Mariah Carey discusses revisiting her song Portrait |

Thursday 23 May 2024

Mariah Carey discusses revisiting her song "Portrait"

In her 2020 memoir, Mariah Carey laid out her concept of time. "I live Christmas to Christmas, celebration to celebration, festive moment to festive moment, not counting my birthdays or ages," she wrote in "The Meaning of Mariah Carey". "Much to the chagrin of certain people."

But the singer-songwriter is quick to look back at certain moments that helped define her, time be damned, to reflect on those that shaped the person she's become. On her Audible Words + Music episode "Portrait of a Portrait", available today, Carey thoroughly examines the songwriting process for "Portrait", the closing song on her 2018 album "Caution". Throughout the hour-plus experience, she speaks candidly of feeling stuck in a situation from which she can't escape, and parses through how penning the song helped make sense of her situation.

"I don't know another word other than real for what that song 'Portrait' meant to me at that moment," she says on the episode of the ballad, co-written with her musical director Daniel Moore. "I was completely isolated by myself and saying, let me get this off my chest and we're going to end the album with this. It's still kind of a deep song to listen to."

Listeners who enter the Butterfly Lounge, as she refers to it, also get a treat in classic Mariah form: a newly recorded dance remix of "Portrait" with fresh vocals that clocks out at a hefty 15 minutes. "You know, it's interesting. I did love making remixes and sometimes, we didn't get a chance to do that," Carey tells Variety. "So I did the best I could and said, you know what? Today I want to do this remix. I want to make it the way I want to make it. Because that doesn't always happen."

To honor the release of her Audible episode, Carey spoke about what it was like to revisit "Portrait" and what inspired its remix, if she'll ever release her shelved 2010 "Angels Advocate" remix album, her upcoming remix of her "Rainbow (Interlude)" with David Morales, and what we may - or may not - expect from her upcoming album.

Why was "Portrait" the song that spoke to you and made you want to explore it from a songwriting perspective with this Audible project?

"Portrait" was a song I wrote on the album "Caution". It's interesting because just thinking about, OK, what does this song say to me, why did I write this, what are all of these questions? It's really something that's difficult to explain or understand for most people, but it's just something that felt so strong to me the way I wrote it, because it was really about the strong feelings that I had and then when I went to write for "Portrait", it was almost a completely different song when we went to speed it up and make it into a dance record. So to go from such a slow, kind of very sad song to this uptempo, upbeat - still sad, because of the lyrical content - but much less sad because we whooped it up. I don't know, I really, really enjoyed the whole process of making "Portrait".

You talk about how the song helped you cope with the issues you were going through at the time. How did looking back on writing this song in this process with Audible help contextualize that? Did it give you a different perspective in any way?

Writing and then rewriting a song is a totally different thing, but when we went to rewrite "Portrait" and it became "Portrait of a Portrait", it just really swirled into a new place. It's hard to explain it, but it was really just a very solemn, introvert... I was very sort of being me and then when it turned into OK we're going to make this into a dance record, whatever you want to call it, it became something brand new that I felt really good about.

It takes a lot of trust to work with other people to remix original tracks. You talk on the episode about how you worked a lot with David Morales. What initially attracted you to working with David, given that you have such an extensive history of working together?

I worked with David a lot. We had a certain style of writing or working together where let's say it's a very uptempo remix, and I would say, "David, can we do this and not make it into such a big deal?" But it became a big deal, because we went on and did another remix. It wasn't just like, oh, we're going to try our best to do something cool. It was really David Morales is amazing and I get to work with him now.

Some artists just hand over their songs to a bunch of producers and DJs and let them do their own thing with it. Why has it always been important for you to re-record your own vocals and transform songs into entirely new experiences?

I found that transforming the song without actually transforming the song, letting someone else decide what the vocals were going to be or whatever, didn't really do it for me. It wasn't who I felt I was. The second time I went to work with David, I said, you can just do whatever you want and I'll sing a melody on top of it. He was like, yeah! OK! That's how we first really got together and got to working together.

While we're on the subject of remixes, is there ever a plan to put out the "Angels Advocate" remix album?

Oh wow. You might have me on this one. (Laughs) That is so funny, because people have asked me about that recently. That's interesting. I don't have any current plans to release those songs, but I think they're worthy of it.

The "H.A.T.E. U" remix was supposed to be on there. At least get it on streaming.

I love the "H.A.T.E. U" remix. (Laughs) I will look into it. I really will.

Getting back to the episode, you talk about "Caution" quite a bit, "Portrait" is the closing song. That was sort of an experimental album for you. Looking back on it, what freedom did working with new collaborators at the time give you for that project and how that may have influenced "Portrait" and the way you approached it?

Well I think each song on the "Caution" album, I worked with somebody different, or a couple songs were with the same person. And I enjoyed that, but when it came to "Portrait", I said, I'm going to do this the way that I used to write songs by myself in terms of the lyrics and melody and just that. I just wanted that same feeling that I used to have, and again, I worked with Daniel Moore, my musical director who I love and is so talented, and we sat and we wrote some melodies and things. And then I went home and sat in my bedroom and just really started on the lyrics. Started remembering what was the melody that we did. I would record a melody, and even some words, and that was it. So I think that "Portrait" was the most special song on the album, but I liked a lot of other songs on that record, like "8th Grade" was one of my favorites and we did "A No No". It's so funny, because now that I've been working on this "Portrait" project, it's a unique project and it's something I would never thought I'd be doing.

You talk about songwriting on the episode, and explaining your process was one of the special elements of listening to this project. At this point in your career, do you feel you get the respect as a songwriter that you deserve?

I think it's a lot of things. But after a while, I had to stop worrying about it. Because what's the point? "Do they like me? Do they like me?" We don't care! (Laughs) Oh I forgot to tell you, I just finished working on a project for "Rainbow" with David Morales.

What about that?

Just that we did another remix and David is amazing.

Why is it important for you now to go back and do remixes of songs that have had some time since they released?

Well, I always felt like, OK, why didn't I do "Rainbow?" People would ask me, why didn't you finish the song "Rainbow" (from 1999's "Rainbow" album)? I remember not having an answer. I don't know what I said. Like, well, because we're going to do it again one of these days. And we did! So, it was just the moment where I reached out to David and said, hey, are you available to work on the "Rainbow" interlude and take it into another place? And so, he did and we did and I sang the vocals over. It's coming out, but there's a lot of other things coming out too.

Now the perennial question. In November, you said you had 10 songs done for a new album. Is there an update on any new project?

I mean, same songs are there. I've written some new songs. You know, I'm excited about it. I have to figure out which songs I'm going to do and which songs I'm not going to do. But I think I'm very excited about it.

If "Caution" was experimental, is there a way you could share how you would describe the songs that you have for this new project?

I'm afraid to get too deep into it. No, really, because some of them are very one specific kind of way, and some of them are not, and I don't want to put the wrong idea out there and people be like, "Oh, this is so messy!"


Libra Lamb from USA wrote:
I love how humble Mariah is on this interview. The most weeks at number one of all acts. She's one of the greatest of all time. She's so sweet and real.
(Thursday 23 May 2024; 23:46)

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