The Grammy Awards are one thing, but being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame is another – inductees are chosen by a relatively select group of songwriter and music publisher peers and celebrated at an event on invitation only, and it’s a tough crowd.
It’s a sadly common assumption that female pop stars don’t write their own songs – even Taylor Swift, one of the greatest and most distinctive songwriters of the past 25 years, is often met with skepticism. So for Mariah Carey – who was mocked in a widely shared meme when she made a statement beginning with the words “As a songwriter” – being inducted is a big deal. It was actually announced in 2020, but because of the pandemic, the ceremony didn’t take place until Thursday evening.
At the ceremony, Carey was introduced at the stroke of midnight by Roots drummer and “Summer of Soul” producer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson – an Academy Award- and Grammy-winning musician and songwriter who knows what he’s talking about. He began by jokingly recalling that when he first had the opportunity to meet her in the 1990s, he was “so intimidated by her scent – Smokey Pineapple or whatever she was wearing”, that he slipped away before meeting her. But he upped his scent game, later met her and they’re close friends now, and his talk got very serious.
“She was always a serious songwriter and a serious artist,” he said. “So many stars, they get so big that you think of a person as a product. And it’s harder for black artists, especially black women, to succeed at that level. The list of those artists who don’t are not with us is long and sad” – he listed Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Prince and others – “It’s almost as if there is a price to pay for breaking 10 million.”
Carey, of course, speaks in a famous way that many perceive as silly, but it’s actually the sound of someone whose thoughts are racing faster than they can articulate them, and if you read the transcript here below, which is mostly textual, it sometimes reads like a goofy comedian. But the impact and significance of what she says below is heavy – although it’s filled with dozens of comedic asides, including playing the violin and posing with sunglasses and a mask, it There are heartbreaking anecdotes from his childhood, and the pain of this meme and the years of not being taken seriously is evident.
So watch the video and read on – and the next time someone wants to poke fun at Mariah Carey’s status as a songwriter, remember that she was congratulated and inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, alongside Irving Berlin and Johnny Mercer and John Lennon Carole King and Tom Petty and Jay-Z and so many other legends, by no less a musical authority than Questlove. So chew that, haters.
Carey’s speech follows, more or less verbatim. Variety will soon have more of the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony.
Well, first of all, thank you very much! Second, let me check this lighting, because I’m not sure…it’s a long story, my lighting guy couldn’t get on the plane. So it was like… (rolls his eyes, holds his mask) Shit, here’s my mask! I’ve become a hermit, in case anyone is curious, and so this is like my first real live moment! (crowd cheers)
So thank you all, I have these little presidential monitors, they’re really just little ones, what do you call it? (Speaks unintelligibly with Questlove off mic) We have a pun now, it’s just like a provocateur. So anyway, of course… (plays with sunglasses) let me see, am I doing this? Is not it? (Put on sunglasses to clap) It’s a moment, take a picture! (Beams and poses, with a big Hollywood smile)
In any event! Thank you to everyone in this room. First of all, it’s amazing that there’s even a show honoring songwriters, isn’t it? Give you all a round of applause, because it’s a big. OK. I mean, obviously, thanks to my friend Ahmir, as I said, Oscar winner and winner of all awards, but thanks for that introduction, and… I missed the first half (adopts the voice of Blanche DuBois), I don’t know recall. Anyway, and congratulations to my fellow inductees as well! I remember when I inducted Jermaine Dupri, pre-COVID three years ago, I was like, “Jermaine, you know what? I’m really pissed at you that you’re inducted before me” – but that’s a whole different story, I hope someone does (air quotes) post this clip, maybe it will come back to me.
Anyway, it’s not the easiest job in the world. Between – it’s a word my friend said to me the other day – facocta lawsuits, and the business side – don’t mind, we like business people, we really love business people are our friends, they are our best friends, and we love it.
But I just want to say that my whole journey – because Ahmir sort of touched on all of that – started with poetry, in my childhood. And then – well, actually, I think the melodies came first. And then I started writing these poems, and people were like, ‘This girl has kind of a gloomy view of the world at six years old.’ And I did, because I came from this incredibly dysfunctional background. And it was all that stuff, music, and walking by myself and finding melodies and writing words in a book – Oh, by the way, here’s my old school… (She pulls out sheets of paper while the mask hangs from her wrist)… Tangent for a second… here is my mask! …It was literally me writing my … I just want to show you, because I don’t write in my phone, I don’t like the noise because you get alerts … I know there’s one thing which you can disable, but it doesn’t matter: (Holds sheets of paper) These are, legitimately, my notes!
I constantly have to remind people that I’m a songwriter. It’s become a joke, to the point where… because they’re all into the diva thing, it’s like, “Oh my God, she’s a diva, wow, diva. (Puts on goggles and slicks, crowd laughs) You might be familiar with the meme of me that comes up over and over again, “As a songwriter, as a songwriter, as a songwriter, as a songwriter! ” So hopefully tonight we can create another meme, AS. A. Songwriter! (Holds his award and smiles)
Just to touch on something that I was never able to say in public: in my early teens, I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to be a singer or aspired to be. And I always assumed that the person you listened to on the radio – because you listened to the radio at the time – was the one who wrote the songs, so I didn’t know there was a differentiation, I just wanted be like, “Obviously this person wrote the song.” But knowing the people who are the unsung heroes of it all – it’s an incredible situation, so please give yourselves another round of applause! (Applause)
I’m going to discuss my little teenage moment with you, and see what you think. In high school, I was always late — that’s why there’s this whole thing about “Mirage” being my little nickname because I was never there: I was working on my demo tape — tape demo, there was something called tapes, they existed and you had to love it… it’s a long story but anyway, [I’d be] I was driving around in my mom’s Cutlass Supreme piece of shit, and I was still getting lost. I’ve lived in 14 different places, always getting lost in the Bronx, I’d get lost in some obscure part of Long Island, either way I’m grateful it’s gone – I don’t drive anymore, luckily for the world!
So I didn’t tell anyone that was what I was doing. They just thought I never went to school, “She doesn’t care.” And, you know, a lot of… my friends, I guess we can call them friends, they told their parents I wasn’t going to college, and their parents were shocked. They would sit there, if it was deemed appropriate to be invited to someone’s house – it is in [her biography] “Does your mother know you’re not going to college?” I was like, “I don’t think my mom ever said the word ‘college’ to me.” But that doesn’t matter.
And then there would be the occasional sportsman at school who would be like (fat Long Island accent), “Yeah, you gon’ work at HoJo’s [Howard Johnson’s] in five years. So I think everyone in this room can understand that a year after HoJo’s comment – no offense to anyone from HoJo, by the way, it’s work and it pays, so yes everyone, but this n wasn’t my aspiration – I was offered…drum roll, I don’t have one, but drum roll? (The house band drummer plays a drum roll), Thanks … five thousand dollars for my [songwriting] catalog! (cymbal crash)
So I didn’t take it, even though at the time $1 was all. Like, did I take the subway or have an H&H bagel? They have now closed this place, I am very upset. But you know what I mean – it was $5,000. Thank God I didn’t take it – not that [money] that’s all it’s about, of course, it’s about crafting and self-expression and connection, it’s about channeling, that’s all.
But to quote my friend who was here earlier, [top music attorney] Alan Grubman, “It’s not about the money – it’s about the money!” (Laugh) Thank god I didn’t do that.
Thank you all for listening to my tangents. But I just want to end on this note: I read that of the 439 total inductees into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, only 32 were women – UP TO THIS TIME. And now I’m going to be 33!
So, as my dad once told me, “You did well, kid.” Thanks a lot! I did well !