tour augmented sales of
the album, which received six Grammy Award nominations.
Carey and Mottola officially separated in 1997. 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. Soon after the separation, Carey
hired an independent publicist and a new attorney and manager. She
continued to write and produce for other artists during this period,
contributing to the debut albums of Allure and 7 Mile through her
short-lived imprint Crave Records.
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 when she attained full creative control over
her music. However, she 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 generally 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—although not to the degree of her previous three albums—and "My
All" (her thirteenth Hot 100 number-one) gave her the record for the most
U.S. number-ones by a female artist.
Toward the turn of the millennium, Carey was developing the film project
Glitter and wrote songs for the films Men in Black (1997) and How the
Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). During the production of Butterfly, Carey
became romantically involved with New York Yankees baseball star Derek
Jeter. Their relationship ended in 1998, with both parties citing media
interference as the main reason for the split. The same year, Columbia
released the album #1's, a collection of Carey's U.S. number-one singles
alongside new material, which she said was a way of rewarding her fans.
The song "When You Believe", a duet with Whitney Houston, was recorded for
the soundtrack of The Prince of Egypt (1998) and won an Academy Award.
#1's sold above expectations, but a review in NME labeled 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, although her alleged prima donna behavior 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 and comprised
more R&B/hip hop–oriented songs, many of them co-created with Jimmy Jam
and Terry Lewis. "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. A cover of Phil
Collins's "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" went to number one in
the UK after Carey re-recorded it with boy band Westlife. Media reception
of Rainbow 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." VIBE magazine expressed similar
sentiments, writing, "She pulls out all stops. Rainbow will garner even
more adoration" but it became Carey's lowest-selling album up to that
point, and there was a recurring criticism that the tracks were too alike.
When the double A-side "Crybaby" (featuring Snoop Dogg)/"Can't Take That
Away (Mariah's Theme)" became her first single to peak outside the U.S.
top twenty, Carey accused Sony of underpromoting 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
After receiving Billboard's Artist of the Decade Award 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 "striptease". By the
month's end, she had checked into a hospital, and her publicist announced
that Carey was taking a break from public appearances.
Critics panned Glitter, Carey's much delayed semi-autobiographical film,
and it was a box office failure. The accompanying soundtrack album,
Glitter, was inspired by the music of the 1980s and featured
collaborations with Rick James and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis; it generated
Carey's 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." The lead single, "Loverboy"
(featuring Cameo), reached number two on the Hot 100 due to the release of
the physical single, but the album's follow-up singles failed to chart;
however, a live rendition/medley of the single, "Never Too Far" made its
way to #81.
Later in the year, Columbia released the low-charting compilation album
Greatest Hits shortly after the failure of Glitter, and in early 2002,
Virgin bought out Carey's contract for $28 million, creating further
negative publicity. Carey later said her time at Virgin was "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 contract with Island Records,
valued at more than $22.5 million and launched the record label MonarC. To
add further to Carey's emotional burdens, her father, with whom she had
little contact since childhood, died of cancer that year.
In 2002, she performed the American national anthem in front of an
audience at the Super Bowl XXXVI at the Louisiana Superdome in New
Orleans, Louisiana. Following a well-received supporting role in the 2002
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 "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." The album's only
charting single in America, "Through the Rain", was a failure on pop
radio, which had become less open to maturing "diva" stylists such as
Celine Dion, or Carey herself in favor of younger singers such as
Christina Aguilera, who had vocal styles very similar to Carey's.
"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; it was
also included on Columbia's release of The Remixes, a compilation of
Carey's best remixes and some new tracks. That year, she embarked on the
Charmbracelet World Tour and was awarded the Chopard Diamond award for
selling more than 100 million albums worldwide. She was featured on rapper
Jadakiss's 2004 single "U Make Me Wanna", which reached the top ten on
Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
Carey's eighth studio album, The Emancipation of Mimi (2005), 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. The Emancipation of
Mimi became 2005's best-selling album in the U.S., and The Guardian
reviewer defined it as "cool, focused and urban the first Mariah Carey
tunes in years I wouldn't have to be paid to listen to again". The album
earned Carey a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album, and the
single "We Belong Together" won Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best
R&B Song. "We Belong Together" held the Hot 100's number-one position for
fourteen weeks, her longest run at the top as a solo lead artist.
Subsequently, the single "Shake It Off" reached number two for a week,
making Carey the first female lead vocalist to have simultaneously held
the Hot 100's top two positions. (While topping the charts in 2002,
Ashanti was the "featured" singer on the #2 single.)
In mid-2006, Carey began The Adventures of Mimi Tour, which was the most
successful of her career, although some dates had to be canceled. She
appeared on the cover of the March 2007 edition of Playboy magazine in a
non-nude photo session. In early 2007, she was featured with Bow Wow on
the Bone Thugs-n-Harmony single "Lil' L.O.V.E.".
