When Mariah Carey releases Rarities, her upcoming compilation of B-sides and previously unreleased tracks, she will fill in a decades-old bit of diva history that has remained relevant through interviews and “I don’t know her” memes. Included on the tracklist, which Carey unveiled Wednesday, is the discarded original version of the first single from her ill-fated Glitter project, “Loverboy,” sporting a sample from Yellow Magic Orchestra’s 1978 synth-pop classic “Firecracker.”
In its final form, “Loverboy” relied heavily on a sample of Cameo’s 1986 electrofunk smash “Candy.” The reason Carey switched out samples, she told MTV News prior to the single’s release, was “thievery.” Without naming names, the outlet reported that another artist had sampled the song Carey had intended for use on her single. “Let’s just say they did me a favor,” Carey told MTV News. “And they know who they are. And thank you, sweetie. And your friend who did it with you!”
The sweetie in question would turn out to be Jennifer Lopez, whose sophomore album J. Lo contained “I’m Real”—which sampled the Yellow Magic Orchestra track, and was released more than seven months before Glitter. With no firm evidence that actual theft had taken place—and full knowledge that the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker” (itself a cover of a Martin Denny “exotica” track from 1959) was a huge R&B hit in its day, a staple of electro DJs’ crates, and the foundation of several hip hop tracks in the ‘80s and ‘90s—this accusation of theft could be read as paranoia on the part of Carey, whose fatigue during the Glitter promo cycle was evident and culminated in a so-called “breakdown” in late July 2001 with which the tabloids had a field day. On September 5, 2001, the New York Post reported that “the blow that sent Mariah Carey to the hospital in July with a nervous breakdown was learning that Jennifer Lopez had ‘stolen’ part of her song ‘Loverboy.’” The Post said that when she learned that Lopez’s album would contain the same sample, “Carey freaked out, convinced that her ex-husband, Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola, had a hand in giving the tracks to Lopez. A source said, ‘It literally drove her crazy.’”
And then: some vindication. In April 2002, XXL printed an interview in which producer/Murder Inc. impresario Irv Gotti revealed that on the heels of Carey recording a duet with Murder Inc.’s Ja rule on another Glitter track, “If We,” Mottola had called him to request a Ja Rule/Jennifer Lopez duet that would become the megahit “I’m Real” remix. “Immediately I knew what he was doing because we just finished the Mariah record,” he told the rap mag, according to Fox 411's Roger Friedman. Gotti would repeat the story on a 2017 episode of Desus & Mero, saying that when he received the request he thought, “He’s trying to fuck Mariah.”
So that made two Lopez tracks which were apparently inspired by ideas that originated on Glitter: the dance-pop “I’m Real” and its hip-hop remix. Friedman quoted unnamed sources who claimed Mottola had been collecting intel by secretly viewing Glitter footage prior to its release. Though by then, Carey had left Columbia for Virgin, Friedman pointed out that “Glitter was a Sony Pictures release, which is a sister company of Sony Music,” and Columbia, of which Mottola was the head, is a Sony company. Friedman reported that he spoke to the publisher of “Firecracker,” who told him: “Mariah Carey called us to license a sample from ‘Firecracker’ first. Then, within a month, Jennifer Lopez also called for it.” Mottola and Lopez’s producers had told Talk magazine that this was a coincidence, according to Friedman, and he reported that Sony Music flack Patricia Kiehl told him: “One song has nothing to do with the other. This is absolutely untrue.”
Carey had reportedly hired a private investigator named Jack Palladino to confirm she was being sabotaged. In a piece with reporting that originated in Us but now lives on the National Enquirer’s website, Palladino is quoted as saying: “Her belief is that Tommy is attempting to control her career, her future and her life.” Wendy Williams, in response to Gotti’s 2002 revelation, reportedly said on her WBLS radio show that Mottola offered her “a large sum” to sabotage Carey.
This creative interference has long been suspected as the root of Carey’s ire for Lopez, which she has expressed throughout the past two decades. Vanessa Grigoriadis reported that when she interviewed Carey for Allure in 2001, Carey said after hearing that Grigoriadis had recently interviewed Lopez: “I bet it was really intellectually stimulating...I bet you could just see the depth in her eyes she was so soulful.” When Grigoriadis told Carey that Lopez claimed to get eight hours of sleep a night versus Carey’s three, Carey reportedly retorted, “If I had the luxury of not actually having to sing my own songs, I’d do that too.”
Carey kept the shade flowing in a 2002 Larry King interview when he asked her about the perceived rivalry: “There are rivalries but I don’t think she has anything to do with me. I mean, my whole thing is singing, writing songs. And you know, I’ve been doing this my whole life. Singing is first and foremost. It’s a God-given talent that I’m grateful for. Her thing is something different.”
And then, most famously, there was the “I don’t know her” comment Carey gave during an interview on the set of her video for her cover Def Leppard’s “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”:
Mariah on J. Lo in 2009: “I don’t know the woman. There were things in the past that are from the past. I think there was more confusion courtesy of a record company issue.”
Mariah on J. Lo in March 2016: “I still don’t know her.”
Mariah on J. Lo in May 2016: “I’m very forgetful...I don’t know her.”
For her part, Lopez has mostly played this graciously, telling Andy Cohen in 2014: “I don’t have a feud against her at all. I know from back in the day I read things she said about me that were not the greatest, but we have never met. We don’t know each other. I think it’s from like kind of word of mouth and things that have happened in the past that I’m not really aware of, but I don’t know. I would love to meet her and I would love to be friends with her. I think she’s incredibly talented... It saddens me to hear anything that’s negative because I’m a fan of hers.” She laughed about Carey’s forgetfulness with Wendy Williams in March 2016, saying that she had Carey had actually met “many times.” In 2015 Lopez was caught scrolling through her phone as Carey performed during the Billboard Awards, explaining, “I watched a lot of it. It was a long performance.”
The original “Loverboy” is something of a Holy Grail vault track that many fans never expected to see the light of day. And now, this missing piece of music history that set off the preeminent diva feud of a generation is imminent. I’m not saying that Carey and Lopez’s rivalry could make for an entire season of Feud (though I’d love that) but it’s at least worth a very special episode. Ryan Murphy, are you listening?