Mariah Carey has scored countless number one records, a shelf full of Grammy Awards and been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
But she has always been guarded about her private life – until now.
In her new memoir, The Meaning Of Mariah Carey, the singer discusses growing up in poverty in a violent household, her experiences of racism, her music, her marriages and much more.
Co-written with Michaela Angela Davis, it pulls back the curtain on a compelling rags-to-riches story and deconstructs (well, mostly deconstructs) the star’s image as a self-deluded diva.
Here are six of the more revealing moments from the book.
1) She experienced domestic violence at a young age
“By the time I was a toddler, I had developed the instincts to sense when violence was coming,” Carey writes.
She recalls numerous altercations between her father Alfred and brother Morgan, writing: “It was not uncommon for holes to be punched in walls or for other objects to go flying.”
Carey details an occasion when, at the age of six, she called a family friend for help after her mother was assaulted. When police arrived, one of the officers apparently said: “If this kid survives it will be a miracle.”
2) Racism was ‘like a first kiss in reverse’
With a black father and white mother, Carey says many of her friends didn’t realise she was biracial. She even recalls a teacher laughing and saying: “Oh, Mariah, you used the wrong crayon,” when, aged four, she drew her father with brown skin.
“A brew of self-consciousness and embarrassment boiled up from my feet to my face,” she writes.
She describes her first encounters with racism as “a first kiss in reverse”, explaining: “Each time, a piece of purity was ripped from my being.”
Later, she describes a traumatic sleepover when a group of girls locked her in a bedroom and repeatedly shout the n-word at her.
“The venom and hate with which these girls spewed this… chant was so strong, it quite literally lifted me out of my body,” says Carey. “I was disorientated and terrified and I thought that maybe, if I held on and just kept crying, surely a grown-up would come and stop the assault. But no-one came.”
Experiences like these later inspired the song Outside, where Carey sings: “Inherently, it’s just always been strange / Neither here nor there / Always somewhat out of place everywhere / Ambiguous – without a sense of belonging to touch.”
3) Carey accuses her sister of putting her at risk of being ‘pimped out’
Older sister Alison dropped in and out of Carey’s life, through teenage pregnancy, drug dependency and suicidal thoughts. Although they shared some tender moments, the singer depicts several occasions when she believes Alison puts her at risk.
One story involves her sister’s boyfriend, who – Carey says she later realised – was running a prostitution ring. Aged 12, she claims she was tricked into spending a night alone with him, ending up at a card game and a drive-in movie, where “almost immediately” he put his arm around her.
Immobilised and terrified by the “handgun resting against his thigh”, Carey says she only escaped after another car pulled up alongside them, prompting John to leave and drive home “in silence”.
The singer believes she was at risk of being pimped, reasoning: “Dysfunctional families are ideal prey for abusers, the exposed little ones vulnerable to being picked off.”
Speaking to The Sun, Alison denied the claims in the book and said she was shocked and appalled that Mariah would accuse her of pimping her out.
4) The Beatles taught her a valuable lesson
Many artists look to the Beatles for musical inspiration – but not Mariah. She was more interested in their business affairs.
While still a teenager, the singer was offered $5,000 by a publishing company to put one of her songs, All In Your Mind, on the soundtrack to a movie.
“I refused,” says Carey. “Even though back then $5,000 seemed like a million (which was how much I got for my first real publishing administration deal).”
The reason for her refusal? “I remembered seeing a documentary on The Beatles when I was growing up and being shocked that they didn’t have complete ownership of the songs they’d written – the Beatles!” she writes. “So I knew not to give away all my publishing.”
5) Her first husband was so controlling she couldn’t go to Burger King
Carey married Sony Music executive Tommy Mottola in June 1993 and acknowledges that she owes her success, in part, to him. Mottola gave her a record deal and even persuaded her to record a Christmas album – resulting in the multi-million selling All I Want For Christmas Is You.
But as a husband, he was controlling and jealous, she claims. The couple’s $32m home was “fully staffed with armed guards” and Carey refers to it as “Sing Sing” after the maximum security prison in New York.
Things came to a head in 1996 when Carey recorded a remix of Always Be My Baby with hip-hop producer Jermaine Dupri and rapper Da Brat in the mansion’s private recording studio.
On a whim, she and Da Brat took a car and drove to Burger King. Mottola allegedly went “berserk”, calling out an armed search party.
As the musicians ate their take-away in the car, Da Brat suddenly got serious, telling Carey: “This ain’t right. You done sold millions of records, girl. You live in a damn palace. You have everything, but if you can’t be free to go to Burger King when you want, you ain’t got nothing. You need to get out of there.”
Carey and Mottola separated the following year. In his 2013 memoir, he admitted being “obsessive” but said she had given “harsh” and “untrue” descriptions of their relationship.
6) She recorded a secret grunge album
Carey is best known for sweeping ballads like Vision Of Love and girl-next-door pop candy like Fantasy and Dreamlover.
But in the middle of recording her fifth album Daydream in 1995, she cut a secret alt-rock record, channelling the “rage” and “anger” she felt as her marriage fell apart.
“I created an alter-ego artist and her Ziggy Stardust-like spoof band,” she explains. “My character was a dark-haired brooding Goth girl who wrote and sang ridiculous tortured songs.
“I was playing with the style of the breezy-grunge, punk-light white female singers who were popular at the time. They could be angry, angsty and messy, with old shoes, wrinkled slips and unruly eyebrows, while every move I made was so calculated and manicured. I wanted to break free, let loose and express my misery – but I also wanted to laugh.”
Of the writing process, she says: “At the end of each session [for Daydream] I would go off to a corner and, without over-thinking it, quickly scribble down some lyrics. In five minutes, I’d have a song.
“I’d bring my little alt-rock song to the band and hum a silly guitar riff. They would pick it up and we would record it immediately. It was irreverent, raw and urgent, and the band got into it. I actually started to love some of the songs.”
The album was released in 1995 under the pseudonym Chick. Song titles like Love Is A Scam and Demented give some none-too-subtle clues about Mariah’s state of mind at the time.