Mariah Carey Cements Her Legacy in Memoir, ‘The Meaning of Mariah Carey’

The book and album, The Rarities, explain the singer’s self-emancipation

Ayana Contreras
Published in
6 min readSep 29, 2020


Mariah Carey singing into a mic for an event.
Mariah Carey performs for a music event for iHeartRadio. Photo: FOX/Getty Images

The Mariah Carey that the world met back in 1990 was a fiction: a filtered version of herself. An all-American girl born of record executives and PR spin doctors. But under the saccharine surface, while married to record executive Tommy Mottola, she called their shared mansion “Sing Sing.” In her new memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, the singer recounts her long struggle for the freedom to be her authentic self.

She told Cosmopolitan magazine in 2019 that “there was a conscious effort to keep me as this all-American, whatever that means, girl. It was very controlled. There was no freedom for me as a human being. It was almost like being a prisoner.”

This week she releases the memoir along with a new album compilation named The Rarities. These releases mark 30 years in the business for Carey but also serve as a testament of her journey, which includes one of the gutsiest rebirths I’ve ever seen; a complete restyling of her image and sound tied to leaving a very powerful man. The stakes were high.

Mottola, about 20 years her senior, had previously been best known to the general Black record-buying public from his name-check in the opening lines in “Cherchez La Femme” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band:

Tommy Mottola lives on the road

He lost his lady, two months ago

The 1940s-tinged disco smash was a hit in the clubs of New York City in the Fall of 1976, when he was 27. Mariah was either seven or eight at the time (depending on the source), growing up on Long Island.

As strains of “Cherchez La Femme” blared on AM radios, sung by the effervescent Cory Daye (a biracial woman who could pass for Carey’s sister), few people could have imagined that Mariah, the little girl whose blond-tinged hair was often matted, would ascend through the stratosphere of unimaginable stardom.

Along the way, there were character-shaping challenges, including racist taunts from her peers. Her home life was particularly fraught. She even alleges in the book that her older sister Alison once drugged…



Ayana Contreras
Writer for

Ayana is a cultural historian, DJ and archivist. She works as a host at WBEZ/Vocalo Radio in Chicago and is a columnist at DownBeat Magazine.