Cover Story: Mariah by any other name ...

FARIDUL ANWAR FARINORDIN has always had a soft spot for Mariah Carey. During the diva’s recent trip to South Korea, she did not disappoint.

SUPERSTAR Mariah Carey seemed different this time.

Maybe it was wedded bliss, because she really looked happy during her trip to Seoul, South Korea, to promote her new album, Memoirs of An Imperfect Angel — dedicated to the man in her life, husband Nick Cannon, who is 10 years her junior.

Or maybe it was the album, her 12th, which continues to mark the pop princess’ reign over the charts. It further proves that the multi award-winning songwriter/producer, after almost two decades in the business, still manages to produce a sound that is fresh, current and relevant.

Whatever the reason, it was a joy to see her so happy. Sporting curls reminiscent of her earlier years, she radiated joy in the hotel room during the press conference.

“Annyeonghaseyo, she greeted a roomful of journalists in Korean (at this stage, no photography or video recording was allowed), and chuckled on seeing the crowd’s surprise and excitement.

“One more time? Is that right? Did I do it right?” asked the 39-year-old singer who is also known as Mimi (her 10th album was called The Emancipation of Mimi).

When she was told that the media wanted to film her speaking in Korean, she was delighted to do it again “so they (the viewers) don’t know that I cheated,” she laughed, before saying “hello” in Korean once more, this time to rousing applause. Then she blew a kiss.

Mariah doesn’t take herself seriously and her fans know this.

She loves poking fun at herself. Just watch the short film Mariah Lovers and Haters, a bonus feature on her 2008 The Adventures of Mimi concert DVD or the time when she created the brunette alter-ego Bianca for her Heartbreaker (from her 1999 Rainbow album) music video, which spawned the popular and hilarious TV “interview” between the snotty British “journalist” Bianca and the “singer” Mariah.

Her cameo roles in The Bachelor (she played an opera diva) and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (as herself) gave film audiences a taste of Mariah’s brand of self-deprecating humour with a tinge of make-believe snobbery of a New York princess.

But the few other occasions in the past when this writer had the opportunity to meet her (Rainbow album promotion in Hong Kong, MTV Asia Award in Singapore) for interviews, Mariah’s sense of humour was kept on a tight leash.

This time, however, she really let it out.

At the recording of a TV show for MTV Korea, she was admiring her hair in a photo presented to her as a gift by a Korean fan when she sensed that something was not quite right.

“Look at my hair. I had such beautiful hair in this picture. Wow, look at that ... Hmm ...” She paused, her fingers on her long locks which has been flattened for the event. She gave a cutesy “dirty” look to her entourage — stylist, make-up artiste and minders — at the back of the studio.

“I don’t know what happened, guys ... you gotta keep it together,” said the singer, to the amusement of the audience.

The first single from Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, titled Obsessed, had the industry buzzing with juicy tales when it was first released months ago.

It was reported that Mariah wrote the song as a reply to a certain rapper’s vicious attack on her through his song. In Obsessed’s black comedy music video, Mariah took it one step further by playing a goateed male (in typical rapper-style oversized jeans and hooded shirts) who tragically gets hit by a bus.

“I wrote the song with my husband,” she said. “It is about the expectations that our culture places on people, especially those in the entertainment business. It is about the idea of perfection. With the song, I’m trying to say that nobody’s perfect.”

“After writing the song, I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have it as a theme?’

“It can sort of help people deal with other’s expectations — you know, when you grow up and you feel you are not good enough,” she explained.

The theme “runs throughout the album” which comprises personal snapshots of Mariah’s emotions divided into songs which include a Prologue, a Prelude and an Interlude, just like a story.

The second single, I Want to Know What Love Is, is the cover of rock group Foreigner’s popular 1980s love anthem done with a building crescendo and a gospel twist, while the third single is H.A.T.E.U, which stands for “Having A Typical Emotional Upset”.

“I’m a writer so I always write things down. Sometimes I want to get lyrics for my song and I will look in a journal I wrote four years ago. I’d go ‘Oh yeah, that was pretty good’ and put it into song.”

The album, Mariah said, is akin to her memoirs, drawing from her experiences as well as those of her close friends. “It was one of those things where the title came together. I mentioned the title to Antonio L.A. Reid (chairman and chief executive officer of Island Def Jam Music Group) and he really liked it.”

“I really had fun in the studio while making this album. For the most part, I worked with my producers Tricky Stewart and Terius “The Dream” Nash, and with James “Big Jim” Wright and Heatmyzer, as well as (American Idol judge) Randy Jackson.”

“This album shows the kind of sounds that I like and what my fans would enjoy as well. It’s commercial but it’s not trying to conform to the music style today — I’m not trying to be like anybody out there. It’s more like ‘Oh, this reminds me of something from back in the days when I used to love (this type of music)’, or ‘This makes me feel good’.

“We would say ‘Hey, this sounds like a hit’ but we weren’t out to make hits. We just wanted to make good music. I’m glad people like it,” she said.

