Mariah Carey is in the characteristic double-helix whirl of activity that occupies what seems like 105 percent of her time. She is, to use her word, in a spiral. It is one o’clock in the morning, which is about the middle of the day in Mariah’s universe, and she is wearing a gray hooded sweat shirt and customized Mariah jeans — with the cuffs and waistband cut off — a look she developed while shooting the cover for the “Heartbreaker” single. “My stylist, Tonjua Twist, was rolling down the top of my jeans, because when you wear jeans that are up to here, they can give you a roll of fat,” she explains. “But I liked the way they fit on the butt. And she kept having to step in and step in, so finally I was like, ‘Rip it, cut it,’ and then that night, when I wore them out, everybody was like, ‘Wow, where’d you get those jeans?’ So then we started doing it to all of them.”
For Mariah, the spiral wears many guises: There is the travel spiral, the mood spiral and, as is the case at this moment, the work spiral. Mariah is in Miami, although she started the day in Argentina, and she is just settling in for an edit session on a television special for which she went back and performed at her junior high school, on Long Island, where she grew up with her mother — her parents divorced when she was three. “It started out with wanting to do something after the things that happened in Columbine, and I still have dreams about junior high and high school days,” she says. “So I thought it would be something positive to do.”
After she’s finished with that, she will be going to Venezuela to spend a few days with her boyfriend, Latin American pop superstar Luis Miguel, 29, and then to Los Angeles for a photo shoot, Las Vegas to accept the Billboard Music Award for Artist of the Decade, and Mexico to promote her record. With no makeup, her hair pulled back and her feet — clad in Prada mules with gray mesh tops and really, really high red heels — up on the desk in front of her, she looks a little bit like a third-grader who got into her mother’s closet and then unexpectedly inherited a multinational corporation.
Although not actually the inheritor of a multinational corporation — Mariah grew up without much money, and her mother, an opera singer and voice teacher, sometimes worked as many as three jobs at a time to keep the family afloat — she is, at twenty-nine, a major asset to one: Sony, the parent company of her record label, Columbia. Since last summer, Mariah has written and recorded an album (Rainbow), seen its first single (“Heartbreaker”) go to Number One, made three videos and shot a television special. She is the only artist to have had a Number One hit in every year of the past decade, a feat last achieved in the Twenties. She has had more Number One hits than any female artist, any active artist of either gender and, for that matter, any artist of any kind except for Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Globally, she has sold a staggering 105 million records since her debut, in 1990. She is currently in preproduction on a film she’s been developing about a pop singer in the Eighties, called All That Glitters. She has done numerous in-store appearances and interviews. And she has done all this while wearing really, really high heels.
In fact, sometimes she has done all this while wearing really, really high heels twice — her evil alter ego, Bianca, with whom she grapples in the “Heartbreaker” video, is also not an aficionado of sensible footwear. Actually, given the grand arc of the spiral that is Mariah’s life, two personae hardly seem like enough to handle the cell-phone traffic, let alone the work commitments. “I think her friends get more excited by her success than she does,” says singer Trey Lorenz, who met Mariah when she was recording her first album. “I’ll be like, ‘You just broke the Supremes’ record for Number One singles!’ But maybe that’s because she’s always working.”
Mariah recorded most of Rainbow in Capri, Italy, which was, because it’s a hilly island and you have to walk everywhere, something of a footwear challenge. “I had to hike up a hill to the studio every day, so I just ended up sleeping there — it was a room that was not stellar,” she says, making quotation marks with her fingers around the word stellar, which she pronounces, as she does certain words and phrases, a la Dr. Evil; Mariah is a big Austin Powers fan.
“It wasn’t like a grand suite of any kind,” she continues, preparing to launch into one of the most characteristic spirals in the spiral repertoire, the conversational spiral, “but I really don’t care about having a huge room. I like to be in a more intimate setting. But this was taking it to the next level, because there were constant mosquitoes and it wasn’t very clean and it was really small, so I would just go up and sing, and then I would sleep for as long as I could, and then, so I would at least feel like I had a little bit of a summer, I would take these little boats — there were no big boats available, because it was the height of the tourist season — to the Blue Grotto. One day I woke up right in front of the siren rock. The sirens would sit there and lure in the men. They gave them this rock because women were considered less important than men, and that’s their revenge: They sexually entice men with their voices to come to this rock. And I happened to wake up in front of the siren rock, and I just fell in love with that.”
To say that Mariah is a hands-on artist is to vastly understate the case. She is a dizzy dame (all those spirals), but her dizziness in no way indicates a lack of purpose or intelligence; if anything, it indicates an excess of those qualities. She is happy, she is in charge, and she is happy to be in charge. Her 1997 divorce from Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola, who signed her to her original deal after hearing the demo tape she handed him at a party as a teenager, has had a liberating effect. The marriage was not a peaceful one, and though both parties say that their current relationship is amicable, a burden has obviously been lifted — friends of Mariah’s used to jokingly call the house in Bedford Hills, New York, that she shared with Mottola “Sing Sing,” because the perceived demand for new records (“Sing! Sing!”) was so unrelenting. (Incidentally, the house, which was sold in 1998, burned to the ground in December. Neither former spouse was seen running through the neighborhood with a torch.)