Christmas is around the corner and people can hear Mariah Carey’s voice in shopping malls, on the radio, on TV and in their favourite coffee shop. “All I want for Christmas is you” may be what is in your ear now but Carey’s sixth studio album Butterfly will celebrate 25 years in 2022.
Butterfly marked a significant style-change and Carey’s full transition to R&B, where she rightfully belonged. This was her good girl gone bad moment and it was sorely needed.
This musical emancipation happened 17 years before Carey’s 2005 album The Emancipation of Mimi.
Butterfly, released in 1997, was co-produced with greats such as Missy Elliot and P Diddy and it was co-written with a few others, including Elton John. The music was composed by Carey and many collaborators, some of whom have produced work for 50 cent, Jennifer Lopez and Mary J. Blige.
The album opens up with the international smash hit “Honey,” produced by none other than Sean Combs aka Puff Daddy. Mariah Carey came out of the gates swinging with this song about wanting to taste someone’s sweet you-know-what.
In the title track, “Butterfly”, Carey pours her heart out. The song shows how vulnerable Carey was during this album. She hits the vocal climax, “to the sun”, the only way she knows how.
The third track,“My All”, is one of her best-known hits. Combining contemporary R&B beats with Latin guitar, this slow-tempo ballad was written about Carey’s time in Puerto Rico and her secret “meeting” with MLB player Derek Jeter.
Throughout the rest of the album, Carey continues to further distance herself from previous albums. Butterfly shows more of her personality. She grew up listening to R&B’s greats like Stevie Wonder and Patti Labelle and the music reveals that.
Track four, “The Roof (Back in time),” is where Carey really shows how much she’s transitioned. Whether it’s the Mobb Deep sample or her mature vocals and lyrics, this track is great.
Track five, “Fourth of July,” is the standout track from the first half of the album. This track is like music from a dream sequence in a 1960s film. Carey’s silky smooth, and sometimes soft vocals, will make a simple mind relax and feel like they are frolicking through a field on a summer’s day.
Track six, “Breakdown,” is the peak of her transition. Whether it’s her smooth silky vocals singing about a guy who she fell deeply in love with, or whether it is about getting her heart broken or Krazyie Bone singing “Break, breakdown steady breakin’ me on down” in the background, this track marks the final stage of her transition to R&B. Side note: this track features one half of ’90s hip-hop group Bone Thung-N-Harmony.
The next couple of tracks are not as exciting but one is a Prince cover, which unfortunately does not live up to expectation.
Finally, the last track, “Outside,” is Carey pouring her heart out about feeling unwanted and lonely growing up as a mixed race child. However, there are different meanings for everyone. This song could be for that emotional break up or even saying goodbye to the person you thought was the one. But no matter what the association, the song will make you shed a tear or two.
Throughout the album, there is a sense of maturity in Carey’s lyrics. There is more depth and meaning to them because this is the album that finally reveals her as the musical genius she is.
This album shows one of the biggest crossovers in any musician’s career. Carey was used to singing boring ballads and mass producing the same song over and over but Butterfly marks the artist’s emancipation from her 2005 album The Emancipation of Mimi. Without this album the rest of her discography onward would not be the same.
After nearly 25 years, this album remains a classic.