Grammy Awards are one thing, but being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame is another matter — the inductees are decided by a relatively small group of songwriting and music-publishing peers and celebrated at an invite-only event, 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 greeted 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” — to be inducted is a big deal. She was actually announced in 2020, but because of the pandemic, the ceremony was not held until Thursday night.
At the ceremony, Carey was introduced at the stroke of midnight by Roots drummer and “Summer of Soul” director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson — an Oscar- and Grammy-winning trained musician and author who knows of what he speaks. He began by jokingly recalling that when he first had the opportunity to meet her in the 1990s, he was “so intimidated by how she smelled — Smokey Pineapple or whatever she was wearing,” that he ducked out before meeting her. But he upped his fragrance game, met her later and they are now close friends, and his speech turned very serious.
“She has always been 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 this level. The list of those artists who aren’t with us is long and sad” — he listed Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Prince and others — “It’s almost like there’s a price to pay for breaking 10 million.”
Carey, of course, speaks in a famously run-on manner that many perceive as ditzy but is actually the sound of a person whose thoughts are moving faster than they can articulate them, and if you read the transcription below, which is mostly verbatim, it sometimes reads like a zany stand-up comedian. But the impact and import of what she says below is heavy — although it’s filled with dozens of comic asides, including fiddling and posing with sunglasses and a mask, there are heart-rending anecdotes from her childhood, and the hurt of that meme and the years of not being taken seriously is obvious.
So watch the video and read along — and the next time someone wants to mock Mariah Carey’s status as a songwriter, remember that she was praised 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 on that, haters.
Carey’s speech follows, more or less verbatim. Variety will have more from the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony shortly.
Well, first of all, thank you so much! Second of all, let me check out this lighting, because I’m not sure … it’s a long story, my lighting guy couldn’t get on the plane. So was like… (rolls eyes, holds up mask) Shit, here’s my mask! I’ve become a hermit, in case anybody was curious, and so this is like my first actual live moment! (Crowd cheers)
So thank you all, I have these little presidential monitors, they’re really just little like, what do you call it? (Talks unintelligibly with Questlove off-mic) We’re having a word game now, it’s just like a thought-provoker. So anyway, obviously… (fiddles with sunglasses) let me see, do I do this? Do I not? (Puts on sunglasses to cheers) It’s a moment, take a picture! (Beams and poses, with big Hollywood smile)
So anyway! Thank you to everyone in this room. First of all, it’s incredible that there’s even a show honoring songwriters, right? Give yourselves all a round of applause, because this is a big. deal. I mean, obviously, thank you to my friend Ahmir, as I said, Oscar-award winner and winner of all awards, but thank you for that introduction, and … I missed the first half (adopts Blanche DuBois voice), I don’t quite recall. Anyway, and also congratulations to my fellow inductees! I remember when I inducted Jermaine Dupri, before COVID like three years ago, I was like, “Jermaine, you know what? I’m really pissed at you that you’re getting inducted before me” — but that’s a whole other story, hopefully someone will (air quotes) post that clip, maybe it will come back to me.
Anyway, it’s not the easiest profession in the world. Between — this is a word my friend said to me the other day — the facocta lawsuits, and the business side — no offense, we love business people, we really love the business people, they’re our friends, they’re our best friends, and we love it.
But I just want to say, my whole journey — because Ahmir actually kind of touched on all this stuff — started with poetry, in my childhood. And then — well, actually, I believe melodies came first. And then I started writing these poems, and people were like, “This girl has kind of a dark vision of the world at six years old.” And I did, because I came from this incredibly dysfunctional background. And it was this whole thing, music, and walking by myself and coming up with melodies and writing words in a book — Oh, by the way, here’s my old-school… (Pulls out sheets of paper while mask dangles from her wrist)… Tangent for a second… here’s my mask! … This was literally me writing down 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 a thing you can shut off, but whatever: (Holds up sheets of paper) These are, legit, 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 gosh, she’s a diva, wow, diva. (Puts on glasses and preens, crowd laughs) You may be somewhat familiar with the meme of me going over and over, “As a songwriter, as a songwriter, as a songwriter, as a songwriter!” So hopefully tonight, we can create another meme, AS. A. SONGWRITER! (Holds up award and smiles)
Just to touch on something I kinda never got to say in public: In my early teen years, I told nobody that I wanted to be a singer or aspire to do this. And I just always assumed the person that you’re listening to on the radio — because you listened to the radio back in the day — was the one who wrote the songs, so I didn’t know there was a differentiation, I would just be like, “Obviously this person wrote the song.” But to know the people that are the unsung heroes of the whole thing — it’s an amazing situation, so please one more round of applause for yourselves! (Applause)
I’m gonna discuss my little teen 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’d be working on my demo tape — demo tape, there was a thing called tapes, they existed and you had to like… this is a long story but anyway, [I’d be] driving around in my mother’s piece of crap Cutlass Supreme, and I was always getting lost. I lived in 14 different places, always getting lost in the Bronx, I would get lost in some obscure part of Long Island, anyway I’m thankful that’s gone — I don’t drive anymore, luckily for the world!
So I told nobody that’s what I was doing. They just thought I was never in school, “She just doesn’t care about it.” And, you know, a lot of … my friends, I guess we can call them friends, they told their parents that I wasn’t going to college, and their parents were shocked. They would sit there, if I was deemed appropriate to be invited to someone’s house — that’s in [her biography] — “Does your mother know you’re not going to college?” I was like, “I don’t think my mother ever said the word ‘college’ to me.” But it doesn’t matter.
And then there would be the occasional jock at school who’d be like (thick Long Island accent), “Yeah, you’re gonna be workin’ at HoJo’s [Howard Johnson’s] five years from now.” So I think everyone in this room can appreciate that a year after the HoJo’s comment — no offense to anyone from HoJo’s, by the way, it’s a job and it pays, so yay everybody, but it wasn’t my aspiration — I was offered … drumroll, I don’t have one, but drum roll? (House band drummer plays drum roll), thank you … five thousand dollars for my [songwriting] catalog! (Cymbal crash)
So I didn’t take it, even though at that time, like $1 was everything. Like, did I get on the subway or get an H&H bagel? They have now closed that location, I’m very upset. But you know what I’m saying — it was $5,000. Thank God I didn’t take it — not that [money] is all it is, of course it’s about the craft and self-expression and the connection, it’s channeling, it’s the whole thing.
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!” (Laughter) So 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 out of the 439 total inductees into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, only 32 have been women — until THIS MOMENT. And now I’m gonna be 33!
So as my father once told me, “Ya did good, kid.” Thank you so much! I did good!