When one of the world’s most famous pop celebrities decides to write a memoir, one almost expects a picture-perfect, heavily edited and censored account of her life, glossing over all the icky and uncomfortable bits. But American music sensation Mariah Carey seems determined to break boundaries here too, just as she has done all through her life that was potholed with domestic abuse, marital conflict and the challenges of being a biracial woman in a white man’s world.
In her autobiography The Meaning of Mariah Carey (Pan Macmillan, ₹750) co-authored with Michaela Angela Davis, the pop singer pulls no punches as she describes the difficult relationship she had with her mother and the frequent conflicts and violence she witnessed at home.
The youngest of three children of a white mother and a black father, Mariah’s parents divorced when she was three years old. While her mother got custody of Mariah and her brother, Mariah’s sister went to live with their father.
As visibly more ‘white-skinned’ than her siblings, Mariah had certain advantages in a deeply racist society, but even so, she often had to face the brunt of colorism in childhood.
She describes incidents of racism in school, and especially how her white friends singled her out and bullied her once they realised she had a black father. Ironically, she was also unable to fit in completely with her father’s black family for the reverse reason.
A budding singer and a beauty from a young age, Mariah describes being the victim of vicious sibling rivalry and how – in order to escape from her family’s clutches – she allowed herself to be lured into a relationship with a wealthy music industry executive who was much older than her.
Then begins the next gruelling stage of her life story – her toxic marriage and almost ‘imprisonment’ at her marital home, where she lived with her controlling husband, Tommy Mottola.
As Mariah describes it, she was under constant scrutiny, disallowed simple freedoms of other women her age, and forced into financial dependence though she was earning as much or even more than her successful husband by then.
Having achieved some level of fame, Mariah left Tommy after a few years of marriage – it took much longer for her divorce to be finalised considering the millions of dollars at stake – and set out to leave her own mark in the world.
All her experiences made their way into her music and this book is peppered with lyrics inspired from her real life. It is interesting to read the back-stories of songs that were emblems of an entire generation, and to know the labour and thought that went into their making.
Later, at age 38, Mariah surprised the world by marrying comedian and rapper Nick Cannon, who was not only 10 years younger than her but also far less successful in terms of net worth.
The marriage lasted a decade and the couple had fraternal twins together, named Moroccan and Monroe. Mariah’s devotion to her kids is evident in the final chapters, leading up to a happy ending.
While large parts of the book are dedicated to intimate personal experiences, this book will be best appreciated by a fan of Mariah’s music, for she has dwelt most of all on her musical journey, going into details of production, partnerships, and anecdotes from her time in the studio and on stage.
With 15 studio albums and hundreds of songs to her credit, she is still very much, at 50, active in the music industry and one of the most awarded and feted singers of all time.
She makes an attempt to address controversies, and has dedicated a chapter to other celebrities who have played a significant role in her life. As a musician, she is no doubt going to go down as a legend of her time, and her sheer hard work and dedication to her craft is plain for all to see.
If there’s any jarring note in this memoir, it is to do with her constant use of the italicised endearment dahling for the reader, which rings in a sense of superficiality and ‘acting’ in what is supposed to be an honest, candid account.
What is also disturbing is a subliminal message of ‘revenge’ one gets from her descriptions of her interactions with her mother, siblings and even Tommy. Even though their treatment of her is definitely abusive and predatory, her still-unresolved anger makes it appear as if this book – and indeed her entire career – has been an attempt to ‘get back at them’ or prove to them that she could be a star one day.
It seems as if Mariah, like many of us ordinary mortals, has not yet managed to make peace with her past and move on with her life, which is by any standards beautiful, plentiful and whole by now.
Fame comes with both pros and cons – besides the wealth and material trappings, one also has to invariably contend with mental-health issues, relationship traumas and the struggle to outdo one’s own performance every day.
With this book, Mariah proves the real ‘meaning’ of being a superstar: they are hardworking, gifted, purposeful, resilient and, yes, human and fallible just like everyone else.
Photos: Twitter / @MariahCarey. First published in eShe’s February 2021 issue