Butterfly is Mariah Carey's sixth studio album that was released on September 16, 1997 by Columbia Records.
- Honey 5:01
- Butterfly 4:35
- My All 3:52
- The Roof 5:14
- Fourth Of July 4:22
- Breakdown (featuring Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone) 4:44
- Babydoll 5:07
- Close My Eyes 4:21
- Whenever You Call 4:21
- Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise) 3:49
- The Beautiful Ones (featuring Dru Hill) 6:59
- Outside 4:47
- Honey (So So Def Radio Mix) (featuring Da Brat and JD) 3:59
- Honey (Def Club Mix) 6:17
Mariah Carey began working on Butterfly in January 1997. During the album's development in mid-1997 Carey separated from her husband, music executive Tommy Mottola, who had guided her career since 1990.
Carey's increasing control over her own career had led to speculation in the press over the future of the couple and they later divorced.
Throughout the development of the album (in a departure from her previous style), she worked with various rappers and hip hop producers, including Sean "Puffy" Combs, Q-Tip, Missy Elliott and Jean Claude Oliver and Samuel Barnes from Trackmasters.
Critics saw Carey's new production team as a form of revenge on Mottola and Sony Music, but she denied taking a radically new direction, and insisted that the musical style of her new album was of her own choosing. Nevertheless, she resented the control that Sony, whose president was Mottola, exercised over her music, preventing her making music about which she was passionate.
In contrast, Sony were concerned Carey, their best-selling act, could jeopardize her future success through her actions
The pressure of the separation and constant press attention began to take its toll of Carey. Growing creative differences with producer Walter Afanasieff ended their working relationship, after collaborating on most of her previous output.
The breaking point came after a heated argument during a long recording session, over the album's musical direction.
Carey also faced media criticism over her choice of producers and several newspapers linked to her romantically to several rappers, suggesting these relationships influenced her decisions. However, Carey denied the allegations, stating she had only slept with her husband.
With a variety of writers and producers and its new musical direction for Carey, the album was always likely to be a commercial success.
Carey and Combs wrote the lead single, "Honey." Combs believed this to be a good song but was uncertain how successful it would be as a release owing to its heavy hip hop influence.
The remix for "Honey" featured rapping lead vocals from Da Brat, The LOX and Mase, and some verses were rapped by Combs himself. The track was very different from Carey's previous recordings, and was described by author Chris Nickson as "street Hip-Hop music, with a booming bass."
The song's melody was driven by Q-Tip's drum programming and Stevie J's keyboard notes. Combs's production gave the song a "light and airy" effect, further distancing it from Carey's contemporary sound.
"Honey" featured musical samples from Treacherous Three's "The Body Rock", and "Hey DJ" by The World's Famous Supreme Team.
The track used both hip hop and R&B with traces of pop music and was described as a "[song with a] catchy chorus, combining hip hop and pop into something that simply wasn't going to be denied by anyone, and offering a powerful start to a record."
The album's second single, "Butterfly", was one of the ballads Carey wrote with Afanasieff. She described the song as the "favorite ballad she had ever written", one that was more personal than her previous work as the emotions conveyed through the song allude at just how meaningful the lyrics are to her.
Carey solely wrote the lyrics while Afanasieff, who composed the music with Dan Shea, handled the song's instrumentals, and added a few personal R&B touches.
Another ballad that Carey wrote with Afanasieff was "My All", written as a contrast to the album's general hip hop flavor. She described the song as having "a lush sound and intense styling." It featured guitar arpeggios, which were synthetically created using sampling and keyboard notes.
"The Roof" incorporated fragments from Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones (Part II)", and was produced by Carey, Poke & Tone and Cory Rooney.
"Fourth of July", one of the album's slower ballads, was also written solely by Carey and Afanasieff but was not released as a single. The song was perceived to have jazz influences and was compared to some of Carey's older work such as "Vanishing" and "The Wind".