By spring 2007, she had begun working on her ninth studio album, E=MC².
Asked about the album title's meaning, Carey said "Einstein's theory?
Physics? Me? Hello! ...Of course I'm poking fun." She characterized the
project as "Emancipation of Mimi to the second power", saying she was
"freer" on this album than any other. Like her previous one, this album
mainly concentrates on pop and R&B, but also borrows hip hop, gospel and
even reggae ("Cruise Control") elements. Although E=MC² was well received
by most critics, some of them criticized it for being "a clone of The
Emancipation of Mimi". Bleu Magazine's critic said that the "facsimiles
aren't terrible, they're just boring and forgettable at this point." Two
weeks before the album's release, on April 2, 2008, "Touch My Body", her
first single from the album, became Carey's eighteenth number-one single
on the Hot 100, pushing her past Elvis Presley into second place for the
most number-one singles among all artists in the rock era, according to
Billboard magazine's revised methodology. Carey is now second only to The
Beatles, who have twenty number-one singles. The album debuted at number
one on the Billboard 200 with 463,000 copies sold, making it the biggest
opening week sales of her career.
Carey's singles have collectively topped the charts for seventy-nine
weeks, which places her just behind Presley, who topped the charts for a
combined eighty weeks. Carey has also had notable success on international
charts, though not to the same degree as in the United States. Thus far,
she has had two number-one singles in Britain, two in Australia, and six
in Canada. Her highest-charting single in Japan peaked at number two.
Carey and actor/comedian/rapper Nick Cannon met while they shot Carey's
music video for her second single "Bye Bye" on a private island of the
coast of Antigua. On April 30, 2008, Carey married Nick Cannon, at Carey's
private estate on Windermere Island in The Bahamas. In October 2008, Carey
was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
Carey performed "Hero" at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball after Barack
Obama was sworn in as America's first African-American president on
January 20, 2009. On July 7, 2009, Carey – alongside Trey Lorenz –
performed her version of the Jackson 5 hit "I'll Be There" at the memorial
service for Michael Jackson in the Los Angeles Staples Center.
Carey was featured on "My Love", the second single from singer-songwriter
The-Dream's album Love vs. Money. In early 2009, The-Dream spoke with MTV
UK about working on Carey's next studio album:
“ I think it's about just writing an album that includes the focus of all
the hits that she's had. She can't take a loss; she has to do everything
to the T. So it's basically like we're trying to make a greatest hits
album without using the greatest hits. ”
On May 20, Carey used her Twitter page to reveal the title of her twelfth
album: Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Its first single "Obsessed" debuted
at number 11, her highest debut on the chart since "My All" in 1998.
Within hours after the song's release, various outlets speculated that its
target was rapper Eminem, in response to his song "Bagpipes from Baghdad,"
in which he taunted Carey's husband, Nick Cannon by telling him to back
off and that Carey is his. According to MTV, Carey alludes to drug
problems in "Obsessed," which Eminem opened up about on his sixth studio
album, Relapse. However, Eminem quickly responded recording a song titled
"The Warning" in which he threatens to release voicemails of Carey and
hurls abusive comments at her. Nick Cannon has vowed that Eminem’s words
will have “repercussions”. "Obsessed" peaked at number seven on the
Billboard Hot 100, making it her 40th career entry on that chart. Carey is
the eighth woman to amass 40 Hot 100 singles; Aretha Franklin has the
most, with 76. The album's second single was a cover of Foreigner's "I
Want to Know What Love Is". It only managed to peake at #60 on the
Billboard Hot 100 as well as becoming a moderate success worldwide. The
album was released on September 29, 2009 in the United States. It debuted
on the Billboard 200 at #3 with first week sales of 168,000, considerably
less than her previous album E=MC2.. On October 5, 2009, during Carey's
performance at a private V.I.P venue in New York, it was announced that
"H.A.T.E.U." will be the album's third single. Carey performed a
mini-residency Live At The Pearl in promotion of the album at The Pearl in
Las Vegas, she performed two dates in September before the albums release
and two dates in October, premiering new songs from the album and some old
favorites. Carey performed a New Year's Eve Concert in 2009, at Madison
Square Garden live in New York, which marked the beginning of her new
On March 30, 2010, Mariah Carey will release Angels Advocate, a collection
of newly remixed duets with some of her favorite artists, performing songs
from her album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel.
