Mariah Carey reflects on 25 years of Rainbow |

Saturday 15 June 2024

Mariah Carey reflects on 25 years of Rainbow

At the turn of the millennium, Mariah Carey's career was in transition. Inching away from the sweeping ballads and torch songs that had defined her early sound, Carey comfortably bridged the gap between pop and hip-hop when the "Fantasy" remix featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard hit number one in 1995. Two years later, her album Butterfly and its lead single, "Honey", expanded Carey's sound by moving her even further into hip hop.

During the recording of Butterfly, Carey separated from her husband Tommy Mottola, the music executive who had maintained intense control over her career and image ever since signing her to Columbia Records a decade earlier. Eager to push her music in new directions, but working against Tommy's distaste for hip-hop, Carey had sold more than enough records by that point to chart her own way forward. So, with one more album left in her contract with Columbia, Carey set out for Capri during the summer of 1999 to record what became Rainbow.

Rainbow, Carey's seventh studio album, sold eight million copies worldwide and earned her two more number one hits: the Jay-Z-assisted "Heartbreaker" and "Thank God I Found You". There are plenty of ballads to be found across the album, the deeply personal "Petals" and Diane Warren-penned "Can't Take That Away (Mariah's Theme)" key among them. But its most colorful moments are when Carey lets loose on tracks like "Heartbreaker" and "How Much", which sampled Tupac's "Me and My Girlfriend" years before Beyoncé and Jay-Z did the same. Compared to the sultry Butterfly, Rainbow finds Carey gleefully experimenting in ways that Carey hadn't been allowed to before.

This week sees the release of a digital 25th Anniversary Expanded Edition of Rainbow, featuring unreleased bonus tracks, classic live performances, remixes, and much more. "Rainbow (Interlude)" from the original album has been adapted into the dancefloor-ready "Rainbow's End", while the a capella version of "Bliss" somehow manages to be steamier than the studio version. It's plenty of material for the Lambs to chew on while awaiting updates on Carey's next album.

Ahead of her final performances in Vegas this summer as a part of her Celebration of Mimi residency, Vogue caught up with Carey to discuss the anniversary of Rainbow, shooting its iconic cover with David LaChapelle, and whatever happened to that spray-painted tank top.

How was the experience of revisiting Rainbow and that chapter of your life in general for this 25-year anniversary?

It was very - I don't even know what the exact word is. Listening to the record again brought me back to that time in a way that was extremely overwhelming. It was a magical time in some ways, and all these memories started flooding in from when I made the album. I had to finish it in three months because I was dealing with all sorts of personal issues and label stuff. I said I was gonna finish it in three months and so that's what I did.

What was your headspace coming off of Butterfly and going into Rainbow in terms of the type of music you wanted to make?

I think what happened is that the album started with "Heartbreaker", which wasn't exactly like "Honey", but is certainly in the same vein. Except "Heartbreaker" is slightly more - I don't wanna say bubblegum, but it has this airy, carefree vibe. I really loved it - and still do - so that became the first song, and Rainbow just sorta evolved from there. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had worked on - listen, I don't wanna throw Glitter into this, but I will - they had done the background vocals on "Didn't Mean to Turn You On", and Jimmy played a bunch of other parts on that soundtrack. Well, it became a soundtrack, but initially it was just music that we were working on in the studio. So I brought in Jimmy and Terry, who can do just about anything you want them to. I don't know if "Bliss" is one of your jams...

It's only my favorite song on the album.

I think that was the first song I worked on with Jimmy and Terry. It was just a random moment in the studio where Jimmy was playing this beautiful synth and I sang that section where it's like (sings) "Any way you want it now, just gotta tell me how." We were trying to figure out the rhythmic side of the song, and it came together quite beautifully, if I can say so myself.

You had never made a song quite as unapologetically erotic as "Bliss" before. Did it feel like a risk at the time?

I was just doing whatever I wanted. I didn't care who thought it was risky - and there were some. It didn't feel risky, even though it probably was a little risqué. It just felt natural to me!

What's the story behind "Rainbow's End"? Was it conceived during the original recording sessions for Rainbow? Are those the original vocals?

So, I did re-record some of the vocals, specifically the part where I go (sings) "And I do believe in all the things that make me smile and make me sing." That whole verse. But the part where I start out singing slowly is from the original "Rainbow (Interlude)" record, the part where it's (sings) "I know there is a rainbow." I'm really excited for people to hear it.

I have to ask - will we ever hear the duet you supposedly recorded with Lauryn Hill during the Rainbow era?

Now, who said that happened?

That may just be a Lambily urban legend...

I think it may be - I certainly would've loved that, though!

It dates back to an interview from around the time you were recording Rainbow, where you mention a song you intended to record with Lauryn called "Crystal Ball". I suppose it just never came to fruition?

I don't think it was ever gonna even happen. I just don't remember that moment - but we did do this great song called "Save the Day" a few years back. I love Lauryn Hill.