The next two tracks on the record, "Breakdown" and "Babydoll", were described as "the album's backbone, its real declaration of independence" by Nickson.
"Breakdown" was written by Carey and Puffy and included rap verses from Wish and Krayzie Bone from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Author Chris Nickson wrote that "'Breakdown' showed Mariah treading forcefully into territory that was new for her and making it her own."
For "Babydoll", Carey teamed up with Elliott. The track was recorded in Atlanta, where Elliott resided, and included background vocals from her long-time friend, Trey Lorenz. It was described as "a vocally driven piece", with strong jazz harmony provided by Cory Rooney.
Other songs that incorporated R&B influence into ballads were "Whenever You Call" and "Close My Eyes", which were personally important to Carey due to their lyrical content.
While both were similar ballads to Carey's previous work, Nickson said: "While up to the standard of anything Mariah had ever done before, [they] suffered in comparison. But even here you could hear the new Mariah in the spareness of the arrangements and the way it was her voice, rather than any instrument, that controlled the song. She'd grown to the point where having less behind her really proved to be more, for the song and for her. It was notable, too, that like the other ballads on the record, these two leaned very much towards R&B."
Carey wrote the song "Fly Away (Butterfly reprise)" with famed house music producer David Morales. When imagining the concept for "Butterfly", Carey intended the song to be a house music record, but after writing it, made it into a ballad.
Carey expressed a desire to feature her concept both on the house record, in addition to the ballad that would become "Butterfly." Morales took Carey's lyrics, concept and melody and added a house beat to it.
For the album, she recorded a version of Prince's "The Beautiful Ones", featuring Dru Hill's lead singer Sisqó. The song was one of the last recorded tracks and was the only non-original song on the album.
The final track on the album was "Outside", a ballad that was written by Carey, Afanasieff and Rooney, about Carey's experience being biracial.
Richard Harrington from The Washington Post described the album's subtle inclusion of both pop and R&B genres: "There are two Mariah Careys on Butterfly. One is the pop-oriented, ballad-leaning traditionalist who works very effectively with her longtime professional partner, composer-producer Walter Afanasieff. The other is a self-styled hip-hop fanatic who worked with Ol' Dirty Bastard on her last album and teams up here with several of that genre's movers and shakers, most notably Sean "Puffy" Combs, the godfather of hip-hop soul and the hottest producer in pop music today."
"Butterfly" debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, selling 236,000 copies during its first week, remaining on top for a week and staying on the chart for 55 weeks. It was certified 5x platinum by the RIAA, denoting shipments of 5 million copies.
"Butterfly" garnered generally positive reviews from music critics.
Nathan Brackett, senior editor of Rolling Stone and author of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, praised the album's producers and Carey's "more controlled" vocals. Brackett noticed a connection between much of Carey's lyrics and her separation from Mottola.
Jon Pareles, editor of The New York Times called the album "a new turn" in Carey's career, writing: "Carey has sold tens of millions of albums by being the girl next door with the startling vocal range... but for most of "Butterfly" Carey turned her voice into an airy whisper, as if she would rather charm listeners" compared to over-powering them.
Aside from commenting on its deviance from Carey's previous work, he noted songs in which Carey alludes to her failed marriage to Mottola, such as "Butterfly" and "Close My Eyes" which were both released on the album following the divorce with lyrics about letting love go and life struggles. Additionally he wrote: "Since Carey writes her own lyrics, fans might expect a glimpse of marital discord or pride in her new-found autonomy."
David Browne from Entertainment Weekly gave Butterfly a B- in his review, writing: "In Breakdown, [Carey] demonstrates she can match the staccato, lite-reggae phrasing of her guests, two members of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony."
He described an increased intimacy in the music but noted the arrangement made it difficult to hear the lyrics Carey was singing. "Butterfly is undeniably pleasant, with little of the all-conquering bombast usually associated with Carey. But it's also the last thing anyone would have expected from her: blandly self-effacing."