Mariah Carey Reminisces About 'Glitter' & Working With Ol' Dirty Bastard for 'Genius Level' Conversation

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Ryan Muir
Mariah Carey and Rob Markman speak onstage at Genius Level on Nov. 14, 2018.

On Wednesday evening, Mariah Carey fans quietly lined up outside the Genius headquarters in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. The temperature had fallen to 35 degrees and the wind was relentless, but still, more people walked up, willing to wait patiently until the doors opened. This was a special occasion: a taping of Genius Level that would feature a conversation between Mariah Carey and the site’s resident journalist and head of artist relations, Rob Markman. There were two bag checks and a sign by the gate that declared the prohibition of Silly String, confetti and glitter. Seemed to be an odd request initially, but later, it all made sense.

The running joke of the evening was Carey lamenting that the movie Glitter and the album of the same name “almost ruined my life.” The LP was released on the same day as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, alongside JAY-Z’s Blueprint and Fabolous' debut album Ghetto Fabolous. It was universally panned, but this week, out of nowhere, Glitter landed at the top of the iTunes charts.

Carey’s fanbase -- whom she lovingly refers to as “Lambs” -- spearheaded a hashtag movement -- #JusticeForGlitter -- and within days, their hard-core diligence breathed new life into the 17-year-old album, pushing it to No. 1 on the iTunes charts. “I have to say,” Carey started with a grin, “It almost ruined my life... But tonight?” Yes. It was cause for a celebration. “We’re giving you all your flowers tonight,” said Markman.

Beyond Glitter, the pop phenom has been nominated for the 2019 Songwriters Hall of Fame, and her 11th LP, Caution, is slated for release on Friday. “This is kind of a big deal,” said Mikey Fresh, also a part of Genius’ artist relations team. “You know, Mariah doesn’t do talks like this often and Rob is a huge R&B fan.” At the bar, one young lady commented on the R&B podcast that she and Markman started a while back. Equipped with a genuine appreciation for the genre and the details behind the music, Markman started the conversation with a question Carey said she’d never heard before: “When was the first time you realized what good songwriting was?”

“I used to think that when you heard someone’s song on the radio, it was their song,” she responded. “I didn’t understand. It took awhile for me to understand that everyone didn’t write their own songs. And later on, at 12 or 13 when I started doing demos for people, I realized that I didn’t really like some of those songs that I was singing, but it didn’t matter because they were paying me to be there.”

The Lambs in attendance were intrigued, hanging on every word. They shouted out their preferred album cuts. One person brought a Rainbow Tour book. Another one in the balcony hung a poster over the railing with a handdrawn rainbow. When Carey stated that she’d never done crowd favorite “Outside” while on tour, one Lamb screamed, “We forgive you!” and another immediately followed, “That song saved our lives!”

Carey graciously accepted it all. She charmingly went back and forth with Markman and the crowd and shared details that were previously unknown (“The lyrics to my first song, ‘Dream,’ those are framed and on a wall in [my kids’] room”).

She spoke on the creation of her 1995 single “Fantasy” and the fight it took to incorporate hip-hop: “[Tom Tom Club’s] ‘Genius of Love’ was on the radio, and I was like, ‘I should use this sample...’ So eventually we did that and did the Bad Boy remix, and it’s still one of my favorites. But it was a struggle to be allowed to do that. It wasn’t like, ‘Wow. This is such a great idea. We’re gonna sell lots of records with this.’ They were like, ‘What is she doing?’ I was fortunate enough to have Ol' Dirty Bastard on the record, because I was a huge fan of [Wu-Tang Clan's] 36 Chambers. I was just so excited.”

Once every few questions, there was an interactive moment where lyrics or a video flashed on the screen above the stage. Fans gleefully sang along. More than once, we were all reminded that Mimi had been doing this for an impressive amount of time.

“When I got signed, you know, I was very young and I knew nothing about the music business at all, except that I wanted to be a part of it,” she shared. “But there was a moment where I was able to say: ‘If I do this, I don’t wanna be forced into doing other people’s material. So could you please incorporate that into your fabulous contract, and we can take it from there,’” Carey laughed and continued. “That was the one thing! I should’ve said so many other things!

“But at least I still own my catalog.”

And really, that singular point, elevated Carey to ultimate levels of true genius years ago.