As an entrepreneur behind two lines of fragrances (M and Luscious Pink) under a leading cosmetic brand, Mariah, who is also promoting her new perfume called Forever, was asked what her favourite smell is in the morning.

“When you combine the new perfume with my husband,” she laughed.

Forever is packaged in a very pretty bottle, “like an art deco feel to it”.

“I collect perfume bottles. In my bathroom, I have a bunch of them and I was inspired by a few,” she said, apologising that she didn’t bring it with her during the trip.

That’s when a female fan excitedly held out a special edition of the gold-plated butterfly-shaped M in front of the crowd to get her attention.

“Oh, that’s the first one ... it looks nothing like Forever,” she said, before telling the fan that “It’s so sweet of you to have this with you ... It’s hard to get this; even I can’t get it,” and giving her a hug. Yes, Mariah is generous with her hugs, especially when it comes to her fans.

Mariah describes Forever as “very light and very sensual — I don’t know if you could smell this,” she said with her head tilted back to give the female emcee seated next to her a whiff of Forever’s sweet floral scent.

The singer/actress also talked about her “unglamorous” role as social worker Mrs Weiss in Precious, based on an inspirational novel Push by Sapphire that won critics’ hearts following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

“I loved the book — I read it a long time ago. But for some reason, I didn’t remember the character I played because it’s the story of a 16-year-old girl overcoming hardship.

“Director Lee Daniels said ‘I want you to look as homely as possible; I want you to look ugly, I don’t want anybody to recognise you at all, you’re not going to have any hairdo that looks like you (the singer), I’m going to put a little moustache on you and stuff under your eyes — you’re going to be hideous”.

She recalled Daniels saying that it was the only way for her to “lose yourself in the part ... so that’s what we did.”

Oh, the horrors for Mimi.

“Yes, I hated looking like that. I walked passed the mirrors and went ‘ughhh....’ but the main thing was becoming the character and shedding all the things that I have as an artiste.

“I am so fortunate to be a part of the movie, with Oprah Winfrey as executive producer. It has an amazing cast (with Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe, Mo’Nique and Paula Patton). I hope you get to see it here,” she said.

Looking radiant in her short black dress and knee-high black boots, Mariah also shared the secret to her youthful glow.

“Do I want to say this? I say it so much ... When you say something long enough, you start to believe it and then it becomes true.

“So when people ask me, I say that I am eternally 12-years-old. At that age, although there were good things, bad things and difficult things happening in my life, I was happy with myself. I believe I am the same person now as when I was 12. Of course, now with a nicer hairdo and a make-up artiste.”

She also thanked all her fans for their support. “I love you so much, you have to know that.”

• The writer’s trip to Korea was courtesy of Universal Music.


‘Angel’ grows on you

ANY follower of Mariah Carey’s 19-year career since her first album (Vision of Love, 1990) would tell you that Memoirs of An Imperfect Angel doesn’t warm up to the listeners immediately as much as her earlier albums.

It is ambitiously fresh-sounding with no pop sensibilities at all, with Mariah displaying her lyrical wit with a much sharper edge this time. It can be both fascinating and off-putting, but if you have the patience, the tunes will grow on you.

Except for the cover version of Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is — which was given a soul/gospel twist, the whole album steers away from being a commercially radio-friendly one.

Another track that is reminiscent of her earlier albums is the piano-led Languishing (Interlude), which could easily take you back to the sweet-sounding sound of Vanishing and Rainbow (Interlude) and Reflections.

The album opens with Mariah droning in a woeful tune “welcome to the day of my life, the memoirs of an imperfect angel ...” for Betcha Gon’ Know (Prologue), a delightfully beautiful and bouncy R&B tune, if not for the gloomy story about a distressed lover who caught her man cheating on her.

The song is as much about vengeance as it is about hurt and pain, displaying a side of Mariah that can be quite scary, especially when when she plans to laugh “right in your face, boy” when the table turns. And she gladly repeats this warning in the heart-stabbing chorus.

She then empowers herself with the beat-heavy Obsessed, already a hit among the digital download set, although the use of vocoder on Mariah’s already pitch-perfect voice can be off-putting at first. The witty lyrics definitely boost the listening pleasure.

H.A.T.E.U is a seductive love ballad wrapped around a beautiful four-note twinkle. Despite its angry-sounding title, the tune is actually a lover’s lament over the untimely end of her romance in a vocally-rich, warm and comfortable setting — with Mariah’s whistle notes floating in the background.

I love the first three songs but the following tracks — Candy Bling, Ribbons and Inseparable took repeated plays to be liked, while More Than Just Friends and The Impossible are pretty plain and almost monotonous.

Standing O is a fresh, foot-thumping celebratory anthem with a tinge of reggae, while Up Out My Face is a drum-it-out fun kiss-off tune (the big-sounding brass band sound for Up Out My Face — The Reprise is delightful).

Naturally, I found myself drawn so much to Angels Cry that it’s on repeated play. The heart-breaking lyrics about love gone wrong and Mariah’s brilliant vocal acrobatics in a simple, yet captivating melody, reminds me of I Stay In Love (from the previous album E=MC2), another favourite of mine.

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