Carey began to take professional acting lessons in 1997, and in 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. CNN referred derisively to her casting as a
talentless diva as "letter-perfect the "can't act" part informs Carey's
Carey's first starring role was in Glitter (2001), in which she played a
struggling musician in the 1980s who breaks into the music industry after
meeting a disc jockey (Max Beesley). Though 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
mobster-operated restaurant 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 (2006), a film about an unknown female boxer 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). Her television work has been limited to a January 2002 episode of
Ally McBeal. Carey had a cameo appearance in Adam Sandler's 2008 film You
Don't Mess with the Zohan, playing herself.
In 2006, Carey joined the cast of the indie film Tennessee (2008), taking
the role of an aspiring singer who flees her controlling husband and joins
two brothers on a journey to find their long-lost father. The movie
received mixed reviews, but most of them raved about Carey's performance
and praised it as "understated and very effective." In 2009, she appeared
as a social worker in Precious, the movie adaptation of the 1996 novel
Push by Sapphire. The film has garnered mostly positive reviews from
critics, as has Carey's performance. Variety described her acting as
"pitch-perfect". So far Precious has won awards at both the Sundance Film
Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, receiving top awards there. In
January 2010, Carey won the Breakthrough Actress Performance award for her
role in Precious at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
According to sources at Island Records, a future Biopic on Carey is in the
works. A close relative of Carey's named Anastasia Bouzane is scheduled to
portray the legendary singer in an upcoming Biopic. In 2003, during the
openining act of Carey's management company MonarC Entertainment, Inc,
Bouzane signed an agreement contract form with Carey and former ex-manager
Jerry Blair who at the time served as president of the company. Her
striking resemblance to the singer was noted and discovered by the label
teammates, industry associates, media critics, and Mariah Carey herself.
Carey has said that from childhood she was influenced by R&B and soul
musicians such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Gladys Knight and Aretha
Franklin. Her music contains strong influences of gospel music, and her
favorite gospel singers include The Clark Sisters, Shirley Caesar and
Edwin Hawkins. When Carey incorporated hip hop into her sound, 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 single "The Roof
(Back in Time)" (1998).
During Carey's career, her vocal and musical style, along with her level
of success, has been compared to Whitney 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 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 was "schmaltzy MOR".
Some have noted that unlike Houston and Dion, Carey co-writes her own
songs, and the Guinness Rockopedia (1998) classified her as the "songbird
Despite the fact that Carey is often credited with co-writing her
material, she has also been accused of plagiarism on several occasions.
Many of these cases were eventually settled out of court.
Music critic Jim Farber of Daily News said that Carey has "a range wide
enough to cover all the octaves between an alto and a soprano and the
agility to move between those roles with swiftness and aplomb", and her
vocal trademark is her ability to sing in the whistle register. Describing
Carey's voice, French-American baritone Malcolm Walker said, "tired and
not homogenous in the low register, but very well leads, especially in the
piano register, her upper register works very well, it's the top of her
voice, the diamond, the upper register is much more healthy than the low
register, and she passes easily in head voice, who is her real voice."
Carey has cited Minnie Riperton as the greatest influence on her singing
technique and from a very early age, she attempted to emulate Riperton's
high notes, to increasing degrees of success as her vocal range expanded.
In 2003, her voice was ranked first in MTV and Blender magazine's
countdown of the 22 Greatest Voices in Music, as voted by fans and readers
in an online poll. 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."
Love is the subject of the majority of Carey's lyrics, although she has
written about themes such as racism, social alienation, death, world
hunger, 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." The
Village Voice wrote in 2001 that, in that respect, Carey compared
unfavorably with singers such as Mary J. Blige, saying "Carey's Strawberry
Shortcake soul still provides the template with which teen-pop cuties draw
curlicues around those centerless Diane Warren ballads it's largely
because of Blige that the new r&b demands a greater range of emotional
expression, smarter poetry, more from-the-gut testifying, and less
unnecessary notes than the squeaky-clean and just plain squeaky Mariah
era. Nowadays it's the Christina Aguileras and Jessica Simpsons who
awkwardly oversing, while the women with roof-raising lung power keep it
in check when tune or lyric demands."
Carey's output makes use of electronic instruments such as drum machines,
keyboards and synthesizers. Many of her songs contain piano music, and she
was given piano lessons when she was six years old. Carey said 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 pianist to whom Carey once
referred as "the genius of the twentieth century", but she has said, "My
voice is my instrument; it always has been."
Carey began commissioning remixes of her material early in her career and
helped to 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 popularized 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,
Carey enlisted 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 a Sean Combs production
featuring rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard. The latter has been credited with
popularizing the pop/hip hop collaboration trend that has continued into
the 2000s through artists such as Ashanti and Beyoncé. Combs 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 in U.S.
nightclubs of the dance remixes, which often sound radically different
from their album counterparts, has been known to eclipse the mainstream
chart success of the original songs.