On this severely cold March night, Mariah Carey is inside a studio at MTV taping an interview for an upcoming broadcast. Walking out of the studio, she is heard muttering to no one in particular, “The abuse I endure is never-ending.”
Minutes later, ensconced in one of the cable network’s many conference rooms, Carey smiles and laughs. “I’m a little dramatic at times,” she says, referring to the “abuse” comment. “I know, I know, it’s tough to believe. But it’s true.”
Sure, the multimillion-selling, two-time Grammy Award winner has experienced great highs and lows in the course of her 15-year career. But on the eve of the April 12 U.S. release of her eighth studio album, “The Emancipation of Mimi,” Carey is confident, upbeat and spirited.
“The Emancipation of Mimi” -- the title comes from the singer’s nickname -- arrives March 30 in Japan and April 4 in the rest of the world outside the United States.
In all territories, the set will sell as a standard CD and as a limited-edition Digipak (including a pull-out poster) with different cover art.
The album is decidedly pop and R&B, with flourishes of hip-hop. Carey co-wrote the set’s 14 tracks.
The album features collaborations with several heavy hitters, including Jermaine Dupri, the Neptunes, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Twista and James “Big Jim” Wright.
Return to form
The collection of songs rightfully places her voice front and center. It is as if Carey is returning to the place that put her on the map. Which helps explain the campaign in major markets like New York and Los Angeles that proclaims “The return of the voice.”
Giggling (again), Carey says, “Oh, so you’ve seen the posters? That’s good.”
On a more serious note, she says, “The voice has been here all along. Even if you listen to the oh-so-dissed ’Glitter’ (soundtrack), there is a song called ’Lead the Way,’ which is one of my best vocal performances ever.”
She continues, “People who only heard certain singles would be like, ’Why is she singing so breathy?’ Some people are of the opinion that if you have a big voice you should use it all the time.”
Though Carey admits she is a fan of big-voiced singers, she says, “I don’t want to hear someone scream at me all the time.”
When Carey sings, she says, it’s not about “showing off so everybody can hear me singing at the top of my lungs. But truth be told, I feel that my voice is in a better place than it has been in years.”
She credits this to her Charmbracelet tour in 2003: “It was my longest tour ever, and it got me in great shape vocally.”
This strength is not lost on Island Def Jam Music Group chairman Antonio “L.A.” Reid. “We are feeling her voice again,” he says. “She has an incredible voice -- and she is using that voice on this album.”
Island president Steve Bartels agrees. “There is a level of comfort with Mariah and these songs. She is digging deep into her soul.”
Connecting with fans
Because of this, Reid believes Carey will touch people again.
This is already happening. The album’s lead single, “It’s Like That,” is a top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. And the David Morales uptempo remix was recently sent to club DJs.
The second single is the anthemic power ballad “We Belong Together.” And Island plans to send the album’s closing track, the inspirational and spiritual “Fly Like a Bird,” to gospel radio outlets.
To further showcase Carey and that voice, a tour is being discussed.
“Over the past several years, the (music) industry has produced many stars -- not all of (whom) can sing,” Reid says. “Mariah can sing. Hers is an extraordinary gift.”