NEW YORK -- If success really were as intoxicating as people claim, Mariah Carey would be reeling right now.
Her new single, "Fantasy," just made history, upstaging Michael Jackson's recent chart-topping debut by entering at No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts. That has made the music industry even more excited about her new album, "Daydream" (Columbia 66700, arriving in stores Tuesday). With total sales for her previous albums exceeding 60 million world-wide, expectations are that Carey will be seeing quite a lot of the top of the charts over the next few months.
It's enough to make anyone's mind boggle, yet the 25-year-old singer seems impressively sober as she sits in a compact, uncluttered lounge at the Hit Factory studios here. True, she looks TV-perfect in her tight, scoop-necked T-shirt and form-flattering black leather jeans, but there's an obvious sense of calm beneath that well-polished surface.
Some of that serenity, it turns out, is sheer will. Carey is trying hard not to catch the cold that has been scratching at her throat, so she's doing everything she can to keep from getting overly taxed. "I'm just trying to relax, and conserve my energy a little bit," she says, as she stretches out on a black leather couch. "I just don't want to get a cold, because that gets in the way of me preparing for everything I have to do. It always affects my voice first. It always hits me right in my weak spot."
Most of Carey's cool stems from her temperament. Given the hand she's been dealt by life -- an awesome, multi-octave voice; a gift for writing catchy, affecting pop songs; and the kind of lean good looks that seem meant for clingy, curve-flattering clothes -- she has every right to be smug. Egotistical, even. But instead of playing the diva, Carey seems largely unaffected by the enormity of her success, seeming far more concerned with the quality of her work than with the commercial success it might bring.
Not that she doesn't care about sales, mind. "Of course, I'd be lying to say that I don't care about having to be successful," she says. "But I can't get wrapped up in that whole insanity of, 'Oh, I have to beat myself this time,' or 'I have to go to the next level.' I think when people start to be obsessed with that, it's the beginning of the end, really."
So she tends to take a somewhat jaundiced view of the whole chart-topping, Grammy-winning, record-breaking circus she fell into after the release of her first album, "Mariah Carey," in 1990. "I think if you start to believe the hype, it's a very unhealthy thing," she says. "My success has happened in such a short period of time, relatively speaking. So I've grown up a lot with it, and I feel like I still am growing.
"Even though there's so much hoopla surrounding what I do and the way things have happened, I'm still the same person," she adds. "Obviously, my surroundings have changed, and the people around me have changed, and the way that people I don't know react to me has changed. But I'm still the same person. I just have to be more careful in a lot of ways, and more guarded."
Particularly when it comes to her private life. Carey's husband is Tommy Mottola, president and chief operating officer of Sony Music Entertainment Inc., whose responsibilities include running Carey's label, Columbia Records. Being married to the big boss has made her the object of a certain amount of in-print snickering -- one of the few things about press coverage that truly irks Carey.
"I'm not going to say that negative reviews don't bother me, because I'm a human being," she says. "We all react strongly to criticism, no matter what we say or who we are. But I think a lot of [the nastiness] does come from the fact that people are very resentful of the fact that I'm married to who I'm married to. They think I've kind of gotten away with that. So they have to give me their little digs, like referring to me as the Queen of Sony, or something like that."
In truth, she says, being Mrs. Mottola makes dealing with the record company harder for her. "I can't go to Tommy about things," she explains. "We just can't deal with each other on certain issues. So I end up having to go around in circles, and go through a lot of unnecessary drama."
As for the notion that her sales stem from having such a powerful husband, Carey just laughs. Since the advent of Soundscan, a computer-based system that tracks album sales nationwide, chart position is a direct reflection of sales. In other words: You don't get to No. 1 unless you're outselling No. 2. Period.
"People that don't understand the music business don't realize that you can't hype it anymore," she says of the charts. "It is what it is. And I don't care who you're married to -- they can't make hundreds of thousands of people go buy something in a store.