COVER STORY | Pop diva Mariah Carey was beginning to take control of her voice in both her career and personal life, and it shined through her newest project. Daydream, the soprano’s fifth studio album in five years was released on October 3, 1995 and explored the chanteuse’s true loves – R&B and Hip-Hop. A certified diamond with over 20 million copies sold, Daydream changed the sound of popular music, and the artist, forever.
Confession: I’m a lamb; one in a flock of millions who are shepherded by the artistry of Mariah Carey. In my lifetime, I’ve been to 7 concerts in various U.S. cities, I’ve waited outside of MTV studios on the streets of Times Square in my teenage years to witness a simple hand wave, I genuinely enjoyed “Glitter”(both the film and soundtrack), and I read her recently released autobiography, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, in less than 24 hours. If this article appears to be biased, it’s because it is.
Although familiar after a marathon of successive pop records; the powerhouse self-titled debut (1990), the sophomore joyride of Emotions (1991), the heroic uplift of Music Box (1993), and the iconic Merry Christmas album (1994), we still had yet to see the soul of Mariah Carey. Daydream’s 12-track collection enlisted production by previous collaborators, Walter Afanasieff, Dave Hall, and Babyface, as well as first-time production by Jermaine Dupri to craft a menagerie of Pop R&B and Gospel-infused songs full of crossover appeal. Setting herself apart early on from comparison to Whitney Houston, Carey co-wrote every song. Wrapping her five-octave range and signature whistle notes around R&B soulful melodies blended with gritty hip-hop aesthetics was always a part of Carey’s biracial identity, and on Daydream, listeners were finally privy.
Using her established platform to showcase Hip-Hop and R&B on pop songs would become Carey’s trailblazing move, a pioneering formula that continues to inspire rookie acts today. 25 years later, we break down each track on one of the best-selling albums of all time, by one of the most important singer-songwriters of all time.
“Feels like I’m dreaming, but I’m not sleeping…”
Depending on what station you were tuned to in autumn of 1995, you heard two different versions of “Fantasy”, the lead single from Mariah Carey’s forthcoming album, Daydream. Sampling “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club, the song introduced a new sound for the soprano, bridging the gap between Pop, R&B, Doo-Wop and Hip-Hop. Written and Produced by Carey and Dave “Jam” Hall she indulges her imagination with flights of fancy and soaring vocal range. Despite resistance from Columbia Records, Mariah insisted that Ol’ Dirty Bastard be featured on the Puff Daddy-produced remixing. The collaboration with ODB proved to be grimy and magical, producing the iconic line, “Me and Mariah / Go back like babies and pacifiers”. Dominating pop and urban radio, “Fantasy” became the first song by a woman to debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Yeah, a black woman did that.
Underneath The Stars
“One summer night, we ran away for a while…”
This is my all-time favorite song in Mariah’s catalog. Written and produced by Carey and Walter Afanasieff, this was the first song recorded for the Daydream album. Beginning with the twinkling of Rhodes piano keys, the scratches of aged vinyl transport us to a 70’s love groove. An ode to the softness of a Minnie Ripperton recording, the listener is invited to a tryst on one summer night. Through vivid lyricism, we are laying on the grass, rapt in the fate of the wary lovers, realizing that this was all a dream – or was it? This was my 11-year old-self’s assumption of what first love sounded like. Like a flurry of fireflies, the song’s finale finds Carey’s layered vocals entwined with each other for a sweet symphony of young love that always feels like the first time.
One Sweet Day
“Sorry I never told you, all I wanted to say…”
The second single from Daydream matched Carey with the most successful male R&B group of all time, Boyz II Men. Dedicated to the memory of collaborator, David Cole, who produced previous hits “Emotions” and “Make It Happen”, Mariah began to write her tribute. As fate would intercede, the Philadelphia quartet had starting penning a similar song in remembrance of their former road manager, Kahlil Roundtree, when they received the call to duet with Carey. With shared premise of lost friends and family, the co-written “One Sweet Day” was authored. Mariah’s vocals take turns partnering with the range of each member, but it’s the distinctive riffs of Wanya Morris that prove to be Carey’s greatest dance. Inspiring, heartfelt, and dynamically performed, the song held the record for longest running #1 single for 16 weeks on Billboard charts, a victory that lasted until 2019.
“Lying beside you, here in the dark…”
Carey’s voice emerges from shadows with acapella introduction. Followed by the entrance of piano keys, then drums; Mariah’s cover of the 1982 classic by rock band Journey takes on a soulful life all its own. Fitting the overarching tone of Daydream, the repurposed lyrics speak of longing, reunion and willingness to be vulnerable. In midnight’s embrace, the intimate encounter crescendos into a power ballad. Co-produced by Carey and Afanasieff, the album’s third single was welcomed with open arms, finding international success, peaking at #4 on the UK Singles charts.
