Mariah Carey Shares 'The Meaning' of Her Life

She's an artist so well-known that she can go by one name but with her new memoir Mariah Carey is finally revealing the experiences that made her who she is today, bringing her voice, insight, and musicality to this thoroughly engrossing audiobook.

Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly. 

Abby West: Hi, I'm your Audible editor, Abby West, and I'm positively thrilled to be talking today with award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, actress, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Mariah Carey about her new memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey. Welcome, Mariah.

Mariah Carey: Thank you so much. Glad to be here. 

AW: So, Mariah, why was this the right time to tell your story?

MC: Well, I've been wanting to tell this story for a long time. I've wanted to write my memoir. And I started thinking about it when I was pregnant with the kids—dem babies, dem kids—and then it didn't end up working out. So I believe that everything happens at the right time for the right reason. And it's a very timely story, actually, the story of my life.

AW: In your memoir, you very eloquently take us through the dysfunction of your family relationships, of your marital one, and the ramifications of all of that for you. What was it like for you to access these deep and often painful memories?

MC: Honestly, it was often painful for me to access these emotions in terms of just reliving a lot of things that I had kind of buried, if that makes sense, buried deep inside, because I don't harp on negative things. I always try to push through to a place of positivity. But in doing the work for this book, I did have to relive a lot of very painful memories. And it was hard, but it's something that I've done as a songwriter is accessing those emotions and things like that when writing very personal songs. So, this was like that times a hundred thousand million percent.

AW: Yeah. I can completely see that, and you talked about the rightness of this moment. Part of that is that you're confronting the role of racism in your life and the way it's played out. And we're in this great moment of racial reckoning, as it were. Was it particularly resonant to revisit it and record it in this moment?

MC: Actually, it really was. So, the book itself was locked in terms of text prior to, kind of, the actual moment that we're living in, in terms of like the world turning upside down. But for me, it's a very positive place because it's change, and the fact that it does need to change. But it just became such a thing where it was like, oh my gosh, this is exactly what I'm talking about in the book. And so, it was like, wow, this is extremely timely. And, you know what, I've actually gone to different—in recording the audiobook—there are certain stories like "Coloring Outside the Lines" and "A Girl's Best Friend" that I shared with my kids because I wanted them to kind of learn about this very specific kind of racism that I encountered, so that they would be more equipped to handle things because it's very confusing to grow up as Black and mixed children, certainly in the current climate.

When I was recording [my memoir], sometimes I sang, sometimes I recited the lyrics, sometimes I layered music over certain sections... that's been super-inspiring for me creatively.

But I look at this as a chance to share these stories with my kids, as well as maybe living them and being healed by the moment, but sharing them with my kids has been really—even though obviously their attention spans can't do these really long chapters, they're over it, they're ready for the iPad—but it's really been a great experience for me to be able to share these stories with them, and have them kind of come out on the other side of it because they don't have to deal with it in the way that I did—without the language or the capacity to deal with it.

AW: I love that. That makes total sense, and it's a great moment because for many of us, you are the epitome of beauty and glamour. But you talk in the memoir about the fact that you didn't feel beautiful as a child, and that you felt very othered by both your family and the world, and a lot of that had to do with your being mixed race and the perceptions people put on you. And you're now sharing these stories with your children and pouring love and validation into them. Can you talk about why it's so important to go that extra mile with our daughters in particular?

MC: Well, first of all, I mean, kids can be mean, and we talk about this, everybody can be mean. But when you're exposed to that as a little girl, and it's coupled with racism—and I talk about this in the book—it becomes a very, very specific and particular brand of cruelty. And so, for me, for both of my kids, it's important that they understand who they are. They don't have to struggle with the same issues of race and identity that I had to struggle with, but the truth is the world is still the world. So they need to know about these things. And they should know about their history as it pertains to me and my experiences with racism.

And, of course, their father has his own experiences. My father had his own experiences, which I detail in the book, some really, really harrowing stuff that happened to my father only because he was Black. So, dealing with that has been... It's very important for myself and also for the kids so they can understand, look, it's a struggle. It continues, but at least we're more equipped than the previous generation.

AW: Yeah, that's huge. And I will tell you that that front-stoop moment with your father and your own childhood Becky it just broke my heart. Really ust broke my heart. That was a lot to share.

MC: It broke mine.

AW: I'm going to shift gears and ask you about the recording process for your memoir. You write that to this day, you escape to your private vocal booth to shut out the demands of life and feel in your space when singing alone. So how was it recording your memoir? Was it either the same or different than being in the studio and recording your music?

