Back in 1989, when Mariah Carey was just another struggling singer hoping for the break that would earn her a recording contract, she knew almost nothing about the mechanics of the music industry. Release dates and advance orders were meaningless terms, and though she'd heard of platinum albums, she really didn't expect one of her own.
"Before I had a record deal, that was all that was on my mind: Get a deal," she says. "You don't realize what goes along with it. You just think, 'All I have to do is get a deal, and that's it. I'm in the clear.'
"But really, there's so much to do, between making the album, promoting it and just learning about the business.
"It's different than I expected, but I can't really complain."
Indeed not. Two years and six million copies later, "Mariah Carey," the singer's Grammy-winning debut, has made her a star. No longer a plucky underdog, the 21-year old singer is now seen as an industry heavyweight. Her latest effort, "Emotions," even found her taking on the mighty Guns 'N Roses, as it and the Gunners' two "Use Your Illusion" albums all arrived at record stores on the same day last month.
Did having to go head to head with the most heavily hyped album of the year worry Carey? Not really. "My audience is so different from the audience that really is buying Guns 'N Roses," she says over the phone from her New York home.
"And also, I had to put the album out sometime. I'm not going to let who's coming out with an album that week dictate what I do. If it wasn't Guns 'N Roses, maybe it would be someone else."
The decision was hardly a bad one. "Emotions" ranks among Billboard magazine's top 10 in album sales.
"I just wanted to get my music out there," she adds. "I've been waiting for a while. I wrote this album fairly long ago, and right after I put out the first album, I started working on this one."
For "Emotions," though, the recording process was a little different from when she made her debut album. For one thing, her new-found stardom gave her a little more clout with the label, and a larger voice in the making of the album. "It's a bit hard to get what you want when you're an unproven artist -- a young artist, and a female," she says. "All those things.
Carey, of course, understands why she was expected to defer to her producers' judgment. After all, she was just a novice. "I didn't know what was wrong and what was right the first time around. All I knew was what I felt.
"What they did helped me to have a successful first album," she adds. "I just feel that this time around, [the album shows] a lot more of me, because I was much more intricately involved in the production."
As it turns out, one of the things Carey most wanted out of her second album was less -- less sweetening, less complicated arrangements, less studio glitz. "I did feel that it was important to try not to have everything but the kitchen sink on there," she says. "You don't need to have five different synth parts on something. Just put the most effective part on there, and let the vocals shine through."
It seems a simple enough philosophy, though it has caused some critics to carp that the album sounds a little too lean. ("It's really hard to please everyone and also please yourself," shrugs Carey.) But the strangest thing about the singer's less-is-more approach is what producers were hired to implement it -- the dance-oriented C+C Music Factory team of David Cole and Robert Clivilles.
"It was a strange sort of idea when [the label] first suggested that we collaborate," admits Carey. "I didn't see how they, from the C+C album, would work with what I was looking to do on this album.
"But David Cole, who does the music -- Robert Clivilles does basically the drum groove and stuff -- is a great gospel piano player. I mean, he's a great musician. So when I got into the room, he started playing all these gospel songs that I knew; he just started going off at the piano.
Gospel music, for those who haven't already guessed, is one Carey's passions. But unlike a lot of singers who "grew up" in the church, Carey didn't come to gospel music through the tabernacle door -- she came by way of late-night TV and her brother and sister's record collection.
"I started listening to music from a real early age," she says. "My mom was an opera singer, and my brother and sister, who are nine and 10 years older than me, were really into R&B: Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin and Al Green and stuff like that.
"So I just continued to listen to it, and when I realized that Al Green had a gospel album out, or Aretha had a gospel album out, I would buy that album, and then I would just really live with it and wear it out.
"Even when I'm sitting at home at, like, 3 in the morning -- I'm an insomniac -- I'll watch these gospel commercials on TV," she adds.