On a song: Mariah Carey, Outside

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NOTE: I came across this old piece I wrote for a music appreciation class and thought I would share. I’ve slightly tweaked it for the blog.

In her song “Outside”, Mariah Carey powerfully expresses the pain and insecurity of being an interracial child of a single mother in the 1970s. She wrote the lyrics herself, while former collaborator Walter Afanasieff co-wrote the music with her.

The song was written for her 1997 album, Butterfly. The song expresses a lot of self-examination and a new creative freedom, something that was a major theme of her first project following her divorce from Tommy Mottola.

It’s hard to talk about the song without mentioning Mariah’s background as an interracial child. The stress of dealing non-supportive family members, violence against the family, and teasing at school would break Mariah’s family up and lead to a childhood of poverty, instability, and emotional insecurity.

“Outside” reflects that pain and alienation beautifully:

Inherently, It’s always been strange,

Neither here nor there,

Always somewhat out of place everywhere

Then there’s this line:

Early on,

You face the realization you don’t have a space where you fit in.

And this one:

Eager to just believe it’s good enough to be who you are,

But uncertainty forever lies.

You’ll always be,

Somewhere on the outside.

Mariah sets a melancholy mood right from the start with slow music, which she adds to with the vocal arrangements. The soft, slow vocals that start the track give way to impassioned belting accompanied by a sudden build in the drum beat that took a back seat for most of the song and for a few seconds, the pulsing beat hints at the anger behind the sadness.

By the last chorus, the song has once again settled into a slow meditation that ends in a soft cymbal roll. Through the track, the instrumentation was limited, with a keyboard melody at the beginning that brings to mind lullabies that seem to symbolize lost innocence and trust.

Overall, it’s a great example of the kind of work Mariah can do when she allows herself to become emotionally vulnerable in her music as opposed to some of her later work. If you haven’t heard this one or checked out Butterfly, I would definitely recommend it. The album’s a perfect mix of the classic Mariah albums of the early ‘90s and her modern sound.

Here are just a couple of the songs I really loved from that album….

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