“The Meaning of Mariah Carey” author also opens up about that infamous “TRL” ice cream cart moment, her surprise ’90s alternative album, and a possible movie adaptation of her book with Lee Daniels.
Mariah Carey definitely looked at ease during an appearance on “What What Happens Live” to promote her new memoir, “The Meaning of Mariah Carey,” with Andy Cohen.
It’s clear that the process of writing the book, and perhaps more importantly, sharing it with her children, has been incredibly cathartic for her. And while the book had been in the works for three years, she is so happy it came out at such a timely moment in history.
In particular, while she didn’t evoke it specifically, it seems pretty clear that she’s referring to the Black Lives Matter movement and America’s ongoing reckoning with its history of systemic racism.
Carey’s own experiences with racism as a biracial little girl and woman has colored so much of her own life, from learning what it was by falling victim to it in all its ways at a young age to even having it be the pivotal factor in her decision to date Derek Jeter, who is also biracial.
There is still so much work to be done. Mariah has been sharing her book with her own children in hopes that her experiences will help them “have a greater understanding and ultimately a greater reservoir with which to deal with the situation itself.”
Sadly, that gained knowledge is already being put to the test as she further revealed that her 9-year-old son Moroccan “got bullied the other day from a white supremacist he thought was his friend.”
“It’s insane,” said Mariah. “This is the world we live in.” She then reiterated how glad she is that her book and her story is coming out now amid these times. “It’s what it was meant to be.”
Discovering Racism as a Child
While Mariah says she’d long felt alone as a biracial child, she is definitely not alone in learning about racism by becoming the victim of it in childhood.
“the only reason I was aware so early on was because it became a subject of humiliation for me as a child,” she said, recalling an early assignment where she was to draw and color a picture of her family. She said she “basically got traumatized by the student teachers who thought I had used the wrong crayon because I had drawn my father with a brown crayon.”
These are the kinds of experiences that stay with someone at such a young age, even if there isn’t malicious intent on the part of the teachers, or even perhaps a close friend who was unaware that Mariah’s father was Black.
According to Mariah, this incident happened when one of her friends came to her house. “The parents didn’t know I was black, they didn’t know that she was going to go into a black man’s house,” she shared. “They’d only met my mother.”
But it wasn’t a blatantly racist tirade from the parents or even her friend that resonated with Mariah just how different she was, and her family was. “The girl burst into tears because she was so freaked out,” she said.
“Mind you, my father is this gorgeous, tall man that looked like a movie star to me, and then to see that happen, it just changes your perspective on things and it twists it,” she said, which is just heartbreaking. This is a child having her view of her father and herself irrevocably changed.
And that’s why she is so grateful her book is coming out now. “Thank god it’s now because it’s so timely and it’s going to help people that are struggling,” said Mariah.
For Mariah, her story is for “anybody who never felt like they belonged or may or may not have felt that they could succeed because the odds were against them or they were different.”
She describes it as “a survivor’s story, and not everybody realized that about me. Even if they weren’t a fan, I think there are themes in this book that all people can relate to.”
Biracial Connection with Jeter
Mariah’s reckoning with being biracial colored her childhood and even her young adulthood as she emerged as an instant global superstar upon the release of her first album. At this point, you’d think she had everything she ever wanted.
“I was living my dream, but I didn’t feel really connected to anybody,” she said, describing herself as feeling “so ambiguous and like such an outsider.”
And so she found that when things started clicking between her and Derek Jeter, the fact that he was also biracial actually became “the main thing at that moment” for her, “just knowing there was somebody else out there that was like me.”
She explained that she’d never known anyone personally throughout her life who was biracial as she was. Instead, she was always felt that those around her who were white or Black looked down on her or felt “superior to me because I’m not one way or another enough for them.”
As for criticism that she trashes him, Mariah says it’s just not at all true. “They’re a beautiful family, I have nothing but glowing things to say about them,” she said of Jeter’s entire family. “I think he’s painted in a very powerful way.”
