The year was 1995. Mariah Carey was only five years into her career, soaring off the success of her blockbuster selling album, Music Box (1993), and her very first holiday album, Merry Christmas (1994) – which would later go on to become the best-selling Christmas album of all time. Within those five short years, Carey had already accomplished feats that some wait an eternity of a career to achieve. She had hit songs, staggering record sales, the voice, the looks, and all the appeal a star needed. It all seemed like a fantasy. What more did she really have to prove? Nothing.
With hits like “Vision of Love,” “Dreamlover,” and especially the inspiring go-to song for any momentous occasion, “Hero,” Carey knew how to churn out hits that would not only sell, but stay. Stay in the public’s minds. Stay in the public’s interests. And, of course, stay on the charts! But one song did things a bit – correction, a lot – differently. One song would practically change the fate of her musical catalog, and the rest of music from thereon. That song was the Carey-penned, “Fantasy.”
“Fantasy” (released September 12, 1995) came in like a rocket and left like a meteor. Released as the lead single from her fifth studio album, Daydream (1995), “Fantasy” was breaking records right from the start. It became the first song by a female artist, and second song in total (following Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone”) to debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 – granting Carey with her ninth overall number one hit.
The song was an instant classic. Nestling at the number one spot for eight consecutive weeks, “Fantasy” drew acclaim from music critics for Carey’s songwriting and sampling of the Tom Tom Club’s 1981 track, “Genius of Love.” Both the beat and its lyrics perfectly coincide with the atmospheric feels of an actual fantasy – happy, giddy, and bright. As the diva swoons on the opening lines, “Oh, when you walk by every night / Talking sweet and looking fine / I get kind of hectic inside…,” it’s as if you’re taken into a trance of a mix between wonder and lust. Every bit of this pop song’s peppiness is flawlessly complimented by its upbeat background noise and Carey’s vocal prowess, all being wrapped together in a glittery serenade of background vocals providing the irresistibly catchy shoo da do da doo-’s. Mariah Carey was undoubtedly a superstar by this point, but “Fantasy” was what turned her into a pop icon.
Though the bubbly album version of the track was lauded, nobody could have predicted what the remix to the song would craft for Mimi and the future of popular music. Teaming up with Wu-Tang Clan’s very own Ol’ Dirty Bastard (nicknamed O.D.B. for short), he and Carey comprised a much grittier, hip-hop induced remix to “Fantasy” that prompted a new wave of music and ideology for collaborations.
Back when it was nearly forbidden for artists to “cross-genres” with their music, having a rap guest-feature on a pop record was thought of as practical lunacy. Columbia, the record label to which Carey was signed to at the time, expressed both fear and confusion towards the singer’s decision to include the hip-hop master on her glossy, already perfect hit. Would it be a good idea? Is it safe for her image? How could the girl who belted out runs and rifts and melismas on cutesy love songs dare partner up with… a rapper? Well, ignoring all skepticism, Carey took the reins and went ahead with it. And, thank the musical Gods she did!
The unconventional “Fantasy (Remix),” which was also produced by hip-hop titan Puff Daddy, has consistently been credited for the introduction of pop and hip-hip collaborations to music – popularizing rap features on songs that followed with almost every fellow mainstream artist. Over time, this trend of hip-pop remained a common practice in music – e.g. Jennifer Lopez and Ja Rule’s “I’m Real” (2001), Ariana Grande and Mac Miller’s “The Way” (2013), and even Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood” (2015), just to name a few. Though much more accepted and expected now, it took a trailblazer like Carey to break down the walls of confinement to what else music could sound like. In the end, Mariah Carey made it okay for the “good girls” to have fun, too.
From there, the songbird has continuously incorporated elements of R&B/hip-hop into her music, which was made clear in 1997’s Butterfly – Carey’s magnum opus. Unequivocally, Carey’s pairing with O.D.B. was the first turning point of the singer’s career, breaking her own self-mounted mold and proving she knew exactly how to do it. If anything, the song’s remix has become more recognizable than the original. After all, O.D.B.’s line — “Me and Mariah / Go back like babies with pacifiers…” – is beyond legendary.
The song’s remix wasn’t the only mark of Carey’s command, though. In another move by the singer taking control over her work, Carey went on to direct the song’s music video entirely on her own. Why, you might ask? Because she was simply dissatisfied with the outcome of her earlier music videos left in the hands of other directors. Not only was Carey now sounding the way she had always wanted to, but she was now looking the way she had always wanted to… only from the angles she approved of, obviously. This was a power move at its finest. A woman who got all of the world’s attention from in front of the cameras was now stepping behind them to get what she wanted now. If you haven’t genuflected yet, now’s the time to do so.
The music video for “Fantasy” was shot at Rye’s Playland Park, not too far from Carey’s hometown of Long Island, New York. It features the songstress riding the amusement park’s famous Dragon Coaster, rollerblading throughout the grounds, and partaking in a nighttime rally of dancers and trucks. Every part of the video puts you in every feel of the song. It’s fun. It’s innocent. It’s the season of summer in a 4-minute video form. Carey is smiling, laughing, and having all the fun one does at a theme park, perhaps regaining the loss of joy from her self-described “dysfunctional” childhood. And, rightfully so, she deserves this moment of jubilation.
Leaving the crystals and stilettos behind, Carey is dressed in a casual pairing of high-waisted denim shorts, a fitted black crop top, and a simple black zip up. Though this getup sounds rather tame for the Mariah Carey that we’ve all come to know and love today – the same Mariah Carey that was pictured in a gown at a playground with her twins, Moroccan and Monroe, in 2014 – the “Fantasy” ensemble was yet another statement made by the singer.
If you look back at Carey’s pre-Daydream music videos, and even her performances, her attire was — well… bland. In an effort by the record label and a stifling manager (who later became her husband), Carey was forced into keeping with her “safe” brand, which basically consisted of stepping out in a neck-to-toe look and singing her lungs out. “Fantasy” was the call for change. Though “Honey” is often credited as the beginning of Carey’s reinvention period, “Fantasy” was its prelude. It wasn’t by much, but even if just by a glimpse of her navel or a showcase of those billion-dollar gams, Carey was now starting to come into her own. Like it or not.
After it all, Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” lingers on. Though a massive commercial success, the song was a personal triumph. This was Carey signifying that change was inevitable. She was beginning to embark on a path toward her (soon-to-be) liberation, teetering out of her encrusted cocoon and spreading the wings of what would become the world’s most famous butterfly.