After a glittering career stuffed with No. 1 hits — not to mention a two-year pandemic delay — Mariah Carey was finally inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on Thursday, but not before challenging her new fellow members to do better by women.
“I read that out of the 439 total inductees into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, only 32 have been women, until now,” she said Thursday at the end of a four-hour celebration at the Marriott Marquis in New York. The line got huge applause.
Carey was the headliner, following the inductions of the weirdly cool producers the Neptunes, the British electro-pop band Eurythmics, psychedelic bluesman Steve Miller and the iconic Isley Brothers. Special guests included Smokey Robinson, Leslie Odom Jr. Questlove, Jon Batiste and Usher.
Songwriters are eligible for induction after writing hit songs for at least 20 years and the hall includes such iconic songwriters as Burt Bacharach, Missy Elliott, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul Simon, Billy Joel, and Carly Simon. New annual slates are voted on by the membership.
St. Vincent kicked off the night with a blistering cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” She later came to the podium to recount the time she first caught a glimpse on MTV when a “beautiful, orange-haired androgynous creature appeared wearing a suit and tie.”
That was Annie Lennox, who with Dave Stewart led the New Wave charge in the 1980s. “They were scary, they were sexy, they were smart and they were impossibly cool,” St. Vincent said. The Eurythmics then reunited for a rendition of “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Lennox, looking out at the audience, said everyone had gone through so much during the past few years. “I feel like it’s a miracle that we’re here tonight,” she said.
Bryan Cranston introduced his friend Miller, who perfected a psychedelic blues sound with such hits as “Take the Money and Run,” “Abracadabra,” “The Joker,” “Jet Airliner” and “Jungle Love.” Miller took to the stage for a spacy, effect-heavy version of his hit “Fly Like an Eagle.” Cranston jokingly called Miller “the space cowboy himself.”
Lil Nas X was honored with the Hal David Starlight Award, which recognizes “gifted young songwriters who are making a significant impact in the music industry via their original songs.” He took the award wearing a white tuxedo and a mob of frizzy blond hair, tweaking the usual acceptance speech: “Thank you to my imaginary husband and kids,” he said.
Representing the Isley Brothers, were Elaine Isley Goodstone, Ernie Isley and Ronald Isley. Ernie Isley reminded the guests that their early hit “Shout,” was recorded 63 years ago and their music would go on for decades, prompting the Beatles to cover them. The two men then joined up for a medley of hits that included “That Lady,” “It’s Your Thing” and “Between the Sheets.” Lil Nas X was one of the members of the audience on his feet bopping along.
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis introduced another songwriting duo — Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo who as the Neptunes shaped pop and urban radio from the ’90s well into the 2000s thanks to crafting hits for Britney Spears, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Usher and Beyoncé.
Williams tried to give advice to up-and-coming songwriters, warning them that the music industry was an often dangerous place. “Life is like Legos. Songs, like life, are put together piece by piece,” he said. “If you build a really strong foundation, you won’t fall.”
Questlove introduced Carey and regretted that all too often her songwriting chops were often overlooked. With 19 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, she is only behind the Beatles, and Questlove reminded the crowd that she did it as a Black woman. “Success at this level, especially for Black artists, is a real obstacle course,” he said.
Carey said a dysfunctional background prompted a dark vision of the world as a 6-year-old, so music and melodies and lyrics were her escape. She said she always has to remind people she’s a songwriter first, but the diva label seems to stick more. She left the crowd revved up for a performance but other artists came on stage to sing a medley of her songs, including “Fantasy,” “Hero,” “Make It Happen” and “We Belong Together.”
Non-performing solo nominees this year were William “Mickey” Stevenson, a producer during Motown’s golden era, who was serenaded by Robinson, calling Stevenson “my brother brother,” and Rick Nowels, who co-wrote over 60 Top 20 singles worldwide, including Belinda Carlisle’s global hit “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”
Master songwriter Paul Williams received the Johnny Mercer Award, and Universal executive Jody Gerson received the Abe Olman Publisher Award.
Mariah Carey, Neptunes, Lennox in Songwriters Hall of Fame