Fun fact: we highly considered naming this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! “All I Want for Christmas Is [Truth].” After all, our guest this week is veteran fashion stylist, editor, activist, and now author Michaela Angela Davis, who this year helped bring the long-awaited life story of Mariah Carey to the page—and the top of the New York Times’ Best Sellers List—with The Meaning of Mariah Carey.
“❤️ U MAD,” Carey tweeted after the triumph in early October, calling out her co-writer by her initials. In turn, Davis occasionally calls her co-writer and friend “MC” during her conversation with The Root’s Editor-in-Chief Danielle Belton and me (Maiysha Kai, managing editor of The Glow Up) during this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, where she shared exactly how cathartic this collaborative memoir was for its subject.
“You know, to actually own your own narrative and to tell your story, for someone who’s been so written about and talked about and interviewed about and mused about, it’s different,” said Davis, who, after first meeting and forming a friendship with the self-proclaimed diva over a decade ago was the only person Carey trusted to help tell her story. (Coincidentally, the two both also happen to be naturally blonde Black girls born under the sign of Aries.) “You know, she’s so confident as a songwriter and a singer and a producer—like, in the studio, she’s a beast,” Davis continued. “But this is different; this is so revealing. There’s lots of childhood memories and trauma that have never been discussed before.”
Carey’s most famous quip might be “I don’t know her,” but whether a member of the “lambily” or have taken marginal interest in Carey’s groundbreaking career, it’s impossible to leave The Meaning of Mariah Carey without feeling you know the iconic singer-songwriter better than you ever imagined.
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“I wanted the book to feel like an opus—like a long Mariah album,” said Davis, who tells Carey’s story in nonlinear fashion, gleaned through a series of intimate and occasionally intense discussions, and peppered with song lyrics and exclamations of “Dahhhling,” mimicking Carey’s own speech. “And so then, I began sort of studying the structure of her writing.”
The result is a memoir that largely eschews sensationalism in favor of profoundly sensitive revelations, giving poignant context to the public image of one of the world’s biggest stars and best-known voices. Carey if self-effacing, at times irreverent and often hilarious, yet deeply vulnerable as she chronicles the intense highs and lows that threatened to undermine her stratospheric success: a deeply unstable childhood and still-dysfunctional family dynamics, an oppressive first marriage, and the highly publicized mental health crisis that nearly devastated her professionally as well as personally. As Davis notes, Carey’s unprecedented transparency made the overwhelming reception to her memoir all the more gratifying.
“It was such a genuine triumph, you know, because, listen...even at Mariah’s level now, she—and we—were still underestimated,” says Davis. “There wasn’t this expectation that we were going to be a number-one bestseller...So it was, again, just a validation for her—her story, the layers of a life—because we always identified this as a memoir of her identity.”
On Friday evening, after our podcast airs, AppleTV+ will Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special, no doubt anchored by the singer-songwriter’s enduring holiday hit “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” a song which remarkably hit number one for the first time last December—25 years after its initial release. (Did someone say “underestimated”? Well, as Carey would say, “Baby don’t forget about us.”) Exactly a month after Carey’s memoir became a top bestseller, the song found new life on November 8, the night the Biden-Harris ticket finally declared victory and crowds jubilantly danced in the street to Carey’s musical wish list.
“Saw this last night during our own celebratory moments! Watching this and sharing the feelings of joy and happiness with you all!!” Carey tweeted in response, revealing her maternal side as she added, “Let’s remember to stay safe so we can really have the most FESTIVE Christmas yet.”
As Davis points out, much like the song she penned, Carey has repeatedly reinvented herself, adding chapters to her own narrative in spite of detractors, personal defeats, and a music industry notoriously destructive to its talents; many of Carey’s contemporaries, collaborators and friends—Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and Prince among them—not having lived to tell the tale.
‘It’s amazing that she survived’...and that’s one of the things that’s so great about Mariah,” says Davis. “She survived it, you know, and she wrote a Christmas classic. And she lives in a great house and she has beautiful kids...she didn’t have a tragic end. You know, some of us—some of us made it—and more of us will.”
Hear this and much, much more on Episode 11 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit: Michaela Angela Davis on The Meaning of Mariah Carey, featuring the dynamic Michaela Angela Davis, now available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public. Also available is a transcript of this week’s episode.