The first thing you expect to see when you walk through the security-access gate of Mariah Carey‘s sprawling rented estate in Beverly Hills, where she moved in just weeks ago, is something excessive. And there it is: two towering pillars of pink, magenta and metallic-colored balloons, swaying in the early afternoon breeze on either side of the main house’s entrance, a holdover two days out from Valentine’s Day. It’s not surprising, really – she loves to be festive. After all, she’s become the reigning queen of Christmas with her evergreen “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” and even celebrated the holiday a second time in January 2016, just a week after getting engaged to billionaire James Packer.
Fast-forward to now and Carey started off the year by clearing the cache. She broke off the engagement with Packer in October, and documented some of it on her audacious reality series Mariah’s World, where she connected with her current boyfriend, dancer/choreographer Bryan Tanaka. During Rolling Stone‘s February 16th visit, Tanaka is looming around the estate, pattering after his pup, a tongue-wagging four-year-old pitbull named Mila whom he quarters off in the pool area next to the two-story guest house where “Dem Babies” – codename for Carey’s five-year-old twins – are hanging out. It was just a week prior that Carey released her YG-assisted single “I Don’t,” a sort of musical purging of her ex, emphasized by a music video in which she burns the $250,000 dress that she planned to marry him while wearing.
It makes sense that she would want a fresh start, particularly in this secluded, overgrown Los Angeles home, complete with a tennis court and next-level jungle gym, that’s valued at $100,000 a month and features nine bedrooms and 10 bathrooms. But she’s clearing her mind and separating herself from the clutter, particularly the storm cloud that currently hovers over her career: a performance on New Year’s Eve that was widely acknowledged as disastrous, one where she sputtered through her hits “We Belong Together” and “Emotions,” which sent her on both a media and social media hiatus in the time since.
“I don’t even want to bring this up too much, but whatever, we’re obviously talking about it, the New Year’s Eve situation – that couldn’t be helped,” she says, talking to Rolling Stone inside her home. In person, she’s glamorous, her hoop earrings studded with glimmering diamonds, gold buttons accenting her black dress, a butterfly ring cozying up to her gleaming silver nail polish. She stares at you directly in the eyes the entire time she talks, except when she rolls her eyes at a question she doesn’t love, in classic Mimi form.
Her explanation for NYE today matches the statement she released shortly after the fiasco, to combat Dick Clark Production’s refutation that they ignored her request to fix a problem with her in-ear monitors prior to the show. “It’s just something where if I can’t explain it to the entire world, then they’re not going to understand it, because it’s not what they do. Just like I wouldn’t understand somebody who had a desk job and how to do that. I couldn’t. I literally am incapable of being in the real world and surviving.”
It’s a rare press day for Carey, her first in the near months since the clock ticked into 2017, and a day after she debuted “I Don’t” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! For the performance, she was singing without a backing track, her vocals mint; it was largely hailed as a triumphant return to form. Some even said that she “redeemed” herself, an admittedly condescending assessment that largely discounts her 18 Number One singles and earned accolades, like becoming the third-best-selling female artist in the U.S. behind Barbra Streisand and Madonna. She’s had decades and decades of stellar performances throughout her career – “Don’t add that many decades,” she says – and only a handful of public mishaps, none of which got nearly as much attention as the New Year’s Eve mishap.
So how does she deal with controversy in 2017? “I used to get upset by things,” she says. “This was out of my control, and had everything not been such a total chaotic mess, then I would have been able to make something happen. Even the dancers should have stopped dancing and helped me off the fucking stage. I’m sorry. It was a mess, and I blame everybody, and I blame myself for not leaving after rehearsal.”
Her focus turned to family, particularly cultivating her relationship with Tanaka. It seemed relatively fast that they started publicly cozying up following her split from Packer, but their friendship stems back to 2006, when he was a dancer for Carey on tour, and culminated in a widely circulated clip from Mariah’s World where he asks if she really wants to marry Packer in what many speculated was a scripted scene. Most recently, Carey posted an Instagram picture of them knee-to-knee in a bathtub on Valentine’s Day; she still considers their relationship mostly sealed off.
“I don’t think we’re being public in a way that my relationships have been public before,” she says. “I really don’t. To me, the best thing of this is to keep it a little more private. But I’m not going to not go places with him and enjoy our lives because everybody thinks, ‘Oh, it’s too soon!’ kind of thing. We all saw the freakin’ show. This is not a surprise.”
As it stands, Carey seems to be relishing her freedom as a musician to record at ease. “I Don’t” is a standalone single that reinterpolates and samples Donell Jones’ “Where I Wanna Be” in Carey tradition. She’s been ahead of the curve in that way – some of her best remixes mine from songs like “Pure Imagination” for “I Still Believe” and Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo,” which she swept up for the remix to “H.A.T.E. U” and saw a resurgence last year thanks to the Running Man Challenge. “The thing is, right now, it is a trend, and a trend that I’m very familiar with, making songs go around working with different samples, that’s what I do. Doesn’t matter if you’re inspired by songs from the 1980s, 1990s.”
Carey has no plans to record the follow-up to 2014’s sorely underrated Me. I Am Mariah… the Elusive Chanteuse, though she’s hashed out “conceptual stuff” with DJ Khaled and Travis Scott in the studio. Instead, she says, she plans on recording singles when she isn’t on the road with Lionel Richie on their upcoming joint tour. She’s particularly intent on making her home an actual home – it feels somewhat empty, a fireplace accented by a few pictures of her in a red skin suit on vacation with her twins, and a bare hallway leading to where she’s spending the day doing interviews. “People who have an opinion about me, some of them feel like, ‘Oh, she’s not entitled to the same rules as someone else,'” she says. “I try my hardest.”
Mariah Carey said she was “mortified” by her disastrous New Year’s Eve performance, which was marred by technical difficulties. Watch here.