Anyone who follows the music scene will tell you that when Mariah Carey released the Butterfly album in 1997, it was a huge deal. The release of that album is considered a big turning point for her from both a personal and career perspective.
By September of that year, Mariah was divorcing from Tommy Mottola, the head of Sony Music, who had signed her to the label. Mariah and Tommy married in 1993. All of this was affecting Mariah as an artist as well, pushing her to seek creative freedom as well as personal freedom. That’s why Butterfly is considered an artistic turning point. Mariah Carey was no longer considered a “Pop Princess,” her new music did not reflect that image anymore; instead, the album featured more R&B and Urban sounds. Butterfly is not where it all started, though. It was more so the culmination of an ongoing process, that had been made all the more obvious.
In hindsight, Mariah’s very first single, “Vision of Love,” was a #1 hit on the Pop and R&B charts, and her second album Emotions had a lot of influences from 70s R&B music. However, because she was marketed as a mainstream artist and having crossover success, it went to the back of people’s minds. All listeners noticed were the catchy hooks, gorgeous melodies and relatable lyrics that pretty much made her music genre-less.
By 1995, with the release of the blockbuster Daydream album, Mariah began to make bigger statements about her love for R&B and Hip-Hop. That’s when the classic “Fantasy” remix with O.D.B. burst onto the scene and helped change the face of mainstream music in the mid to late 90s, encouraging the trend to include rap verses on Pop songs, and initiating a tradition of high profile Rap/Sung collaborations in the early 2000s.
But that is only the most apparent example, because Daydream is actually a smooth blend between the Pop and R&B sensibilities of Mariah Carey.
“Always Be My Baby,” which is at this point a classic, was co-written and co-produced by Jermaine Dupri, who had produced hits for the R&B girl group Xscape and the Rap duo Kriss Kross at the time (and would go on to become longtime collaborator of Mariah’s). When the song was released as a single, a smoking hot remix with Xscape and Da Brat, sampling “Tell Me If You Still Care” by the S.O.S Band, was sent out to Urban stations helping it reach #1 on the R&B charts. The CD single also contained the B-side “Slipping Away,” produced by Dave Hall, which is among Mariah’s best songs and was probably excluded from the album’s tracklisting for its Urban-leaning sound.
The planned, but scrapped, 5th single off the album “Underneath The Stars” is a midtempo R&B slow jam reminiscent of Minnie Ripperton in its original version, but was remixed by The Trackmasters for the single release. The remix is equipped with a harder drumbeat, a more prominent bass-line and a sultry, layered re-sung vocal from Mariah. Additionally, “Melt Away,” a collaboration with the iconic Babyface, is often cited by fans as one of Mariah’s best songs for its sultry and classic R&B sound.
The truth is, a number of the songs on Daydream helped shape the core of the Butterfly album, serving almost as an “hors d’oeuvre” she would later make her main dish: “Underneath The Stars” could be considered the older sister to “Fourth of July,” as both contain vividly descriptive lyrics and gently layered vocals; Puff Daddy went from remixing Mariah’s hit single to actually producing the main version of her next lead single, “Honey”; similarly, The Trackmasters were upgraded to producers on her album, having their hands in “The Roof,” which is still one of Mariah’s most lauded songs. Daydream also ended with “Looking In” giving us a personal reflection on how Mariah felt the public perceived her as a celebrity versus how she felt as a regular person with good and bad sides. “Looking In” marked the first time Mariah gave a glimpse of her inner thoughts through her music, and probably is what encouraged her to write more personal lyrics on the Butterfly album.
Having considered the amount of Urban influences in Mariah’s work before 1997, all the fuss that was made about the shift in her music at the time, was without reason. It was not a moment of foolishness, nor an epiphany that made her decide to abandon what had made her a superstar, but rather it was a gradual and organic transition that didn’t burn the bridges with her past work, but actually blended it all together in a glorious catalog that’s still worthy of all the praise it receives.