How about the Rainbow World Tour? I've seen some footage that was professionally recorded for an MTV segment, but it's never been released in full!

I think there were a few parts of it that got taped, but I'm actually not sure it ever got taped in full. But I've actually been looking into that recently, because there was such great stuff on that tour.

What are some of your memories from shooting the Rainbow cover art with David LaChapelle?

That day was amazing. David had decided that he wanted an artist to come and spray-paint those little clothes on my body, and I just let him do what he wanted. David is the funnest person to work with because he's like a little kid and gets so excited. I can't even express how much I love him.

Are there any more outtakes from that shoot that you've seen?

We've found a few here and there over the years, but they're very similar to the art that everybody has already seen.

Do you think we'll ever get to see those?

I don't know. I guess you'll have to wait and see.

Do you still have the spray-painted outfit from the cover?

No, and don't even get me started. I never save anything and I'm so mad about it. I just never even thought about saving my stuff, so I have no idea where it is.

What are some of your favorite memories from shooting the "Heartbreaker" video?

I love that video so much. I mean, my favorite part of the experience was channeling Bianca - I don't know if you know who she is...

Of course I know Miss Bianca Storm. Was she conceived specifically for the video?

She was kinda just some random villainous character that I would break into sometimes, and (in a British accent) most importantly she spoke with a bit of a posh accent. During the actual music video shoot, there was a girl who played the Bianca body double and she got so mad that we kept throwing popcorn at her in the movie theater scene. I eventually took her into a room and was like, "Hey that was just for the scene, sorry." But she was so mad.

One detail that always sticks out to me in the "Heartbreaker" video are your jeans with the ripped-off waistband. What's the story there, because I feel like you absolutely started that early-aughts trend.

Thank you - and nobody gave me any credit for it! I was out the night before at the photographer's studio with my then-stylist, the late Tonjua Twist, and we were both kinda playing around with my outfit for the video. The top of the jeans were way too high and we were both like, Yeah, I don't like this. She had a pair of scissors and I just used my hands, so together we just ripped off the waistband. Then I went to a recording session right afterwards with DJ Clue and a few of my other friends. I pulled up and they were like, "Yo, where did you get those jeans?" And of course that pink top was a fun little crochet moment too.

Your style really started to evolve during the Butterfly era - up to that point you were mostly known for wearing little black dresses. What can you tell me about your style evolution for Rainbow?

It was definitely a brighter and more playful era for me. But even if I was still wearing darker shades during Butterfly, it was still a lot sexier that I had ever dressed up to that point. I was fully in the Rainbow zone at that time and just in a very colorful mood, so that was reflected in my fashion choices. I had to make things feel festive!

I wanted to ask about "They Can't Take That Away From Me" - why did you decide to subtitle it "Mariah's Theme"? What about that song made it such a personal statement?

A lot of it had to do with me breaking free from the label and some other forces at that time. I was thinking about my life and what people were saying and writing about me. I wrote that song for people who had ever felt othered and needed to feel uplifted, because I was one of those people in that moment of my life.

I read that Sony blocked it from becoming a single, and you posted messages on your website telling fans about the feud and asking them to request it on radio stations. Now I feel like artists are constantly speaking out about their label disputes, but did that feel like a risk at the time?

It was very bold, because artists weren't supposed to do that - and they didn't do that back then! But I've always had a very specific relationship with my fans. I never cared about what the label thought or if the world was gonna think I seemed crazy.

The Rainbow album still has such a foothold in the LGBTQ+ community - I always see at least one person wearing a T-shirt with the cover-art at gay bars, especially during Pride Month. What does it mean to see your work resonate so deeply with a group of people?

I appreciate it beyond words. You have no idea how it makes me feel to be a part of something that connects with that community. It's hard to explain, but it takes away my own feelings of being an outsider. They give me so much love and I wanna receive and give that love right back however I can.

Before you go, I have to ask about new music. It's been six years since Caution and the Lambs are eager!

I'm even more eager to give it to them! I've actually been working this whole week in the studio with someone who shall remain nameless, but I'm so excited about that. The next album is happening and coming soon, so be patient. Just listen to Rainbow for the time being!


Lainsky from Philippines wrote:
I've been listening to Mariah's theme "Can't Take That Away From Me" now that we celebrate Rainbow's 25th anniversary, both original and remixes. I have developed a new appreciation for this song. When it was released in 2000 with "Cry Baby" as the B-side, I preferred CB over CTTAFM. Like Mariah, my taste in music has transitioned from pop to R&B/Hip-hop. But now, I like it more. And I could not help but think about this if the relationship between Mariah and the label had not gone awry, it could have been released and promoted well and possibly have gone to No.1. Well, if that relationship remained okay, I guess other singles have gone to top, such as How Much (if also released - the sound and Usher was so popular that year), Butterfly, Breakdown, and Sweetheart. Well, we can only wish now and imagine while enjoying this expanded edition of the album.
(Sunday 16 June 2024; 13:00)

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