2001-2005 were difficult years for the once untouchable Mariah Carey. Four long years were spent wandering the pop wilderness, during which her name could not be mentioned without being preceded or followed by the words glitter or breakdown.
To understand where things went so disastrously wrong for Mariah Carey, we need to wind back to the heady days of the chart reign which made her Billboard’s Artist of the Decade (1999), World Music Award’s Best Selling Artist of the Millennium (2000) and the artist with more #1’s than any other solo female (currently tying Elvis at 18).
1999 saw the release of Rainbow, the seventh album of her career, amidst much personal and professional trouble. Lead single ‘Heartbreaker (Feat. Jay-Z)’ had just become her fourteenth number-one. But even though Carey was delivering the sales for her then label, Columbia (a subsidiary of Sony Records), the fact that her ex-husband Tommy Mottola was CEO was causing conflict behind the scenes.
The album was the final release required to fulfill her contract. Carey, who has since spoken candidly of the controlling and abusive nature of her relationship with Mottola, said of the recording process, ‘I made it in three months, I was like ‘Get me off this label’! I couldn’t take it. The situation [with the label] was becoming increasingly difficult.’
Carey wanted to release ‘Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)’ as the third single from the album. Columbia executives, including Mottola, wanted a more upbeat track. Carey began to make her fans aware of the troubles she was facing through her website. In early 2000, she posted,
‘Basically, a lot of you know the political situation in my professional career is not positive. It’s been really, really hard. I don’t even know if this message is going to get to you because I don’t know if they want you to hear this. I’m getting a lot of negative feedback from certain corporate people. But I am not willing to give up.’
Soon after, Sony stripped Carey’s webpage of messages and began negotiations. Fearing the loss of their label’s biggest seller and the best-selling artist of the decade, Sony chose to release the song. Carey found, however, that the song had only been given a very limited and low-promotion release, which meant the song failed to rank on the official US chart, and made international charting extremely unlikely.
After completion of promotion for Rainbow, Carey parted from Columbia and signed a then record-breaking $100 million five-album recording contract with Virgin Records. Carey was given full conceptual and creative control over the project. She opted to record an album partly mixed with 80s influenced disco, in order to go hand-in-hand with the accompanying film, All That Glitters, she was planning.
Glitter was Carey’s chance to show that she could be a success without Mottola, who was regarded by many within the industry as being the mastermind behind her colossal level of fame and success. Carey promoted the album relentlessly and restlessly as she was committed to the project being a hit.
Lead single ‘Loverboy’, featured a sample of 80s hit ‘Candy’ by Cameo. This wasn’t Plan A, however. Originally Carey had crafted ‘Loverboy’ around a sample of ‘Firecracker’ by Yellow Magic Orchestra.
As Carey had ended her career with Columbia, ex-husband Tommy Mottola had signed Jennifer Lopez to the label to replace Carey as their top-billing female artist. According to Fox news, Mottola, unable to accept that he no longer controlled Carey’s career, found out from Producer Irv Gotti that Carey had used ‘Firecracker’, and shortly after she had secured the rights to the sample, he had the A&R team putting together Lopez’s album have a track written around the exact same music.
As Lopez’s sophomore album, J.Lo, was due for release prior to Carey’s Glitter, the eventual rights to the sample went to Lopez and the single, ‘I’m Real’ was released shortly after.
Gotti said, ‘I get a call from Tommy Mottola, who I have a great relationship with, and he’s like, ‘I need you to do me a favor. I want you to do this remix for Jennifer Lopez. I want you to put Ja on the record. Immediately I knew what he was doing because we had just finished the Mariah record.’
Carey was forced to re-write ‘Loverboy’ and it was released in the form we know now. The Guardian, upon the single’s release, said it was a ‘mumbo jumbo of disparate elements’, and commented ‘the mighty may have fallen here.’ This wasn’t the triumphant fresh start Carey had envisaged for the project.
This little mishap might explain the – now legendary – shade Mariah threw J.Lo way back when…
Physical & Emotional Breakdown
On 19 July 2001, Carey made an appearance on MTV’s show Total Request Live (TRL) in promotion of ‘Loverboy’. It was billed as an unexpected appearance and host Carson Daly acted suitably shocked as Carey arrived and proceeded to strip off her ‘Loverboy’ branded t-shirt and pass out ice creams from an ice cream cart: ‘If you don’t have ice cream in your life, sometimes you just might go a little bit crazy,’ she declared before diverging into a rambling monologue regarding her need for therapy.
Her behaviour was picked up on by mainstream media, and her rambling (‘All I know is I just want one day off when I can go swimming and look at rainbows and, like, eat ice cream. And maybe, like, learn how to ride a bicycle’) was described as ‘bizarre’ and ‘erratic’. It certainly seems an accurate description…
Carey left voice messages on her official website for fans. They demonstrated her exhaustion and frustration with her current career situation. ‘So if anybody gets this that really cares, just do me a favour, close the record… close the management company down that I own, and I’m gonna lie here and wait for that to happen. Not that anybody cares, it probably sounds ridiculous. But, I can’t reach anybody on the phone, so actually, that’s where we’re at.’
