*Reviewed by a dedicated member of the Lambily who has waited for this story for three decades*
The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey is an in-depth celebrity memoir that highlights the intersection of racial and familial trauma and how the world-famous songstress converted the pain into laser focus on talent exploration and superstardom success.
Mariah clarifies that this is her story from her perspective as she describes her family in the negative light that she viewed them. The story starts with Mariah’s childhood that hints at trauma described in many of her songs from “Outside” on the Butterfly album to “Petals” on the Rainbow album. The youngest of three children, Mariah is years apart from her teenage brother Morgan and sister Allison, who were both already showing signs of psychological damage from growing up in an interracial family in the 1960s and 1970s in New York City. Mariah also has the fairest complexion that makes her a target of sibling abuse ranging from her brother exhibiting violence to the point where cops are called to her sister pimping her out to a grown man. Race plays a huge part with her Black father and White mother and seeps into her upbringing as she lives with her mother in a White section of Long Island and visits her father in Black Harlem. The location forces Mariah to attend predominantly White schools where she’s called racial slurs on an everyday basis for being Black. Then when she hangs out with her father and her Black cousins on the weekend she feels her complexion comes up in the question of her paternity. One of the issues that bothers little Mariah the most is that her mother never could wrangle her curls. The untidiness of her appearance brings self-esteem down even more until her opera singer mother trains her to sing, and music becomes Mariah’s saving grace.
A major portion of the book covers a few chapters on her tumultuous marriage to Sony Music executive Tommy Mottola, who discovered her and became her first husband. Mariah goes into detail about how what looks like a storybook fairy tale romance is slow torture to her twentysomething self. She even calls the mansion in upstate New York she shared with Tommy “Sing Sing” like the infamous prison. Metaphorically, she describes the luxurious baths she would take as washing off the Mariah Carey persona to become an unhappy housewife. The mental abuse is more described here with what Mariah calls Tommy’s incessant anger that was shown to her all the time and visible to others in his inner circle.
There are explanations for some of her obsessions that have been magnified in the media to make her seem frivolous. For example, she connects with her idol Marilyn Monroe after seeing her in film as a young girl and learning little Norma Jeane Mortenson also had a tumultuous childhood. Mariah is “eternally twelve” because the physical and emotional abuse hit a fever pitch at that age where she wishes she could be a regular kid.
Like Mariah said on her book tour, what she says is unimportant is not in the book from the highly publicized engagement and breakup with Aussie billionaire James Packer to the highly publicized stint and battle on American Idol with rapper Nicki Minaj. She also brilliantly throws shade at other highly publicized events from her career to show the media monster she’s over it. And shade is hinted toward Jennifer Lopez, who Mariah claims she does not know, and now we know the subtle beef started way before the meme.
Overall, this is an extraordinary celebrity memoir by Mariah, along with her co-writer and Black cultural writer Michaela Angela Davis, that emphasizes her biracial identity and how that impacted her family and her drive. Because of the depth, it’s recommended to read the actual book though the audiobook is also an excellent choice due to the amount of well-known lyrics within the chapters. There is a lot of digging deep into the construct of race and how it could destroy individuals with Mariah describing her journey of working to overcome the obstacles placed in her path.