“ATM Machine With a Wig On”
After joking that she’s not wearing a wig for this interview, Mariah didn’t go into specifics about her tenuous relationship with her mother, though the book definitely gets into some of that. She did, however, say that while her mother hasn’t read the book “if she decides to,” Mariah is hopeful that “she feels okay about it.”
She also said that while their relationship has been complicated over the years, there are “certain things about her that I’ve always acknowledged, her talent as an opera singer and the fact that she encouraged me to believe in myself.”
But with the good comes the other side, with Mariah admitting that she doesn’t always agree with her mother’s life decisions or understand her motivations or choices. “It’s difficult to talk about,” she said, adding that she felt she had to get it out for the book “to get it all in perspective.”
At the end of the day, though, it’s still her mom, with Mariah saying that she has always taken care of her and continues to do so to this day.
Ice Cream Meltdown?
One of the most memorable moments from Mariah Carey’s career has to be her surprising appearance on “TRL” back in 2001, when she seemed to surprise Carson Daly by appearing in an oversized t-shirt, pushing an ice cream cart.
Fans quickly called her mental health into question as her behavior was seen as slightly erratic. It was shortly after this she was hospitalized for what she said was exhaustion and ultimately revealed her bipolar diagnosis.
“I feel bad about that but I don’t feel bad about it because it happened,” Mariah told Cohen, describing it as a “stunt gone awry.”
She also said that through by the standards of today, “it was nothing. It wouldn’t even get picked up in one place.”
“I’m on an ice cream cart to TRL and have a little moment because I was trying desperately not to allow a huge corporate entity and someone with an agenda to destroy my career,” she said, admitting that “that moment was a really screwed up thing.”
But she also believes it was blown way bigger than it was by the media of the day. “They acted like as if I had stripped butt-naked on TV, which today would also be a normal everyday occurrence,” she said. “And might I add, that people are staging their own stunts, their own meltdowns and all that stuff just for the attention.”
“Back then, if you did that, it lived on forever, like, oh my gosh, did you hear about this?” she continued. “We’re lucky if they stay on one subject for 24 hours in today’s world, so it’s a different time.”
She said that it was more challenging then to endure that kind of scrutiny, in the early days of the internet and years before social media would change everything. “Now I think we can all agree that [tabloids] don’t really mean shit,” she said.
Alternative to Musical?
One of the wildest stories to emerge in recent weeks is that Mariah Carey actually recorded a grunge album back in the ’90s that was never officially released. When Cohen asked her if she would ever officially release it, Mariah laughed that it’s “available in a few places somewhere.”
“NO one knew that it was mine and no one knew that it existed until now, but it was so much fun and it was just for laughs,” she added. Mariah herself stirred up much of the ensuring frenzy upon this reveal by sharing a snippet of the audio from the recording session.
Fun fact: I did an alternative album while I was making Daydream ? Just for laughs, but it got me through some dark days. Here's a little of what I wrote about it in #TheMeaningOfMariahCarey ? S/O to my friend Clarissa who performs the lead w/ me as a hidden layer #Chick #TMOMC pic.twitter.com/Re23t5whcd
— Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) September 27, 2020
Carey’s rep confirmed to Pitchfork that Mariah did write, produce and sing background vocals on every song Chick released in 1995, directed the group’s music video for “Malibu” (below) and came up with the album art.
And while Mariah herself is only singing backing vocals of it, she further fueled the fire by saying, “I’m on a quest to unearth the version of this album with my lead vocals and will not stop until we find it!”
Elsewhere in the show, a fan asked her about the possibility of combining her catalog of music for a “jukebox musical,” as we’ve seen so many other pop and rock stars do in recent years.
Without shutting down the idea entirely Mariah left it as a “maybe one of these days” options. “Right now I really love where I’m at with this book creatively and just in terms of self-expression,” which makes sense as the book is just coming into the world.
“A jukebox thing could be fun and festive, but probably not now,” she determined. “But eventually, why not?”
She also teased the possibility that her book might someday come to life as either a film or mini-series with Lee Daniels’ involvement, saying that the book was written in a very “visual” way. She seemed cautiously excited about the possibility.
Right now, “The Meaning of Mariah Carey” is available both in print and as an audio book read by Mariah herself.