‘Butterfly’ 25 years later: When Mariah Carey finally got her wings

The Tufts Daily

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Mariah Carey is pictured wearing a butterfly ring.(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Jack Clohisy

With “Butterfly: 25th Anniversary Expanded Edition” dropping on Sept. 16 to commemorate the quarter-century jubilee of Mariah Carey’s sixth studio album “Butterfly” (1997), the Daily dives into the impact and legacy of Carey’s favorite project.

The sensation that is Mariah Carey began in the early ‘90s with her smash debut record “Mariah Carey” (1990) in which she earned her first four No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Aided by the release of her lead single, the title track for her sophomore album “Emotions” (1991) also hit number one, and Carey became the first and only artist to have their first five proper singles reach No. 1 on the chart. Success would only continue to follow Carey with her next three projects: “Music Box” (1993), “Merry Christmas” (1994) and “Daydream” (1995). “Fantasy,” a single from “Daydream” became the first song by a female artist, and just the second song ever, to debut at number one on the Hot 100.

In addition to two Grammys earned up to this point in her career, one could argue Carey had already achieved more from her first five studio albums (spanning only five years) compared to what other popular artists had achieved in their lifetime. With the impending release of her sixth effort, “Butterfly,” Carey’s legacy would only continue to grow.

“Honey,” the lead single from “Butterfly” became Carey’s third No. 1 debut on the Hot 100, making Carey the artist with the most number one debuts — a record that held for nearly 23 years until 2020.

Arguably her most R&B album to date, “Butterfly” was the renaissance of Carey’s production prowess. “‘Honey’ was the first time I felt I had full creative license in making a video,” Carey wrote in her memoir, “The Meaning of Mariah Carey” (2020). Carey has since opened up about the control she felt under her former husband, who up until this point in her career was working for Sony Music, the music company that owned Carey’s label at the time.

Outside of the album’s most successful singles, more tracks emerged as fan favorites such as “The Roof (Back In Time).” For the 25th anniversary album of “Butterfly,” Carey released a new recording of the track featuring Brandy for her fans, similarly titled “The Roof (When I Feel the Need).”

Since the release of “Butterfly,” Carey has adorned the insect as a symbol of her brand. Anything from jewelry to apparel, it seems as though Carey’s fans, the “Lambs,” are in a perpetual “Butterfly” era no matter her most recent release.

It must come as a relief for Carey, who throughout her childhood and early career was plagued with adversity at home and in the public eye, that “Butterfly” allowed her to step into her most authentic self. Carey details the pain of her relationship with her mother in her “The Meaning of Mariah Carey,” as well as her tumultuous relationship with ex-husband Tommy Mottola. She even went on to describe this period of her life with Mottola to Cosmopolitan magazine: “There was no ­freedom for me as a human being. It was almost like being a prisoner.” 

Even past the release of “Butterfly,” audiences saw a disruption in Carey’s career and personal life as she was pressured to seek professional psychiatric help in the early 2000s as the constant flux of stress from a life in the limelight weighed down on her. However, despite the challenges Carey faced at different points in her career, the bits of light that emerged from these times, such as the “Butterfly” era, kept Carey connected with fans.

Now, as the 25th anniversary of “Butterfly” is upon us in 2022, there is so much left for Carey to accomplish. “Butterfly” yielded Carey two No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 toward her total of 19. With just one more chart-topper, Carey could tie the Beatles as the artist with the most No. 1 hits on the Hot 100, and what a better way to stick it to all those who dragged her down over the years than to come out on top. “Butterfly” (2022), a testament to metamorphosis and rebirth, is symbolic of the growth Carey has endured over the past three decades which led her to the legend that she is today. With a discography as good as Carey’s, “Butterfly” (2022) is just another example of her magna opera (yes, Carey is allowed to have more than one magnum opus).

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