She left another message five minutes later: ‘I’m gonna make music for you but right now I need a break so I will, as a human being, take that break. And then I’m going to come back and sing for a minute, after I get my management company put together and after there are some other issues so… okay? So, thank you, nothing’s wrong, you don’t have to do anything to anybody. And I know I don’t say this that much but guess what, I don’t take care of myself, and I feel that it’s a little disgusting that people can’t understand that a celebrity is not more important than, and this is not gonna make much sense but, than my friend’s little girl and her safety.’
Only days later, Carey was admitted to a psychiatric unit where she stayed for two weeks amidst reports of attempted suicide. These claims were vehemently denied by her management.
‘Loverboy’ charted at number-two on the Billboard Hot 100, a decent chart position for most people. Following her release from the psychiatric centre where she received treatment for ‘emotional and physical breakdown’, Carey went back to promoting the upcoming album.
Virgin Records announced the album was to be pushed back to allow for appropriate promotion. Glitter eventually dropped on 11 September 2001 – a date that has since gone down in history for other reasons – and its fate was sealed.
The album opened with first week sales of 116,000, the lowest of her career. But did chart in the top ten. Record buying clearly wasn’t the priority of the US public that week, and 9/11’s effect on its success is undeniable.
In 2005, Carey, whilst riding the wave of success once again, spoke candidly regarding the album’s commercial failure, ‘The talk shows needed something to distract from 9/11. I became a punching bag. I was so successful that they tore me down because my album was at number 2 instead of number 1. The media was laughing at me and attacked me. Glitter was ahead of its time. Today it’s ‘in’ to make 80s music.’
Glitter was devised as a concept album to bring together 80s sounds & 80s producers. The idea being to recreate past sounds with a modern twist, accompanied by one of the greatest voices of all time.
Mostly known for her adult-contemporary ballads, Carey delivers some of the finest of her career in ‘Never Too Far’, ‘Reflections’, ‘Twister’ & ‘Lead the Way’ with the latter being the album highlight.
A cover of Indeep’s 1982 hit ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’ is a dark club interpretation that is probably the weakest track on the album.
‘Don’t Stop (Funkin’ For Jamaica)’ features the most stunning use of Carey’s whistle register. Usually reserved for backing vocals and flourishes it takes centre stage, runs with the melody and soars.
‘Lead the Way’, written during sessions for the Butterfly album, is a career highlight. Carey said, ‘To me, Glitter is one of my best albums. There’s a song called ‘Lead the Way’. It’s one of those ballads that basically everybody that’s been following my career says reminds them of a ‘Vision of Love’-type record, and that’s one of my favorite songs.’
‘Didn’t Mean to Turn You On’ is a cover of the 1984 Cherelle song of the same title. Aside from the heavy sampling of the hook and lyrics, Carey, who produced the song alongside Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, added keyboard notes and synthesizers to enhance the songs club appeal. It’s a great track and works really well in the context of the album.
‘Want You’ is stunning, both vocally and in terms of production. The song explores Carey’s ‘bedroom fantasies’ and is, quite appropriately, a duet with Halle Berry’s ex-husband, Eric Benet.
‘Twister’, another one of the album’s ballads, drew strong comparisons to Carey’s older work, and being distinct from the remainder of the album. One reviewer called the song ‘quietly heartbreaking’, in reference to the song’s lyrics, which relate to the suicide of Carey’s friend and hairstylist, Tonjua Twist who took her own life in the spring of 2000.
‘All My Life’ is another album highlight, and is the standout uptempo track alongside ‘Want You’. Carey sings ‘All my life my love’s been waiting for you’ as the dreamy 80s background surrounds her vocals. Carey’s laughter, laced throughout the track, segues into ‘Reflections’, an ode from a child’s perspective to an absent parent.
Glitter truly is a stunning album of fresh and original material. It contains some of the best recordings in terms of vocal-performance and production of her career.
The way in which songs segue into one another seamlessly is another highlight. Glissandos of chimes, sounding like glitter. Or with electronic flourishes or synth leads. The sounds of the 80s bind together the emotions of the 80s as seen through Carey’s eyes. It’s quite possibly the least ‘Mariah Carey’ album of her career, but in a positive way. Many factors contributed to its downfall
- The alleged sabotage of the album by Mottola in favour of his new protege, Lopez
- The release on the same day as the worst terrorist attack in modern history
- Carey’s over-working to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.
If you’re a Mariah Carey fan, ‘a lamb’, and you don’t know this album, you’re only letting yourself down. Glitter stood the test of time, and you’re missing some of Carey’s finest recorded vocal performances.
It’s important to note that, ultimately, this is a tale with a happy ending. Remember The Emancipation of Mimi..?