Once Carey began regularly working with hip-hop producers like Jermaine Dupri, she made some of the most creatively successful music of her career while remaining at the top of the charts: “Always Be My Baby,” “We Belong Together,” “Heartbreaker,” “I Know What You Want.”
This is a full-circle triumph for Carey, who had been anxious about race since childhood. Her mother had been all but disowned by her family for marrying a Black man. Early in the book, Carey suggests that her older siblings resented her because of her fair complexion, suspecting that she was passing for white. This recurs throughout her life, leaving Carey vexed. In fact, at the Giorgio Armani dinner where Carey first met Jeter (a few weeks before their tryst), there is an open conversation about whether Carey’s Blackness is visible at all. Key to her attraction to Jeter that night is her learning that he, too, has a Black father and a white mother.
The writing in this book — by Carey with Michaela Angela Davis — is arresting, a little soft-bellied, decidedly human. Carey is rendered as much a spiritual force as a musical prodigy — resilient, self-aware, and also funny, in her regal way. The memoir’s first sentence — “I refuse to acknowledge time, famously so” — is *chef’s kiss*. There are plenty of dahlings sprinkled throughout. Also, Carey pointedly pulls out an “I don’t know her” omission of Jennifer Lopez’s name when discussing how Mottola sought to craft Lopez in Carey’s image, and blows a little shade Madonna’s way: “I could emulate the popular Madonna studio technique, but with my voice alone.”
If Carey presents herself as singular, so be it. She has almost no peer in terms of long-running commercial success — she has the most No. 1 Billboard hits of any artist save the Beatles. And if the rigor and chutzpah of that presentation is the extension of a lifetime of maintaining rigid poise in the face of horrific circumstances, that is impressive fortitude. She recounts the story of her first visit with an acting coach, who asked her to envision a safe place to mentally retreat. Carey had none: “I was feeling nothing in nowhere. I could only feel the hard floor flat against my back as I searched around in my own emptiness.”
“The Meaning of Mariah Carey” is less revealing the later into Carey’s life it moves. One harrowing section around the 2001 release of the album and film “Giltter” jumps from family-member manipulation to detox facility to corporate malfeasance and beyond, but still feels frustratingly ambiguous. She does not mention the bipolar disorder diagnosis she received at that time and publicly revealed in 2018. And the final chapters of the book are hurried, crashing through diva duets, Karl Lagerfeld memories, and Carey’s eight-year marriage to Nick Cannon and the twins they share, Moroccan and Monroe.