Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mariah Carey’s Butterfly Turns 22

Mariah Carey performing during the Caution World Tour at Stifel Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on March 16, 2019. // Acacia Willey

By Karina Florez, Co-Editor

Before Mariah Carey became the pop diva she’s known for, she was just a kid recording a demo tape in hopes that she’d actually make it into the music business one day.

Right out of high school, Carey moved from Long Island to New York City in hopes of becoming a singer. She began singing backup for rising pop singer Brenda K. Starr while still recording her demo tape. Starr heard Carey’s demo tape and thought she was so talented that she took her to a party where record company executives would be attending. Tommy Mottola, head of Sony Music Entertainment at the time, took the demo tape and listened to it on his way home. The rest is music history.

Fast forward almost ten years, and Mariah Carey had become a household name. She was compared to the big voices of the 90s such as Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. She’s sold millions of records and was one of the most successful artists at her label, Columbia Records. She was married to Tommy Mottola — at the time the head of Sony Music and its parent company Columbia Records — and lived in a megamansion in upstate New York. It appeared she had it all, but she wasn’t happy.

For the first five years of her career, Carey had little to no creative control over the music she made. She wrote and produced nearly her entire catalog (except for songs she’s covered). However, Mottola had the final say in what direction the sound went in. After several years of always saying “yes” she finally put her foot down.

With 1997’s Butterfly, her sixth studio album, Carey took full creative control her music. She wrote, arranged and produced all of the songs (except for “The Beautiful Ones,” which was written by Prince). She collaborated for the first time with hip-hop artists of her choosing such as Mobb Deep, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and P. Diddy.

The first song off the album, “Honey,” was different from Carey’s other music. It was hip-hop heavy, sampling “Hey DJ” by The World’s Famous Supreme Team and “Body Rock” by Treacherous Three. It debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Carey’s twelfth chart-topping hit.

The music video for the song was what captivated the public’s attention. The video features Carey trapped in a mansion and escaping to be with her lover, while scantily clad in a honey colored two-piece bathing suit. The general public was not used to seeing Carey wearing such few and small clothes. Before this, she usually dressed conservatively, which Carey has said was what her record company told her to do in order to appeal to a larger audience.

The second song off the album, “Butterfly,” was written and produced by Carey and her longtime songwriting partner Walter Afanassief, who has also written and produced for stars such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Toni Braxton. The song is a pop ballad that describes a relationship that has fallen apart, and the only way to fix it is to let each other go. If they come back to each other, they were meant to be. Fans have speculated that Carey wrote this song about her relationship with Tommy Mottola, who was 21 years older than Carey when they married. During the release of this album, Carey and Mottola separated.

With songs such as “My All,” “Fourth of July” and “The Roof,” Carey’s vocals flutter over the music like an actual butterfly. Her way of describing scenarios in her lyrics is almost movie-like, as if you’re standing right there with her, witnessing what’s happening to her before your very eyes.

The eighth track off the album, “Close My Eyes,” was a song that Carey wrote in 1994, three years before the release of Butterfly. The lyrics describe her tumultuous childhood. Being the product of an interracial marriage, Carey and her family often faced discrimination because her mother was white and her father was black. Carey’s parents split while she was still a toddler, and she lived with her mother and her older sister Alison, who married and had a child while still a teenager. 

The closing track off the album, “Outside,” is one of Carey’s most personal songs. It describes her feelings of not belonging due to her multiracial heritage – her mother is Irish-American and her father was Afro-Venezuelan. Many of Carey’s fans in the LGBT community identify with this song because of its description of feeling “neither here nor there” and being “outside” of society’s rules on sexuality and gender.

With Butterfly, Carey stood her ground as a singer, songwriter, artist and producer. Although she was still married to Tommy Mottola, who was still her boss, she refused to compromise her artistic integrity for the sake of appealing to a larger audience. This further caused a strain in their marriage and they ultimately divorced in 1998, one year after the release of Butterfly.

Many of Carey’s fans, including Carey herself, consider this album to be her magnum opus. She not only shows versatility and growth as an artist, but also an unyielding passion for music and writing songs. This September, Butterfly turns 22 and it remains timeless and fresh. She still performs a few songs off this album to this day, such as “My All,” most recently on the Caution World Tour, which concluded earlier this summer.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: