Breaking Out of the Cocoon: A look back at the debut of Mariah Carey’s “Honey”

By 1997, Mariah Carey was a household name and an undeniable icon.  She was one of pop music’s most successful artists and her influence was undeniable.  She made her debut in 1990 with the iconic single, “Vision of Love” and from 1990 on, Mariah released an album every year:

 

But for the first time ever, she took a “year off” (but not really; she was actually on tour and still promoting Daydream).  In July of 1997, Mariah dropped “Honey” and shocked the music world with a liberating “new” sound, and look.  Really, though, the sound wasn’t all that new for her … but read more on that here.

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The song was a collaborative effort, written and produced by Mariah (of course) alongside Puff Daddy, Q-Tip and Stevie J.  For the first time, Mariah’s lead single was undeniably urban.  If you stripped away the vocals on “Honey,” you would think it was a hip-hop track, thanks to its two ’80’s hip-hop samples: “Hey DJ” and “The Body Rock.”   The remix featured guest raps from Ma$e and the LOX, who were fresh to the scene in ’97.  Of course, the guest rappers were relegated to the remix (she only won half the battle with the label this time), but “Honey” was still a defining moment for MC.

A large reason that “Honey” became so iconic was its video.  It was Mariah’s biggest production yet, and with MTV arguably at its height, every artist was trying to make great videos.  “Honey” was no different.  The video had a storyline that began with Mariah tied to a chair in a large, empty mansion, under interrogation by an older Italian man.  This storyline became quite controversial.

Why?  Because it created quite the parallel to her own life.  In real life, Mariah actually lived in a big mansion in upstate New York with her then-husband, Italian-American Tommy Mottolla (head of Sony Music at the time).  She later referred to their home as “Sing Sing,” nicknamed after an infamous prison also in upstate New York, because she was trapped and the only thing she was allowed to do, was sing.  At the time, she denied the comparisons and refuted any claims that it was related to her life.  However, the imagery insinuates otherwise.

After breaking free from her entrapment, Mariah jumps into a pool and strips out of her clothing to reveal a sexy new ensemble before running off to a remote island to be with a new, younger man.  This was compared to her budding relationship with New York Yankees star Derek Jeter.  Not long after the release of “Honey,” Mariah and Tommy announced their split and eventually divorced in 1998.  Shortly thereafter, Mariah and Derek became an item.

“Honey” is a pivotal moment in Carey’s career, not only because she had her third #1 debut on the Hot 100 with it, but because of the symbolic significance of the song.  She broke out of her shell, and experienced a metamorphosis… like a butterfly reborn from her cocoon prison.  She was finally allowed to show the world her true self: musically, visually, and personally.

And she never looked back.

We will explore the Butterfly album in greater depth beginning on September 16th, its 17th anniversary.

Bonus: the remix video!

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