Mariah is so much more.
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I, like so many other fans, am so tired of people asking Mariah Carey if she’s a diva. You have access to the Mariah Carey — the best-selling female artist of all time, who’s an incredible songwriter with 19 No.1 hits, who’s responsible for some of pop culture and music’s biggest moments — and you’re going to ask her the same question she’s been answering since the ’90s? No.
Mariah finally answered the worn-out inquiry perfectly in an interview with The Guardian last month, saying, “Who the fuck cares? Honestly! ‘Oh my God, they’re calling me a diva — I think I’m going to cry!’ You think in the grand scheme of things in my life that really matters to me, being called a diva? I am, bitches, that’s right!”
To be fair, this response is the Mariah Carey that we, as her fans, know best. The acerbic, self-deprecating, brutally honest jokester. In fact, Mariah is more of a comedian than she is a diva, and true fans know that. She’s more of a lot of things before she is a diva. She’s a writer, she’s a mother, she’s a sentimentalist, and she’s a survivor.
And her new memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey showcases all that — and more — perfectly.
In the first quarter of the book, Mariah details the racism, discrimination, isolation, abuse, and feelings of worthlessness she endured as a child. Witnessing violence at home, Mariah said, had become the norm. “By the time I was a toddler, I had developed the instincts to sense when violence was coming. As though I was smelling rain, I could tell when adult screaming had reached a certain pitch and velocity that meant I should take cover.”
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Mariah had grown accustomed to this violence, while simultaneously experiencing racism at school and in every neighborhood she and her family flocked to. Whether it was the pack of teachers laughing at her family portrait, where she depicted her Black father with a darker crayon, or the pack of girls who lured Mariah on a trip and chanted the n-word at her, the racism she faced as a biracial little girl seemed inescapable. As did, according to Mariah, her family’s betrayal. When her brother wasn’t flying into fits of rage and physically attacking her mother and father, Mariah dealt with her sister, who she described as a troubled girl who tried to exploit Mariah at a young age. “When I was 12 years old, my sister drugged me with Valium, offered me a pinky nail full of cocaine, inflicted me with third-degree burns and tried to sell me out to a pimp.”
The second and third parts of the memoir showed the trickle-down effect of her trauma, as Mariah achieved superstardom success. As the reader traverses from each part, they can hear the backstories of No. 1 records, while simultaneously linking the pieces of her childhood to the events of her young adulthood, where she met Tommy Mottola. “I gravitated toward a patriarch so young, predictably,” she sings on “Petals,” an introspective track on her album Rainbow. And now, having read the full accounts of what happened, that gravitation seemed almost inevitable.
Still reeling from childhood pain — and still dodging bullets from the characters who were responsible — Mariah had faced a new type of isolation and trauma with her marriage to Tommy. Her every move was monitored at their mansion, which she dubbed “Sing Sing.” Mariah wrote how she was followed, surveilled, and kept away from the public. And as they tend to, things got worse as time went on. Toward the end of the marriage, Mariah alleged how Tommy held a knife to her face when she was about to leave him.
“Tommy walked over and picked up the butter knife from the place setting in front of me. He pressed the flat side of it against my right cheek. Every muscle in my face clenched. My entire body locked in place; my lungs stiffened. Tommy held the knife there. His boys watched and didn’t say a word. After what seemed like forever, he slowly dragged the thin, cool strip of metal down my burning face. I was searing with rage from the excruciating humiliation of his terrifying, cowardly performance in my kitchen, in front of my ‘colleagues.’ That was his last show with me as the captive audience at Sing Sing.”
The book isn’t all about trauma, though I’d still have your tissues ready. There are alluring tales of romances and run-ins with A-list celebrities, like Derek Jeter, Luis Miguel, and Tupac Shakur. Mariah shared the infamous backstory behind her feud with a singer she “doesn’t know” (who she doesn’t even name in her book), and we even get to hear about the iconic Burger King trip with Da Brat that was treated as a national security threat.
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Still, the true magic of the memoir lies in Mariah’s writing. It’s vivid, powerful, and comforting to hear her recount the experiences and emotions she felt during these phases of her life — the eras, we as fans call them. In the “Emancipation” section, Mariah writes about finding peace while still grappling with the pain of the past — a universal struggle we all can relate to. She writes of the supernatural love she has for “Dem Babies,” her twins, saying, “Of all the many gifts God has blessed me with — my songs, my voice, my creativity, my strength — my children are a vision more beautiful than I could have ever conceived” — using wording that subtly references her first No. 1, “Vision of Love.” She writes of the “few good men” who have helped shape her as an artist and a person. She writes of her mentors and idols — Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Leontyne Price. She writes about how her love of Christmas was a response to the trauma she faced as a little girl and as a young adult during the holidays.
What’s most important in this book, though, is that everyone gets to see the real Mariah Carey that fans know so well — the Mariah behind the “diva” act that people can’t seem to understand is tongue-and-cheek. They get to see the Mariah whose music has helped more people than she will ever know. They get to see the Mariah that I and so many other queer people have clung to as a beacon of making it through the rain of life. And no matter which stage of life you’re in — whether you’re feeling like a wayward child, or trapped in your own personal “Sing Sing,” or experiencing the first doses of emancipation — The Meaning of Mariah Carey makes you feel less alone. Her pain, her strength, her success, and her resilience are an inspiration, but they are also a reminder. As the bridge of “Make It Happen” urges us, “don’t let go.”
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