This bouncy track was the 11th US #1 hit for Mariah Carey. She was doing very well at this time with pure, upbeat pop songs like "Fantasy
" and "Honey
," but "Always Be My Baby" takes a different lyrical turn: Mariah has just been dumped, but it doesn't bother her at all because she knows he'll be back. Her confidence is unshakable, but could land her in crazy-ex-girlfriend territory as she tells the guy, "You can't escape me."
In the US, this was the most-played single on radio stations in 1996 (according to ASCAP, which tracks these things). It was also the first single to debut at #2 on the Hot 100. In total it spent nine nonconsecutive weeks at #2 and two weeks at the top position.
This was co-written and co-produced by Jermaine Dupri, who also produced the main remix of this song. It was Dupri's first involvement with Carey, and later he helped revive her career with his work on her 2005 album The Emancipation of Mimi. Carey told Billboard magazine in 2008: "JD is the best. I love him, I really do. We have such similar influences. It's funny because a lot of our favorite records from growing up are really the same. Back in the day we did the (R&B) remix of 'Always Be My Baby.' The original version was a hard track, if you listen to the bass - but it was very poppy on top. I knew JD could do it, even though he hadn't really worked with somebody like me before. I knew he was just incredibly talented. He's really just honed his skill as a producer in so many ways. I'm a fan and a friend."
Along with Jermaine Dupri, Carey and Manuel Seal are the credited writers on this song. Seal and Dupri previously teamed up on the 1993 Xscape hit "Just Kickin' It," and they also co-wrote Usher's "You Make Me Wanna
This song provided the title for, and featured in, the 2019 Netflix romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe.
Carey sang this from her home studio to close out the "Living Room Concert For America," which was hosted by Elton John and broadcast on Fox March 29, 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. The virtual benefit concert also featured homebound performances by Billie Joe Armstrong, Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish and Tim McGraw.
Mariah told Fred Bronson, author of The Billboard Book Of #1 Hits, how the song came together: "Jermaine, Manuel and I sat down and Jermaine programmed the drums. I told him the feel that I wanted and Manuel put his hands on the keyboards and I started singing the melody. We went back and forth with the bridge and the B-section. I had the outline of the lyrics and started singing 'Always Be My Baby' off the top of my head."
"The background vocals are an important part of the whole picture for me," she continued. "That's why I like to do them myself a lot of the time, or at least initially I'll lay down the tracks. I'll double my voice or do a couple of tracks of my own voice. It's easy for me to match my voice. And then if I'm going to use other background singers, I'll let them go on top of mine. To me, on those kinds of records, the hook is really important. And I tend to do a lot of adlibs, so it can get lost."
Carey directed the music video, which opens with the singer on a campground, swinging over a moonlit lake on a tire swing. Meanwhile, a young boy and girl sneak out of the cabins nearby to embark on a romantic nighttime adventure that has them frolicking through the woods and swimming in the lake.
Dupri also produced the remix, titled the "Mr. Dupri Mix," which featured re-recorded vocals and rapping from Chicago rapper Da Brat, and backing vocals from Xscape. It also included a sample of "Tell Me If You Still Care" by the SOS Band.
Another music video was made for the Dupri remix at Carey's mansion in upstate New York. In the black-and-white clip, Carey, Da Brat, and Xscape are seen performing in Carey's in-home studio and lounging around the pool. But it wasn't all fun and games behind the scenes. The lighthearted video wasn't an accurate depiction of Carey's tightly controlled life at the lavish manor.
In her memoir, The Meaning Of Mariah Carey, the singer explained that her music mogul husband, Tommy Mottola, tracked her every move during their marriage, and she couldn't even move freely within her own home, where the rooms were outfitted with cameras and listening devices and she was followed by armed security guards. During the making of Daydream, Carey caused a huge stir when she convinced Da Brat to sneak off the property with her to get french fries at a nearby Burger King without permission. Dupri, who was still working in the mansion's studio, was confronted by the guards, with guns drawn, demanding to know where the singer was. Thankfully, the interrogation ended when the fugitives returned to the compound shortly after.
According to Carey, her guests were rattled by the experience, but they put their emotions aside and pressed on with "Always Be My Baby." She wrote: "We got it done. A remix, a video, and a prison break all in one day. You would never know from the video I directed that we were surrounded by armed security. I was a master at editing out the pressure."
Dupri didn't mention the harrowing french fries caper in his recollection of the studio sessions, but he told BET
the song came together under unusual time constraints: "Our studio sessions were like from 9 in the morning 'til 5:30 in the afternoon. It would cut off at that point, Tommy would pick her up everyday and they would go to dinner. This was so different from anything I had ever seen in my life - ever. I had never been in the studio in the morning, for nobody, that's one. And two, it's cold shut-off, like no matter where you are in making the record, by 6 o'clock she had to leave. I was from an era where you stayed in the studio 'til the song is finished, so how does a person come in the studio and leave by dinner time?
It was a weird experience for me, but the whole song actually came from Mariah. I don't recall having any writing influence in that song, as far as lyrically. That was all her, and I think, like I said just because of the timing and the dynamic of it, I'd adjust. I was coming from staying up all night then I'd be in the studio at like 9 in the morning. I think we made the track and I might've fallen asleep because I was adjusting to the time."
Spoiler alert! In the series finale of the Canadian sitcom Schitt's Creek, Patrick sings this as part of his wedding vows to David, who is a Mariah Carey superfan.