20 years have passed since Mariah Carey released her iconic album Butterfly. The follow-up to 1995’s Daydream, Butterfly was the first album from the singer-songwriter to fully embrace her love of hip-hop and R&B, which was first hinted at on the Bad Boy remix of Fantasy featuring O.D.B. It’s now well-known that Carey had wanted to incorporate hip-hop and R&B into her music but was pushed into another direction with her earlier work. The album marked a change in direction for Carey, one that she has continued to explore in the two decades since.
For the 20th anniversary of the album, Carey has released a limited edition picture disc vinyl. Featuring the original 12-song album (sadly omitting the two Honey remixes that appeared on the international version), the vinyl release is a celebration and a timely reminder of the impact that Carey has had on modern pop music. The picture on the disc is the cover of the album and the vinyl pressing has a crisp and clear sound that really brings the adventurous album to life in a way that no other format can.
Often not given the credit she deserves, especially given that she is the best-selling female artist of all-time, Carey ripped up the pop rule book and delivered an album that was sonically adventurous and forward-thinking whilst being her most personal work to date.
Butterfly effortlessly mixed classic Carey ballads (My All, Whenever You Call) with edgier tracks (The Roof, Babydoll) appealing to her large fanbase and adding plenty of new fans too. The album opens with Honey, an upbeat classic that works in samples of Treacherous Three’s The Body Rock and The World Famous Supreme Team’s Hey DJ. The accompanying video for the track, featuring Carey embracing her inner Bond Girl, went on to be one of her most famous. Honey is a fan favourite all these years on and a song that Carey regularly includes in her live set list.
It’s after Honey that Butterfly starts to get really interesting. The title track, which started out life as Fly Away, a dance tune with David Morales that is featured later on the record as the Butterfly Reprise, was one of Carey’s most personal reflecting on the breakdown of her marriage to record exec Tommy Mottola. Incorporating pop, soul, R&B and gospel into the mix, the hushed ballad builds to a powerful crescendo that showcases Carey’s remarkable voice.
The more experimental tracks on Butterfly are the best. The Roof, which is built around a sample from Mobb Deep’s Shook Ones Part II is a dreamy moment with layered vocals and hypnotic rhythms. The sexy track recounts a roof-top encounter with a lover and it showed a more liberated side of the diva. Another highlight is Breakdown, a collaboration with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone. Unlike anything Carey had recorded before, the song fully embraced hip-hop with the singer significantly changing her vocal delivery style. Out were the belts and big notes (until the end any way) and in their place hushed whispery vocals delivered in a staccato way over an off-kilter beat.
Those who loved Carey’s ballads were well-served on Butterfly. My All was a huge single that had a subtle Latin edge whilst Whenever You Call was a nod back to the big ballads that made Carey a huge global star. Close My Eyes, a personal favourite of Carey’s, tackles the negative experiences she was going through at the time and barely sees the singer breaking out of the whisper vocal that dominates much of the album. Closing track Outside catches Carey in a vulnerable moment of self doubt as she moves between her whisper vocal and powerful belt while singing about not fitting in and trying to find her place.
Elsewhere on the record Carey tackled Prince’s The Beautiful Ones with the help of Dru Hill, teamed up with Missy Elliott on the ethereal Babydoll and created a luscious landscape of dreamy vocals on Fourth of July.
Butterfly may not be Carey’s greatest commercial success but it’s without a doubt her most creative record. Without a bad track among the 12, it’s also one of her most consistent and it was the foundation on which Carey built the next stage of her career. While she still records the big ballads she’s known for, Butterfly informed the sound that went on to propel 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi to huge success. Butterfly was, and still is, a brave and bold record that paved the way for pop to crossover with R&B and hip-hop, and for that Carey should be commended as a pioneer.
Track list: 1. Honey 2. Butterfly 3. My All 4. The Roof 5. Fourth of July 6. Breakdown 7. Babydoll 8. Close My Eyes 9. Whenever You Call 10. Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise) 11. The Beautiful Ones 12. Outside Record label: Sony Music Release date: 6th October 2017