What I love about Wonderland magazine is that each issue gets more and more Wonderland every single time. They stick to their pop culture, cheesy-without-being-tacky, fun-championing guns in a big way, which is why when I saw their new issue had a huge feature on Mariah Carey, I couldn’t wait to tuck in to its heavily-glossed pages. The interview with Mariah was conducted by deputy editor Jack Mills (who also edits Rollacoaster) and after reading the interview with Mariah, we had a million questions about what it must be like to interview such an infamous, sparkling enigma. So read on to find out as we asked Jack all about it…
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
At Wonderland I deal with feature ideas, written commissions, celebrity bookings, that kinda thing. I basically spend most of my time on Bandcamp, watching Nardwuar interviews or hassling people for pre-circuit Vimeo film streams. Same over at Rollacoaster – but issues are tailored more specifically to London Fashion Week crowds, so things can get a bit more “London” and underground and weird. Which is amazing.
How did you feel about going to interview Mariah Carey? How did it come about?
I was excited for it because she’s such an enigma. Various sources told me that she’s one of the most unpredictable interviewees going – three hours late on purpose, perpetually vanishes mid-shoot and so on. Truth is, she was ridiculously welcoming and nice – only the three hours late thing came true (it was more like four).
My old boss Adam was gunning for the cover a year or so ago – specifically a Dem Babies x Mariah thing, which probs would have been bigger and better than the Kimye shoot (i.e. the most obsessed-over magazine cover of the decade so far). My hangover was lifted one morning when I picked up the phone to Mimi’s publicist who was ready to make it happen.
How does one go about researching Mariah Carey? Did you listen to the back catalogue?
I’ll admit I was never a Mariah messiah; but I did know that she’s an incredible force for good around the world and has changed the face of pop music in a few ways. Plus, Fantasy is one of those rare cross-generation tunes able to instantly lift a party crowd.
Basically, I printed off every interview with her I could find (the internet conjured up around 25 – I don’t have Lexis Nexis), whacked on some Bobby Darin tunes and paced nervously up and down my hotel room staring at a Chicago show sign outside. I downloaded everything she’s ever recorded too, which was helpful. I tend to avoid Instagram and Twitter and stuff like that because they’re so press-driven and policed.
What were your preconceptions about Mariah before the interview?
Mariah has polished, premier league diva skills. She’s totally amazing at it. The thought of it made my balls freeze over.
Where did you meet her?
The Greenwich Hotel (which is owned by Robert De Niro) was an ideal setting because it’s so ridiculously over the top: one minute you’ll spot an incognito Rhys Ifans frantically toking on a vape (this happened), the next you’ll take a wrong turn and end up in one of the penthouse suites’ scented saunas (again, happened). It was a really stormy night, and (perhaps for dramatic purposes) Mariah had left her windows wide open. It was all pretty surreal.
Were you nervous?
It kind of saddens me that I never get nervous before interviews anymore. Even when I accidentally left Isabella Rossellini waiting, you take it in your stride. But I was a sad stain of a writer for this one – very, very traumatised.
We’ve all heard stories about Mariah – how did she come across in person?
That she was completely committed to the interview. Within moments you can tell if an interviewee is done for the day or genuinely wanting to talk. My glass was almost always full; she had so many insightful, interesting things to tell me about her past and how they led her to this point. She was seemingly interested in hearing my point of view – she wanted to know my favourite tunes (not just of hers), what I thought of recent collaborations and so on. She was totally eccentric too of course, and started whistling and swaying and breaking into song every five minutes, which was rad. Not once did I get a hint of negativity from her – she avoids bitchiness or hostility at all costs, I think.
You had gone to New York, you only had an hour, as a journalist how were you managing to get what you needed whilst she was plying you with prosecco?
Well, she kept answering my questions – completely unprompted. I only got about six in, in total. Plus, we swayed off topic for about 20 minutes (something about David LaChapelle spray-painting her ass for the Rainbow album back-cover), and the whole thing went massively over time (it was meant to be a half hour slot).
When writing the article, what were you trying to get across to your readers?
It’s always difficult writing about a seasoned celebrity: undoubtedly everything you want to say – anything especially noteworthy from her past – has been said a million times before. With this kind of challenge it’s about unfurling the story as you’ve interpreted it. Try and tell it like no-one’s told it before and in your voice. Setting the scene is important too – what details from the day (i.e. setting, lighting, her clothes, her room) can you incorporate to make the reader feel welcome and included?
Has the experience with Mariah changed your opinion on celebrity in general?
Only that, as ever, it’s crucial to go into any interview with a completely open mind. Tragically, as a journalist lofty opinions of certain talents can be quashed when you meet them in person. It’s great when you end up striking a genuine connection with someone you know has 15 interviews to do after yours.
Do you think your Mariah interview has taught you anything about interviewing or journalism?
Know your stuff, but don’t get intimidated by someone you’ve never met.
Fave Mariah track now?
When I Saw You from Daydream. The tune kind of creeps up on you like a serpent; the chorus constantly rises and falls in rhythm and dovetails between minor and major keys. Like most of her songs, everything from melody to tempo to lyrical punch is lifted in the moment of delivery because it’s always so intricate; but this one takes a particularly rare kind of skill to pull off.