Mariah Carey Through the Years: From Humble Beginnings to Pop Megastar

And then a hero comes along! Since launching her music career, Mariah Carey has become one of the most adored and bestselling artists of all time.

As the daughter of an opera singer and vocal coach, the Huntington, New York, native grew up surrounded by music. She started singing at the age of 3 and began regularly writing songs by the time she was in high school. In 1988, one of her demos ended up in the hands of Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola, and the rest was history.

Mottola signed Carey to his label soon after, and her self-titled debut album came out in 1990. It had a slow start, but once it gained traction, it became a massive hit. After winning Best New Artist at the 1991 Grammy Awards, Carey continued to push out album after album, including 1993’s Music Box and 1995’s Daydream.

In 1993, the “Hero” singer married Mottola, but their relationship was far from a fairy tale. Years later, in her 2020 memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, she recalled being stuck “under Tommy’s crippling control.” (He did not publicly respond to her allegations but said after the book’s publication that he wished her “only the very best.”) The former couple divorced in 1998 after Carey’s affair with Derek Jeter.

The pop diva’s success reached new heights by the mid-‘90s after her 1994 album, Merry Christmas, became a holiday standard and her 1995 duet with Boyz II Men, “One Sweet Day,” became the longest-running No. 1 in Billboard Hot 100 history. However, her career went into a downward spiral by the early aughts when her 2001 movie, Glitter, flopped at the box office and a bizarre appearance on Total Request Live led to her being hospitalized for exhaustion and a mental breakdown.

Carey was back on top by 2005, thanks to the release of her most acclaimed album in years, The Emancipation of Mimi. She also made up for Glitter with a well-received role in the 2009 movie Precious. Carey found love again too, marrying Nick Cannon in 2008 and welcoming their twins, Moroccan and Monroe a.k.a. Roc and Roe, three years later. While the pair divorced in 2016, they remain on good terms.

Carey has showed no sign of slowing down in recent years either. She had two lucrative residencies in Las Vegas (#1 to Infinity from 2015 to 2017 and The Butterfly Returns from 2018 to 2020) and became the first solo artist to have 19 No. 1 singles when “All I Want for Christmas Is You” climbed to the top of the charts in 2019, 25 years after its original release. That said, she measures success much differently these days.

“The times [change]. I can’t expect that [my new music] is going to do 30 million, like Music Box,” she admitted to Pitchfork in 2018. “It’s so different now.”

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