It seems that as soon as each gay man is born, they’re assigned a patron diva who becomes an all consuming obsession when that baby gay turns into a full-fledged adult. For generations, gay men have flocked to entertainers like Cher, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Céline Dion, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and more. Even younger talents like Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Tinashe, and Dua Lipa have acquired a substantial gay fanbase ready to die on any hill about their music being top tier.
Author Andrew Chan is a proud member of another patron diva’s fanbase: Mariah Carey’s “Lambily.” And honestly, what’s not to be obsessed with? Mariah boasts an expansive, chart-topping musical catalogue, a five-octave vocal range to match, and a persona that oozes lavishness and luxury.
However, there are multiple layers to the “Elusive Chanteuse” known as Mariah, with many of these components revealed in the tabloids. But over the years, Mariah has reclaimed her narrative through song and through her memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey. Now, Chan’s biography on the Grammy-winning artist is examining her story again.
In Chan’s new book, Why Mariah Carey Matters, he observes her creative and personal evolution that proved to the world the diva that is Mariah. While many know her for her vocal gifts, Mariah is just as talented of a songwriter and producer, who churned out hits and albums that used house, R&B, gospel, and hip-hop (she basically created the R&B/hip-hop remix) to create a sound all her own. Chan’s new book goes behind her glamorous persona to explain why Mariah not only matters, but why she is essential to music industry discourse and how her music has impacted so many around the world.
INTO spoke with Chan about his love for this patron diva, how she’s the blueprint for many artists today, and why Mariah Carey matters.
It seems like every gay man has a singer or patron diva that rules their musical discography. How did Mariah become the ruler of yours?
I was nine years old when her album Daydream was released, and there was something about the way its three biggest singles — “Fantasy,” “One Sweet Day,” and “Always Be My Baby”— saturated the airwaves for almost two whole years that lodged her permanently in my heart and my memories of childhood. I was captivated by her voice and moved by the range of emotions she evoked so vividly with her music.
Which queer celebrity helped you along the way with your coming out process?
I wasn’t aware of many queer celebrities when I was young, but I do remember being aware that the great Hong Kong movie star Leslie Cheung had come out as gay, and that he was still widely beloved. I was inspired by how unapologetically he persisted in being his brilliant self, and that gave me hope.
What’s something that feels gay, but isn’t gay?
Mariah’s song “Outside” is an important anthem for a lot of her queer fans, but it doesn’t actually address gay themes. Somehow, though, it’s about the challenges she faced as a mixed-race child, the song resonates deeply with LGBTQ+ listeners, who know what it’s like to not belong. I’m always amazed at how Mariah, while making music from within the specificity of her own experience, is able to speak so intimately to listeners who are confronting different kinds of struggles.
From pioneering the remix to popularizing whistle notes on pop tracks, it’s well known that Mariah is the blueprint for many things within the music industry. What’s something that’s not as well known about the elusive chanteuse that would surprise fans?
I would love for her to get as much credit for her vocal arranging as she does for her singing. This is a skill that often goes unacknowledged in pop music, partly because the average listener doesn’t really know what it involves. But I think Mariah’s ear for harmonies and the art of vocal layering is key to understanding her genius as a recording artist.
As an author, editor, and Mariah Carey scholar, what elements of Mariah’s story do you think resonate deeply with her queer fanbase?
I think many queer fans gravitate to her because she wears her anxieties and insecurities on her sleeve; she doesn’t present us false narratives of closure or healing, and some of her most personal songs (like “Outside” and “Close My Eyes”) openly confront the fact that oppression and bigotry leave lasting scars that affect us for the rest of our lives. She’s the rare artist who can take us into the depths of pain and melancholy but, through the transcendent power of her voice, lift us into the heavens—often within the same song.
What’s your go-to movie, song, or book when you need a “pick me up” and why?
I love the C&C club remix of Mariah’s “Anytime You Need a Friend.” It’s almost eleven minutes long, and it features some of her most astonishing vocals. It’s a song about the power of friendship and the importance of committing and steadfastly holding the people we love, and through its shape-shifting form (it moves from gospel to house to jazz over the course of its epic run time), it models the work and perseverance that true love requires.
If we gave you a budget to produce a biopic about your favorite queer icon (assuming it’s Mariah), who would it be, and what would be the Oscar-winning scene?
Biopics can be so horrible and simplistic, but I’d love to see a good one about Mariah. Her life is so rich and dramatic and inspiring. I’m not sure what the Oscar-worthy scene would be, but I’d definitely enjoy seeing a re-creation of the creative process that went into making Butterfly, which I consider her greatest album.
What do you hope to accomplish with your new book and this new perspective on Mariah Carey’s influence?
The main thing that I hoped to accomplish with Why Mariah Carey Matters is inspiring people to listen deeply to her music, to focus on the intricate details in her songs and the haunting beauty of her vocals. I hope that people who read the book will come away with a deeper understanding of her as an artist and musician—someone who would be just as brilliant and important even if she had never become a global icon.
“Be bold. Be gay. Be you.”
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