LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - On a recent Monday morning, Mariah Carey flew the red-eye from New York to Los Angeles, stopped by Ryan Seacrest’s morning radio show to chat, recorded a background vocal track for the song “I Stay in Love” for her upcoming album, then recorded a video for Wal-Mart’s “Soundcheck” series, which will be used as bonus footage online and played in stores.
By the time all of this was done, it was just past noon. Her afternoon consisted of another radio interview, and in the evening she returned to the studio to work on mastering the album, “E=MC2” -- due April 15 via Island Def Jam.
If “E=MC2” scores big, Carey could find herself in elite chart company. She’s currently tied at No. 2 with Elvis Presley for the most Hot 100 No. 1 singles, with 17. The Beatles hold the crown with 20.
The busy singer recently spoke with Billboard about the new album.
Q: “E=MC2” crosses a lot of genres. There are a few ballads, but there’s definitely some hip-hop and even some gospel-tinged songs and a bit of a reggae beat.
Mariah Carey: I‘m really a festive person, and that’s what came across with the “Mimi” album. I hate it when people are like (uses a dramatic voice): “She’s taking a new direction with hip-hop.” I‘m like, “Will you please freakin’ research?” I’ve been doing this for a long time -- working with (writer-producer) Dave Hall on “Dreamlover,” using the “Ain’t No Half-Steppin”’ loop.
I think that it was Q-Tip -- he said this to me in ‘97 --that I was really the catalyst for so many of these artists who are now trying to infuse (songs with hip-hop). It was just digging in the crates with Dave Hall and coming up with, “Hey, let’s use this loop!” And from then on, I did it anytime I could. The next was “Fantasy,” which was a groundbreaking moment for me, the ability to be able to work with Puffy (Sean Combs).
Right now everything is kind of merged together because pop is such a nebulous format, in my opinion. You’ll hear a hip-hop record next to sort of a rock-sounding pop beat, or a country song. Aretha Franklin can still have a hit -- look at “A Rose Is Still a Rose” -- it’s just her talent is shining through. She can work with anybody at any time in her life. Same thing with Patti LaBelle and Luther (Vandross), God rest his soul, before he passed away. The true talent will always come through.
Q: And after the success of “We Belong Together,” “Don’t Forget About Us” -- co-produced by Bryan-Michael Cox -- and “Shake It Off” on “Mimi,” you’ve teamed up with Jermaine Dupri again for several songs on “E=MC2.”
Carey: JD is the best. I love him, I really do. We have such similar influences. It’s funny because a lot of our favorite records from growing up are really the same. Back in the day we did the (R&B) remix of “Always Be My Baby.” The original version was a hard track, if you listen to the bass -- but it was very poppy on top. I knew JD could do it, even though he hadn’t really worked with somebody like me before. I knew he was just incredibly talented. He’s really just honed his skill as a producer in so many ways. I‘m a fan and a friend.
Q: Do you ever think about surpassing the Beatles with their 20 No. 1s?
Carey: I do, because people bring it up. (laughs) But it’s not like I sit around thinking about that type of stuff while I‘m creating something. I did write this record in terms of wanting it to be a lot of songs that could potentially be singles, because people like that.
Q: You write or co-write almost all your songs -- what’s your process? What inspires you to write?
Carey: For each album, I try to have a book that I write the whole thing in. It started -- this was a long time ago. I don’t have birthdays, I only have anniversaries. (laughs) But actually, this was the last birthday party I had ... I think it was my 21st birthday, even though I‘m only 12. We had it in advance. (laughs) Cyndi Lauper came to the party, and I’ve always been a big fan of hers since I was growing up. She gave me this book, and I wound up writing the whole “Music Box” album in this book, which I still have.
Jay-Z said something to me that was really interesting, and I don’t even know if he really remembers this. He’s known me for a long time, and he’s like, “You need to use some of your phrases in your music.” I have my own little slang that I make up and say stupid stuff just for laughs. (On) the song “O.O.C.” -- that’s a Swizz Beatz track -- it means, “Out of control.” So me and my friends will say that to each other, like, “OK, you’re a little O.O.C. right now, tone it on down.” Da Brat, who’s a really good, close friend of mine since we worked on “Always Be My Baby” -- we wrote the lyrics together, and it was so fun. By saying (sings), “I get so O.O.C./So out of control, baby,” we could explain it.
When somebody was helping me type up the lyrics, and they wrote “Out of Control” in parenthesis (by the song title), I was like, “Get rid of that. It’s ‘O.O.C.'! Let them figure it out! It’s not that tough! I say it in the next line!”
Q: The “Touch My Body” video is hilarious.
Carey: Thank you. That was a (director) Brett Ratner-and-me collabo. (laughs) I love Brett because he is like me. If I‘m eternally 12 -- because he’s a little bit more naughty than I am -- he’s eternally 15. He has a great sense of humor, obviously, and he knows that I have a sense of humor and he feels that people don’t recognize that about me. And I’ll do stuff that I‘m totally joking and they’re like (uses mean girl voice), “Why is she doing that? Why is she doing the treadmill with her high heels on?” I‘m like, “It’s a freakin’ joke! It’s ‘Cribs’! Hello! It’s a freakin’ joke!”
Q: Have you thought about touring for this album?
Carey: It’s come up, and I‘m probably going to do it, but I don’t know exactly how we’re going to do it or when. I‘m thinking probably September. But I think it’s important to tour with this album, because there are so many songs that I really want to sing live, that I really enjoy. Fun songs, like “I‘m That Chick” or “O.O.C.,” and then the ballads, of course. I really want to do “I Wish You Well” and “I Stay in Love” and “Bye Bye.”
Q: And now that you’re in promotional mode, does it ever get daunting?
Carey: I‘m totally ready for a nap. I’d love a nap ... It’s a little tiring to have this kind of schedule. As long as I‘m straight up in promo mode, it’s cool, but I‘m still doing little things on the record -- we’re mastering ... (But) I‘m collaborative about it. I like to hear what other people have to say. I wouldn’t feel like an artist if I didn‘t. I wouldn’t feel like I was truly the architect of the record. And why do it, then?