Always Be My Baby
“We were as one, babe, for a moment in time…”
Daydream marks the inaugural collaboration between Carey and Jermaine Dupri. Their initial writing session, coupled with Manuel Seal’s instrumentation generated the album’s fourth single, “Always Be My Baby”. The midtempo, buoyant and youthful bop is simply infectious from the opening “Do do doop do doop da dum”. The songstress gathers us to narrate a tale of carefree, young love that predicts perseverance throughout impending tests of time. Mariah is laid-back yet fully aware of her range, flexing her layered double-voice technique over the piano chords. To impact urban radio and video markets, a smoothed out re-sung remix sampled SOS Band’s “Tell Me If You Still Care” and featured So So Def emcee Da Brat and girl group Xscape. Yet another #1 Billboard chart-topper, Mariah’s new sound was being embraced and her contributions to 90’s R&B were further energized.
I Am Free
“Once I was a prisoner / Lost inside myself / With the world surrounding me / Wandering through the misery / But now I am free.”
Mariah albums are never without a composition that offers a glimpse into the personal journal of the caged songbird. On Daydream; however, Carey shares for the first time, the truths of her tumultuous and overbearing marriage to Tommy Mottola. When the 44-year old music mogul wed the 23-year old singer, we learn that all was not as perfect as the storybook ceremony would suggest. Written by Carey and Afanasieff, “I Am Free” is her story, it is her song. With gospel choir support, the elusive chanteuse confesses her challenges and celebrates her newfound wingspan. Testify!
When I Saw You
“Soft heavenly eyes gazed into me, transcending space and time…”
Although she was steering away further from the power ballads that brought her first recognition, Mariah couldn’t completely abandon the fanbase established with her traditional pop music. To bring comfort to the R&B transition, Carey co-wrote “When I Saw You” with Walter Afanasieff, giving a nod to her earlier recordings like “Love Takes Time”, “So Blessed” or “And You Don’t Remember”. Carey created a safe space for those who were hesitant to join her on her current unchartered voyage.
“Long ago, you used to want me / Now it’s all so far away, but you still haunt me…”
Mariah’s brave and unconcealed relationship with hip-hop was evident throughout Daydream. Further exploring her range, “Long Ago” is the album’s second collaboration with Jermaine Dupri and Manuel Seal. Reminiscing on love once had that continues to occupy her heart and mind, Carey flexes her versality to spit bars over a smooth bassline that samples Zapp’s “More Bounce to the Ounce”. If Mary J. Blige is Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mariah is Queen of Hip-Pop Soul (Verzuz, where you at?). She proves that she is more than comfortable in this new territory. These early sessions with Dupri would spark a long-term musical relationship, spawning two decades of greatest hits.
“Baby, I just melt away / Fall like rain / Every time I see your face, I go off…”
It is a badge of honor to have a song co-written and co-produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Previously working together on “Never Forget You” (Music Box, 1993), the pair reunited to pick up the pace for a mid-tempo endearment. Exploring the sultry lower half of Carey’s range, this is the most complete and pure R&B track on Daydream. Although “Melt Away” could have easily bloomed as another single contender, it sparkles as a fan-favorited album jewel.
“You will always be the only one…”
From the opening guitar arpeggios, this is one of those songs that you assume is a cover. Mariah Carey has a penchant for writing songs that feel nostalgic yet timeless. Reminiscent of the last dance at a 1950’s sock-hop or the days of Sadie Hawkins dances, the unchained melody glides seamlessly among a jukebox queue of “I Only Have Eyes For You”by The Flamingos or “Oh What A Night” by The Dells. A declaration of love that residues beyond goodbyes, it’s a throwback in the best way, acknowledging the past to move forward.
Daydream Interlude (Fantasy Sweet Dub Mix)
“So sweet, in my daydreams / And every night, you creep into my dreams…”
This one is for the clubs. A reprise of the album’s leading single revisits Carey’s crossover dance records that combined elements of house, funk and soul. It is psychedelic and hypnotic as Mariah blends melisma and whistle notes over the cymbals, drums and piano-led reimagining. She’s added another layer to the sweet fantasy that welcomes fans of all faiths.
“You look at me and see the girl, who lives inside the golden world…”
The final song on Daydream is also its most personal. In contrast to the album’s elaborate production, Carey’s vocals here are stripped down with piano accompaniment as lyrics address misconception of her seemingly fairy tale existence and experience. The singer assures that life has been no crystal stair in a biography of racism, family dysfunction, physical and emotional abuse. Until now, the singer’s accolades and glamour had masked the insecure and fearful girl living inside. Finally awakening from her daydream, music is where Carey can be vulnerable, victorious, safe, and free.
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