Enjoying the tunes of Mariah Carey? I hope you are.
With her following albums, Carey began to take more initiative and control with her music, and started infusing more genres into her work. During mid-1997, Carey was well underway, writing and recording material for her next album, Butterfly (1997). She sought to work with other producers and writers other than Afanasieff, such as Sean Combs, Kamaal Fareed, Missy Elliott and Jean Claude Oliver and Samuel Barnes from Trackmasters. During the album’s recording, Carey and Mottola separated, with Carey citing it as her way of achieving freedom, and a new lease on life. Aside from the album’s different approach, critics took notice of Carey’s altered style of singing, which she described as breathy vocals. Her new-found style of singing was met with mixed reception; some critics felt this was a sign of maturity, that she did not feel the need to always show off her upper range, while others felt it was a sign of her weakening and waning voice. The album’s lead single, “Honey”, and its accompanying music video, introduced a more overtly sexual image than Carey had ever demonstrated, and furthered reports of her freedom from Mottola. Carey stated that Butterfly marked the point when she attained full creative control over her music. However, she added, “I don’t think that it’s that much of a departure from what I’ve done in the past […] It’s not like I went psycho and thought I would be a rapper. Personally, this album is about doing whatever the hell I wanted to do.” Growing creative differences with producer Afanasieff continued, and eventually ended their working relationship, after collaborating on most of Carey’s material. Reviews for Butterfly were generally positive: Rolling Stone wrote, “It’s not as if Carey has totally dispensed with her old saccharine, Houston-style balladry […] but the predominant mood of ‘Butterfly’ is one of coolly erotic reverie. [… Except “Outside” the album sounds] very 1997. […] Carey has spread her wings and she’s ready to fly.” AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine described Carey’s vocals as “sultrier and more controlled than ever”, and heralded Butterfly as one of her “best records and illustrates that Carey continues to improve and refine her music, which makes her a rarity among her ’90s peers.'” The album was a commercial success, although not to the degree of her previous three albums.
Toward the turn of the millennium, Carey began developing other projects. On April 14, 1998, Carey partook in the VH1 Divas benefit concert, where she sang alongside Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan, and Carole King. Carey had begun developing a film project All That Glitters, later re-titled to simply Glitter,[not in citation given] and intended her songwriting to other projects, such as Men in Black (1997) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). After Glitter fell into developmental hell, Carey postponed the project, and began writing material for a new album. The executives at Sony Music, the parent company of Carey’s label Columbia, wanted her to prepare a greatest hits collection in time for the commercially favorable holiday season. However, they disagreed as to what content and singles should constitute the album. Sony wanted to release an album that featured her number one singles in the United States, and her international chart toppers on the European versions, void of any new material, while Carey felt that a compilation album should reflect on her most personal songs, not just her most commercial. She felt that not including any new material would result in cheating her fans, therefore including four new songs that she had recorded. While compromised, Carey often expressed distaste towards the album’s song selection, expressing her disappointment in the omission of her “favorite songs”. The album, titled #1’s (1998), featured a duet with Whitney Houston, “When You Believe”, which was included on the soundtrack for The Prince of Egypt (1998). During the development of All That Glitters, Carey had been introduced to DreamWorks producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, who asked her if she would record the song “When You Believe” for the soundtrack to the animated film The Prince of Egypt. In an interview with Ebony, Houston described working with Carey, as well as their growing friendship: “Mariah and I got along very great. We had never talked and never sang together before. We just had a chance for camaraderie, singer-to-singer, artist-to-artist, that kind of thing. We just laughed and talked and laughed and talked and sang in between that … It’s good to know that two ladies of soul and music can still be friends.” #1’s became a phenomenon in Japan, selling over one million copies in its opening week, and placing as the only international artist to accomplish this feat. When describing Carey’s popularity in Japan throughout the 1990s, author Chris Nickson compared it to Beatlemania in the 1960s. The album sold over 3.25 million copies in Japan after only the first three months, and holds the record as the best-selling album by a non-Asian artist, while amassing global sales of over 17 million copies.
During the spring of 1999, Carey began working on the final album of her record contract with Sony, her ex-husband’s label. During this time, Carey’s strained relationship with Sony affected her work with writing partner Afanasieff, who had worked extensively with Carey throughout the first half of her career. She felt Mottola was trying to separate her from Afanasieff, in hopes of keeping their relationship permanently strained. Due to the pressure and the awkward relationship Carey had now developed with Sony, she completed the album in a period of three months in the summer of 1999, quicker than any of her other albums. The album, titled Rainbow (1999), found Carey once again working with a new array of music producers and songwriters, such as Jay-Z and DJ Clue?. Carey also wrote two ballads with David Foster and Diane Warren, whom she seemingly used to replace Afanasieff. Rainbow was released on November 2, 1999, to the highest first week sales of her career at the time, however debuting at number two on the Billboard 200. Throughout early-2000, Carey’s troubled relationship with Columbia grew, as they halted promotion after the album’s first two singles. They felt Rainbow didn’t have any strong single to be released, whereas Carey wanted a ballad regarding personal and inner strength released. The difference in opinion led to a very public feud, as Carey began posting messages on her webpage in early and mid-2000, telling fans inside information on the dispute, as well as instructing them to request “Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)” on radio stations. One of the messages Carey left on her page read: “Basically, a lot of you know the political situation in my professional career is not positive. It’s been really, really hard. I don’t even know if this message is going to get to you because I don’t know if they want you to hear this. I’m getting a lot of negative feedback from certain corporate people. But I am not willing to give up.” Fearing to lose their label’s highest seller, Sony chose to release the song. Carey, initially content with the agreement, soon found out that the song had only been given a very limited and low-promotion release, which made charting extremely difficult and unlikely. Critical reception of Rainbow was generally enthusiastic, with the Sunday Herald saying that the album “sees her impressively tottering between soul ballads and collaborations with R&B heavyweights like Snoop Doggy Dogg and Usher […] It’s a polished collection of pop-soul.” Vibe magazine expressed similar sentiments, writing, “She pulls out all stops […] Rainbow will garner even more adoration”. Though a commercial success, Rainbow became Carey’s lowest selling album to that point in her career.