MC: Recording the memoir was, in some ways, the same as recording music, because it's kind of like a constant process of editing myself as I'm speaking or singing, and that's just something I can't shut off. That's just the way that it is. But I really have been enjoying integrating, because the book is layered with my lyrics. And I started telling my story through my lyrics when I was a little girl. So, I've recorded these songs and put them out and now they're incorporated into the book and you are able to say, "Oh, this specific lyric pertains to this specific story" and "Wow, I can't even believe I never knew what was behind this and that it was an actual moment that she retold in a story." Or thematically, the song "Outside" from the album Butterfly, I use it several times in the book because it sort of encapsulates my feelings about feeling like an outsider. So, there's a lot of things that are in tandem in terms of the book and my music and my lyrics and my experiences.

AW: Did you always envision integrating the music this way?

MC: You know, it became just a natural part of the process, because even in speaking to you, I could start quoting lyrics from the song we were just talking about. Or another song, if it's "Looking In," "like you look at me and see the girl who lives inside of the golden world, but don't believe that's all there is to see. You'll never know the real me." That comes from the chapter—well, it doesn't come from the chapter, I wrote it long before there was a chapter—but in the chapter "A Girl's Best Friend," those lyrics to "Looking In," which is one of my most personal songs, come at the end of the chapter. And when I was recording it, sometimes I sang, sometimes I recited the lyrics, sometimes I layered music over certain sections, but it's been very much an all, sort of, encompassing, all-inclusive situation with the audiobook. So, that's been super-inspiring for me creatively.

AW: I love that. You also credit prayer and professional help with your ability to heal through a lot of the traumas of your childhood and your life. Therapy and mental health has a troubled history within Black communities. Why was it important for you to share that this was an avenue for healing for you?

This made me really have to sit with it and sit in the moment of hearing and reliving these experiences.

MC: Well, I mean, it was just intrinsic to my story. Faith is one of the central themes in the book, and I think, for me, certainly with a lot of my songs, even something like "Hero," it's about persevering and hopefulness. And for me, that's on par with prayer and self-exploration. So, it's just one of those themes that will always be a part of anything that I do.

AW: And your own relationship with your mother is so integral to your sense of self, and you're very clear-eyed about the complexity of that relationship, and a lot of the other ones you have, noting that no one is all good or all bad. Why is it important to look at the people in your life through this nuanced view?

MC: Well, coming from such utter dysfunction has made me have to look at things differently for the entirety of my life. So, really in writing this book, I didn't want to try to vilify anybody. We're not creating villains that are twisting their mustache. These are layered people, that a lot of them have really screwed up stuff happen to them as well. So I tried to be fair about that. You know what I mean? But it's difficult because when people don't protect you, it's like, well, why am I protecting this person by not telling the exact truth, because I do tell my truth, but I have to say that some people would have been much less happy if I hadn't tried to include how layered their lives and their experiences were. I think that that's what I would expect and it's like, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

AW: And that's a huge deal, and it's a huge conversation for folks doing memoirs all the time, so that's a lovely nuanced take. I'm just going to shift back to the recording.

MC: Okay.

AW: Did recording your memoir, being in the booth with it, did it change or deepen your relationship to the work that you've done with writing it?

MC: Absolutely. Recording the memoir brought me so much closer to every single word in the book. Because you're writing, you're living these stories, and you're going through it, and reading over and over, but it's not the same as actually reading it aloud, living it, singing the lyrical parts. You know what I mean? This made me really have to sit with it and sit in the moment of hearing and reliving these experiences. And so, I've kind of tried to keep it raw where if I was feeling emotional, that's what you're going to hear. There's a whole lot of that, and I just kept the first time I did it rather than like, "Oh, I have to stop because this is emotional." No, I wanted it to be a real experience of what I was having that I wanted to share with the people that would be listening.

AW: Thank you. And, finally, what do you hope people—your many, many fans and those who think they know you or those who just want to get to know you better—what do you hope they'll take away from listening to The Meaning of Mariah Carey?

MC: You know, I think the experience is going to be different for everybody. I think that my true fans, who are very much acknowledged in this book as being my true family and giving me a whole other life as a human being, just feeling accepted and embraced, I think that they will really come out of this with a deeper understanding, but I don't think that they're so far off from understanding. I think that people that have not necessarily listened to my lyrics, listened to the deep album cuts, if they're interested enough to listen or read this book, I think they'll have a totally different perspective on what they may or may not have viewed me as. But again, it's very difficult for me to say how other people view me or what their opinions are, because for the most part, at this point, I don't really care.

AW: That's the best way to go out into the world, right? Thank you so much for talking with us today about The Meaning of Mariah Carey and for taking the time to write everything down, to record it, and to share it all with the world.

MC: Well, thank you so much, Abby, for taking the time to do this interview and for your questions. They were very thoughtful and I appreciate that.

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