Entertainment Mariah Carey's memoir honestly traces the pop diva's journey from trauma and abuse to chart-domination

22:07  29 october  2020
22:07  29 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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2020 marks 30 years since Mariah Carey, pop diva and vocalist par excellence, stormed onto the music scene with her eponymous debut album.

Carey was just 20 years old at the time, but the album ended up selling over 15 million copies and winning her two Grammys — the first of many.

It was the start of a tumultuous but ultimately ascendant career; Carey is second only to The Beatles in having the most number-one singles on the Billboard charts.

And now, after years of Carey swatting off interview questions with the line "I'm saving that for my book" — we have the book: a memoir, co-written with Michaela Angela Davis.

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In The Meaning of Mariah Carey, the singer honestly and painfully details, for the first time, parts of her personal life only previously hinted at in her music.

She also writes extensively about her struggle to be recognised — and taken seriously — as a songwriter and producer.

But throughout, the memoir is buoyed by her resilience, ambition and dedication to her music.

In other words: a classic triumph over adversity kinda tale.

Is this just for big Mariah Carey fans?


The memoir landed at the end of September alongside a new album of B-sides and an interview in the New Yorker, and quickly climbed to the top of the New York Times' nonfiction best sellers chart — proving to be a hit with both Carey fans (aka Lambs) and novices.

Explaining the broad appeal, broadcaster and writer Maria Lewis (definitely a Lamb) credits "those dark places that she's willing to go to".

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"She's talking about really difficult stuff, talking about abuse, not just family abuse, but relationship abuse and trauma and how you deal with that … [and] it's handled so tenderly, and so honestly and sensitively," she told Stop Everything! co-hosts Beverley Wang and Benjamin Law.

What do we learn about the elusive chanteuse?

Carey might be known for her diva antics, but in the memoir she describes a childhood marred by poverty and neglect, as well as the emotionally and physically abusive behaviour of her mother and siblings.

Carey is biracial, and the racism her family experienced (as well as the racism perpetrated by her white mother) and her feelings of not quite fitting in, are also key parts of her memoir.

These elements are deftly and powerfully rendered, helped by co-writer Michaela Angela Davis — an activist and writer who has written about race, gender and hip hop previously.

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In one harrowing scene, Carey recounts her mother calling the police on her during an argument.

The memoir also delves into the more publicised periods of Carey's career, including her 2001 breakdown (which led her to being diagnosed with bipolar II disorder), and the failure of her feature film and accompanying soundtrack Glitter (which was released on 9/11).

What about her Christmas obsession?

In The Meaning of Mariah Carey, Carey writes about the joyful childhood Christmases she spent with her "gunkles" (gay uncles), which were a reprieve from her often grim homelife.

Carey credits her gunkles as the inspiration for All I Want for Christmas is You, her biggest hit ever, which has been so baked into the Christmas cultural canon that Carey is known as the "Queen of Christmas".

"To this day she is a very camp, very festive person. I think [this chapter of her life] explains a lot about why she's drawn to that sort of world," says Nick Bond, News.com.au's entertainment editor (and yes, another Lamb).

What about the marriages?

Carey married Tommy Mottola, the head of her music label at the time — and 20 years her senior — when she was just 23 years old.

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In the book, we learn about her stifling life in "Sing Sing" (Carey's tongue-in-cheek nickname for the couple's mansion outside of New York City, and a reference to the maximum-security prison) where Carey was constantly monitored.

Carey outlines how her husband "controlled and patrolled" her movements, her music and her image. As she writes: "He tried to wash the 'urban' (translation: black) off of me".

The two separated in 1997, with the divorce finalised in the following years.

While Carey dedicates an entire section of her memoir to Mottola, her second marriage, in 2008, to TV host Nick Cannon — father to her twins — is only briefly covered.

What is missing from this memoir?

While Carey's brief affair with baseball player Derek Jeter is given a sexy treatment, her 10-month engagement to Australian billionaire James Packer is notably absent.

Explaining this omission, Carey made this casually bruising comment in The Guardian:

"If it was a relationship that mattered, it's in the book. If not, it didn't occur."

Bond says he would have liked "more of an examination of the difficult years" of Carey's recent era — including, most famously, a disastrous 2016 New Year's Eve performance.

What about her secret grunge album?

With her 1995 album Daydream, Carey consolidated her shift towards R&B and hip hop — but in her memoir she reveals that around the same time she worked on a grunge album for a band called Chick.

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Carey writes: "I was playing with the style of the breezy-grunge, punk-light white female singers who were popular at the time." (This was the era of Alanis Morissette and Garbage).

Bond says: "This is the craziest entertainment story of the year."

"It's just another layer to the depth that she has as an artist, that she was able to pull this off."

What about the audiobook version, darling?

According to some, The Meaning of Mariah Carey audiobook, read by Mimi herself, is the only way to go.

Carey's signature vocal delivery imbues the narrative with her sense of humour — plus she regularly bursts into song.

Crucially, every time she underscores a point by punctuating it with "dahhling" you feel like you might be that darling she is speaking to.

So, what is the meaning of Mariah Carey?

Glitter, and the other albums that followed her escape from Mottola, made Carey a target of derision.

"She presents as overtly feminine [during this time]; she loves glitter, butterflies, unicorns, pink … [but] things that are overtly feminine, oftentimes don't get taken seriously," Lewis explains.

Despite the criticisms and setbacks, Carey remained committed to her music — as well as her OTT aesthetic.

And in the memoir, Carey takes her career reappraisal into her own hands, drawing on what Bond describes as her "encyclopaedic knowledge" to recount her now-legendary artistic output.

Lewis says: "The biggest takeaway for me was regardless of her troubled childhood and everything that she went through … Mariah Carey always knew her worth, she always understood that her artistry had value."

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That said, the outpouring of appreciation for this memoir — including positive coverage in The Washington Post and Rolling Stone — must be gratifying for Mimi and her Lambs.

"It's really great to see her getting her moment on the 30th anniversary of such an incredible career," says Lewis.

"It's not just as a singer, but as a songwriter, producer, an actress, a writer, a businesswoman."

"Suddenly, Mariah is cool again."

The Meaning of Mariah Carey is out now through Pan Macmillan.

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