The Passionate and Elusive Singer Reveals Her New Album

MC SMHThe Sydney Morning Herald

For the American pop icon Mariah Carey, who walks and talks just as she sings – sultry, curvaceous and with feeling – music seems to be more than merely an occupation. It is a passion, certainly. An obsession, perhaps. She herself is not certain. What she does know, she says, is that deconstruction is the fast path to ruin. Her songs, their meaning and, ultimately, their impact are, Carey says candidly, for others to interpret.

“I like to leave things to people,” she says. “It’s only fair to allow people to feel the way they feel about the song. Music is very personal. Extremely personal. I remember as a kid if somebody sang a song, I wanted it to be about me. That song became about me and whatever, whoever I had a crush on that week. I wanted that to be my song.”

More certain is the commercial impact of her work. In a career spanning more than two decades, Carey has sold more than 200 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. That’s less, according to the somewhat unscientific algorithm of declared sales, than either Elvis Presley, Madonna or the Beatles, but more than Whitney Houston, Queen, the Rolling Stones and Abba. Whichever way you look at it, she is in esteemed company.

On stage, Carey is an immense presence, packaged with benchmark-setting precision and with a range that one US critic once described as “a sound that nearly changes the barometric pressure in the room”. In person, she is smaller in scale, a whirlwind who seems, in equal parts, to evoke queen of soul Aretha Franklin, Latin film icon Lupe Vélez, and sultry Hitchcock heroine Kim Novak.

We meet at New York’s Greenwich Hotel in fashionable Tribeca. Within her rented boudoir is a mixture of subtle influences: Carrara marble, Tibetan silk rugs and smothering English leather armchairs that seem to envelope us as we sit down. Our interview was scheduled for 8pm, then nudged to 10.45pm. But as with so much in the hectic world of Mariah Carey, the schedule slides further and further behind.

When we finally sit down to talk, it is at 2.45am. Lesser mortals have fallen by the wayside around us, but Carey is powering on like an Energiser bunny. She has pulled a week of all-nighters putting the finishing touches on her 14th studio album, Me. I Am Mariah … the Elusive Chanteuse. She is also on the promotional trail, perhaps in part because the first three singles released from the album – Beautiful, The Art of Letting Go and You’re Mine (Eternal) – were met with a mixed reception on the charts.

A central theme to the album, as with the 13 that preceded it, is love. Cast an eye over her discography and you’ll see titles such as Without You, We Belong Together and Always Be My Baby. Pressed on the question, Carey isn’t so sure. Perhaps it is the case, she says, if you look only at the singles. “But if you asked somebody who knew all the album cuts, they’d say the central theme would be the need to be loved versus [being in] love.

“A lot of my songs sound like they’re happy love songs, but they’re actually sad songs,” Carey says. “The songs that are really intrinsic and really close to who I am are those songs that still have a lot of longing and still are full of … they’re still written by someone in need of something.”

Carey’s new album is defined by that dichotomy, she says. “There are songs that are in that vein, they’re uptempo, they’re feel-good records, but they also have an element of darkness to them,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been in this fight, like I’m a boxer, and I’m coming to the end of this journey and I’m getting ready to release this album that I want the world to hear simultaneously.”

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