Even as a young student, Mariah the Scientist had a fascination with science — although she says she’d sometimes skip school to stay home alone, singing to herself from the comfort of her family’s garage. By the time she was attending college at St. Johns University in New York, she was convinced she wanted to be a pediatric anesthesiologist.
That is, until a Valentine’s Day gift changed her professional trajectory. Mariah says she was trying to impress a guy when she booked some studio time around 2016 and recorded a few original songs to put on an iPod for him. She mixed her music in with songs by Frank Ocean, but it didn’t matter. The man never even bothered to listen. “He texted me within the last year and said, ‘I think I still got the iPod somewhere,’” she recalls, shaking her head. “We’re half a decade past that now — you should’ve listened to it when I gave it to you!”
“Listening back to it, [the music sounded] terrible but it was really sentimental,” she adds. “I thought it would be a really nice gift and he for sure took it for granted.”
The sessions weren’t a complete loss, though. Among the original group of songs Mariah recorded back then were fan favorite “Beetlejuice” from her 2019 debut album Master and “Church,” which has been updated and released last week as a part of her new EP Buckles Laboratories Presents: The Intermission. The four-song project, her latest release since 2021’s Ry Ry World, was originally supposed to be released around Valentine’s Day, a fitting nod to the romantic holiday that inspired her musical career.
The Intermission continues the singer’s knack for mixing interstellar themes with grounded tales of romance and heartbreak. On “Spread Thin,” Mariah offers a measured tell-off to an unreliable lover (“You always think the only one who needs any attention is you/ Don’t be so conceited/ Hope you learn honesty was the only thing that could keep me from leaving,” she laments on the hook).
It’s fitting that the first song Mariah plays for me when we meet in an Atlanta studio is the reworked version of “Church,” considering the 24-year-old singer and I quickly discover we both went to the same Christian school as kids. Although she’s known more for her East Atlanta roots, the artist born Mariah Buckles spent her early childhood years in southwest Atlanta, where she attended Believers Bible Christian Academy, the small private school tucked inside a church and located between a liquor store and Church’s Chicken on Campbellton Road. The updated version of “Church,” which serves as the opener for The Intermission, isn’t exactly a religious offering. Instead, Mariah refers to her lover as her “preacher,” who invokes heavenly feelings (and, of course, a few intergalactic messages).
Even if this new project resonates with fans, serving as a buffer from last year’s album and her next project (expected later this year), Mariah knows she has a bit of work to do this year when it comes to other aspects of her career. While Ry Ry World received mostly favorable reviews, the singer’s live performances have been met with the complete opposite response. Videos of Mariah nervously dancing around festival stages and half-heartedly singing along to her music have repeatedly circulated on social media in the past few months.
“I can’t disagree with [the critics],” she acknowledges. “I do agree that a lot of those performances I did in the last year have been really bad. I hate that for myself. But the only thing I can do now is work really hard at trying to make it better. There’s really no way around it, especially if I’m going to maintain this career in any way… I wasn’t intentionally half-a–ing it, but realistically, that’s what it was.”
Mariah is, admittedly, still feeling reluctant about the increased attention that comes with being an entertainer. “A lot of people prepare for this their entire life. I just decided one day I was going to make a career out of something that I was gifting somebody on a whim,” she says. “I underestimated all that it comes with.”
When we talk she tells me about a time when she practically hid in a corner when a club appearance turns into an impromptu performance. Even when she’s recording in the studio, Mariah says she doesn’t like to have a lot of people around. Oftentimes, she turns out all of the lights and locks the door to ensure no one can come in. In interviews, she shies away from confirming who her songs are inspired by. The vulnerability of writing and releasing a song might be fulfilling, but she still prioritizes keeping her privacy, she says.
Still, the singer says she is committed to figuring out how to balance her career with the demands of fame to deliver a worthwhile experience for her fans. “I’m in a little too deep to be trying to cut corners on this s–t. My only option now is to do it full force and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” she says.