“I’m thinking of you” declares Mariah in the opening line of 1997’s “My All,” the second single off her magnum opus Butterfly. The Spanish guitar-driven song went on to become her 13th #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the most for a female artist at the time, and remains an all-time favorite for both fans and Mariah. It is a quintessential example of a stellar composition that Mariah was able to build on and restructure in order to cater to all of her diverse demographics.
Walter Afanasieff and Mariah created some of her greatest songs, and “My All” marked one of their final collaborations. Due to Carey’s separation from then-husband Tommy Mottola, Afanasieff was stuck in the middle and ended up leaning towards Mottola after the divorce, ending their more than half-decade musical partnership.
The ballad was written at Carey’s upstate New York mansion and recorded both in New York and at Afansieff’s San Francisco studio. He credits a steel acoustic guitar sound on a new keyboard, the Trinity, with helping to spark the creative process for the song. According to Carey:
I had gone to Puerto Rico and was influenced by Latin music at that moment. When I came back, the melody was in my head. It was at a melancholy point in my life and the song reflects the yearning that was going on in me. It was like being in a situation but you want to break free and you can’t, so you’re confined yet you’re releasing those emotions through the lyrics and the actual act of singing. That’s why I think a lot of people felt very strongly about that song, because the emotion is clear when you listen to it.
She sings passionately and longingly of a lost love for which she’d give anything and everything to spend another night with. Structurally, the song was compared to something Toni Braxton might sing at the time, most notably “Unbreak My Heart,” and was declared by Entertainment Weekly “the best Babyface track Babyface never produced.”
The music video was appropriately shot in Puerto Rico. Completely black and white, it was one of the few music videos directed by late famed photographer Herb Ritts (also responsible for Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein campaign and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do Without You” video). The video caters to Ritts’ love of both black and white and Greek imagery, at times recalling the Botticelli painting The Birth Of Venus. Throughout the video, Mariah sings across a body of water to a lighthouse, which is revealed to be the dwelling of the man she is singing to. Flashbacks show their night of passion in the lighthouse while her pleas become more full-voiced and soulful throughout the song.
“My All” is an example of a classic Mariah song that was then reworked to appeal to her ever-growing range of fans with various spectrums of musical interests. Once the track was released as the 3rd single from Butterfly in the US in the spring of 1998, she went back into the studio to re-record her vocals and craft dance remixes with David Morales, a Hip-Hop remix with Jermaine Dupri, and even a Spanish version of the song, “Mi Todo.” There were also additional remixes that compliment the Spanish feel of the song created by Full Crew, but they were limited to a release outside the US and do not feature any new vocals.
The Morales remixes put Mariah right into the clubs, where she was already established as a queen of the dance floor with her previous dance remixes. The “Def Club Mix” is more house oriented with the synths, while the “‘My’ Mix” is more club oriented with a harder hitting beat and percussion, and also shares many elements with the “Classic Club Mix”. The music video was re-edited to accompany some of the dance remixes, but the only one that is still accessible is the ETV Bonus Mix.
Jermaine Dupri’s Hip-Hop remix, known as “My All/Stay Awhile” features Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz and incorporates Loose Ends’ “Stay A Little While, Child.” It is the first of many remixes Mariah would create by incorporating and interpolating another song into the lyrics and theme of the song (“Thank God I Found You”, “I Still Believe” and “Heartbreaker” all followed in this trend). A new music video was shot to accompany the remix, and directed by frequent Carey director Diane Martel. It features Carey and all affiliated with the remix at a house party, using a grainy effect to create the impression that it’s a home movie.
Over the years “My All” has become a mainstay in Carey’s repertoire. Aside from the barrage of live performances that helped promote the song (including Saturday Night Live, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, Pavarotti & Friends, The Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, Top of The Pops, and VH1 Divas Live [see bottom]) she has performed it during every tour she has embarked on since it’s release. Even last year (2014), she delivered a show stopping rendition in Manila during The Elusive Chanteuse Show Tour.
On a personal note, “My All” holds a very special place in my heart. It was the first Mariah song I heard with a cognizant understanding that it was Mariah Carey. VH1 Divas Live was one of the first CDs I owned, and the performances Mariah put forth on that album sparked my interest in her 17 years ago. I was also very surprised when I finally heard the studio version years later and the pulsing percussion was nowhere to be found.