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Happy 25th Anniversary “I Still Believe”

Mariah Carey I Still Believe

We don’t usually acknowledge time, but it’s been a quarter-century since Mariah Carey released her cover of “I Still Believe.”

The original “I Still Believe” is a composition by Antonina Armato and Giuseppe Cantarelli, initially recorded by pop vocalist Brenda K. Starr for her self-titled second studio album in 1987.

Mariah’s Musical Journey with Brenda K. Starr

In her memoir, Mariah Carey reminisces about her time as a background singer for Brenda K. Starr during the height of “I Still Believe’s” success. Mariah often provided backing vocals for the song during live performances. When selecting tracks for her inaugural compilation album, “#1’s,” Mariah chose to cover “I Still Believe” as a tribute to Brenda K. Starr. Starr’s pivotal role in jump-starting Carey’s career, notably by presenting her demo tape to CBS Records executive Tommy Mottola, who subsequently signed Carey, deeply influenced Mariah’s decision. Reflecting on her humble beginnings, Mariah expressed that the song symbolizes her journey from a teenage girl with just a demo tape and her voice to becoming a successful artist. Brenda K. Starr’s support and belief in her talent were instrumental in Mariah’s early career, and covering “I Still Believe” was a heartfelt acknowledgment of Starr’s influence.

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Mariah Carey shared her sentiments about remaking the song “I Still Believe”: I’m really grateful for the opportunity to remake ‘I Still Believe’ because the album is titled ‘#1’s,’ and this was the first song I performed as a professional singer. Traveling with Brenda, I was a young, struggling artist with no means, and she took me under her wing with such kindness. I auditioned to be her backup singer, and she not only hired me but also provided me with clothes and food, taking care of me like a big sister. Many wouldn’t have been as generous. The most important thing was her belief in me, which is hard to come by when you’re trying to break into the industry. Brenda was always supportive and cool. Whenever I sing this song now, it takes me back to those times.”

Mariah Carey Brenda K. Starr

Charting Success and Global Recognition

The single “I Still Believe” was released as the second track from the compilation in the United States on February 8, 1999. In the United Kingdom, it was released as two CD singles and a cassette single on March 29, 1999. Mariah Carey’s rendition blends elements of pop and R&B, produced by Carey along with Stevie J and Mike Mason. 

In contrast to the previous single from #1’s, “When You Believe,” “I Still Believe” found greater success within the United States, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100. Although it marked Carey’s first single to chart on radio airplay points alone, its airplay was relatively modest compared to its strong sales. Allmusic attributed the robust sales to the maxi-single’s packaging and marketing strategy, which included five entirely distinct versions.

The song achieved top-ten positions on three radio charts: Adult Contemporary (at number eight), Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (at number three), and the Rhythmic chart (at number eight). It narrowly missed the top twenty on the Mainstream Top 40 chart, peaking at number 21. Additionally, “I Still Believe” became Carey’s seventh single to reach the top spot on the Hot Dance Club Play chart. It received platinum certification from the RIAA and secured the 36th position on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1999. Moreover, it claimed the 23rd spot on her list of 25 Top Billboard Hit Songs.

The song also attained top-ten positions in Canada, reaching number nine, and Spain, where it peaked at number seven. In other regions, “I Still Believe” achieved moderate success, securing a spot in the top twenty on the UK Singles Chart at number sixteen, marking Carey’s nineteenth top-twenty single. Additionally, it reached the top forty in four other countries: Belgium (Wallonia) at number twenty-five, France at number thirty-three, New Zealand at twenty-four, and Switzerland at thirty-one. However, in Australia, “I Still Believe” notably became Carey’s first song to miss the top fifty since “Forever” in 1997.

The Visual Spectacle: Brett Ratner’s Cinematic Touch

The music video for the single, directed by Brett Ratner, was filmed in early December 1998 and drew significant inspiration from Marilyn Monroe’s visit to U.S. troops in Korea in 1953 for a United Service Organizations show. In the video, Carey, styled to emulate Monroe’s makeup and hairstyles, is seen visiting Edwards Air Force Base in California, singing for airmen and soldiers while standing on a fighter jet, reminiscent of Monroe’s actions during the Korean War. 

The inspiration doesn’t come as shocking considering that one of Mariah’s initial reads was Norman Mailer’s biography of Marilyn Monroe. Her fascination persisted over the years, evident from Marilyn posters adorning her adolescent bedroom(s) to her eventual purchase of Monroe’s baby grand piano at a Christie’s auction for over $600,000. Furthermore, she honored the blonde legend of the 1950s by naming her daughter after her.

The video made its debut on January 12, 1999, airing on MTV’s Total Request Live and Entertainment Tonight simultaneously. During an interview conducted on the set, Carey discussed the video’s direction and her inspiration for it, stating, “Brett Ratner is directing the video and he’s a good friend of mine and he’s also doing some great work right now. […] We were talking and I wanted it to be a live performance and we just started going back and forth and I was saying how a lot of people in the service had written me letters and talked about various songs. ‘Hero’ being one of them. I remember when I put my first album out, people would write who were stationed overseas. It was in the winter of 1990, which was around the time of the Gulf War, so a lot of people were writing about listening to the album. I always used to watch old footage of performers going overseas, from Bob Hope to Marilyn Monroe singing for people in the service. I thought this would be a nice thing to do. So, we’re doing the video but I’m going to do some more songs if I have it in me.”

The music video received varied reviews. Emmanuel Hapsis of KQED Arts praised it as Carey’s eighth best video, describing it as “amazing.” On the other hand, Chuck Taylor of Billboard gave it a “C” rating, remarking, “[s]eeing Carey coo and kiss and flip her neck to a series of faux surprised smiles, however, does make you wonder if you’re watching a music video or a glamour shoot for Seventeen.” Taylor also noted that Mariah “never looked better, but [she’s] too good a singer for such cheesy posturing.”

Additionally, a video for the remix was commissioned and directed by Carey herself. It depicted her as a peasant girl in a Mexican village, tending to her goats and gathering water for her family. Bone is portrayed as somewhat of an outcast in the town, with whom Carey may share a romantic interest. Da Brat assumes the role of the community outsider, arriving in a car with a large sum of money.

Digital Dominance and Enduring Popularity

“I Still Believe” enjoyed significant success across various platforms. The song sold over 1,120,000 physical copies, establishing its popularity in the physical music market. Additionally, it amassed 200,000 digital sales during the digital era.

Moreover, “I Still Believe” has garnered almost 32 million streams on Spotify to date, showcasing its enduring appeal among streaming audiences. In terms of visual engagement, the music video for “I Still Believe” garnered a remarkable 88 million views, highlighting its widespread appeal and impact on visual platforms like YouTube. The lesser known “I Still Believe / Pure Imagination”, (a sample fusion with Gene Wilder’s Pure Imagination, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) has garnered shortly more than 1 million views.

As we commemorate twenty-five years of “I Still Believe,” we’re hoping Mariah’s upcoming Celebration of Mimi Las Vegas Residency in April 2024 reignites the magic of this timeless classic. 

Celebrating a quarter-century of Mariah Carey’s “I Still Believe,” we reflect on the song’s profound impact on generations of listeners and its enduring resonance in the realm of music. Here’s to twenty-five years of melodic enchantment, and may the echoes of “I Still Believe” continue to inspire and uplift audiences for years to come.

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