Mariah isn't waiting for a "Dreamlover
" to come rescue her on this song because she's her own hero. She explained in a promo video for the album: "'Hero' is a song that's basically about looking inside yourself and being your own hero, like not always having to look for some kind of hero to come along and save you, but you can save yourself by looking inside yourself and trying to making it through any situation by really just having yourself to depend on first and look up to, like being your own role model."
Mariah performed this live for the first time during a small concert at Proctor's Theatre in Schenectady, New York, as part of her 1993 Thanksgiving special for NBC. In her 2020 memoir, The Meaning Of Mariah Carey, the singer said it was the first time she realized her popularity. Upon arriving at the venue, she was surprised to see police officers and barricades and wondered if there was something wrong. She was shocked to learn they were preparations for her throng of fans. Despite releasing two hugely successful albums, Mariah hadn't understood the magnitude of her work. Her movements were tightly controlled by her husband, Tommy Mottola, and she spent most of her time in the studio or in seclusion at their mansion in upstate New York. She wrote: "He had my life, but I had my music. It wasn't until that moment in Schenectady that I began to realize the degree of my popularity. I had fans! And soon they would become another source of my strength."
The Schenectady concert was also released on video as Here Is Mariah Carey in 1993. The "Hero" segment was also used as the song's music video, directed by Larry Jordan.
This was produced and arranged by Carey's go-to collaborator, Walter Afanasieff, who also wrote the music. Carey wrote the lyrics.
Carey claims this was intended for the 1992 Dustin Hoffman movie, also called Hero. The producers of the movie used Luther Vandross' "Heart Of A Hero" instead. Walter Afanasieff explained in Fred Bronson's Billboard Book Of #1 Hits that the original intention was that Gloria Estefan would be asked to sing the title theme. He was recording the Music Box album with Carey at the time, and during a break he "was sitting at the piano and told Mariah about this movie. Within two hours, we had this incredible seed for this song, 'Hero.'" Afanasieff added: "It was never meant for Mariah to sing. In her mind, we were writing a song for Gloria Estefan for this movie. And we went into an area that Mariah didn't really go into - in her words, it was a little bit too schmaltzy or too pop ballady or too old-fashioned as far as melody and lyrics."
When it was nearly finished, they played the song to the president and COO of Sony Music Entertainment and Carey's fiancé Tommy Mottola (later her husband), explaining that it was a song for the film Hero. Afanasieff recalled that Mottola responded, "Are you kidding me? You can't give this song to this movie. This is too good. Mariah, you have to take this song. You have to do it."
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Carey re-recorded this as a medley with her Glitter track "Never Too Far" and released it as a charity single. She told MTV of the project: "We made it into a medley and kinda put them both in the same key and just made it work, and people responded really well to it. It's been interesting for me, since the events of September 11, the way people have been playing 'Hero' and talking to me about 'Never Too Far', 'cause that song is also about loss. I figured that it would be a nice thing to do, to put them both out for Christmas. ... I feel like it's our responsibility to do what we can right now in terms of music, just being artists and being human beings."
On December 7, 1993, Colin Ferguson started shooting people on a Long Island Railroad train, killing six and injuring 19. Carey, who grew up in Long Island and rode that train often, dedicated this song to the victims.
This was covered by the 12 finalists of the fifth series of the United Kingdom music talent show The X-Factor for a charity single. Each contestant took it in turns a section of the track. All proceeds went to the British Legion charity Help for Heroes. The song leapt to the top of the UK chart and 313,244 copies were sold in its first week of release, more than the remainder of the top 10 combined.
This was released as the second single from Carey's third studio album, Music Box. For the first time, Mariah embarked on a small tour of North America to support the project, something she'd previously resisted due to her arduous songs. To mitigate the strain on her vocal chords, she made sure to schedule plenty of time between each concert to allow her voice to rest.
With more than 28 million copies sold worldwide, Music Box remains Carey's best-selling album.
A limo driver named Chris Selletti sued Carey, claiming he wrote the lyrics and has them in an envelope he mailed to himself in 1990. His suit was dismissed in court, proving that the "mail it to yourself" technique of copywriting a song doesn't hold up.
Carey sang this with opera singer Luciano Pavarotti at the 1999 benefit concert "Pavarotti and Friends For Guatemala and Kosovo."
Carey didn't like this song at first, feeling it was too sappy. After receiving letters from fans claiming it touched their lives, she came to realize it was a very powerful song and appreciate it for the feelings it brings out in people.
Carey later said it was one of her favorite songs to perform. She explained on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen: "It's usually the last song I do if I do it, and everybody's holding up their lighters or their phones and I get a little bit emotional."
"I'm like, 'How many times have I done this song?'" Carey continued. "But there's always a specific person out there that has a specific memory associated with the song and I wrote it, so it makes me proud."
Carey performed this on the 2001 "Tribute To Heroes" telethon for the victims of the terrorist attacks in the US. It was Carey's first public appearance since her nervous breakdown a month earlier.
Carey recorded a live version for the 1997 album Diana, Princess of Wales: Tribute. "Hero" was included on the 2001 benefit album God Bless America, which helped the Twin Towers Fund.
In 2015, this was used in a commercial for the video game Game of War: Fire Age. In the spot, a battle rages and a knight pulls out his smartphone to summon help, which arrives in the form of reinforcements accompanied by this song. A dragon enters, and is shot from they sky by... Mariah Carey, who puts down her crossbow and delivers the line, "Time to be heroes, guys."
This was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1995 Grammy Awards, but lost to Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do