"Butterfly" is a song by American singer and songwriter Mariah Carey from her sixth studio album of the same name. It was released as the second single from the album on December 1, 1997 by Columbia Records. The song was written, arranged and produced by Carey and Walter Afanasieff. "Butterfly" is a ballad combining elements of pop and gospel genres. Carey had originally conceived it as a house record with David Morales titled "Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise)". After realizing how personal the lyrics were and how they could be applied to Butterfly, she wrote the album's title track with Afanasieff. On the song's lyrics, Carey sings to someone, telling them to spread their wings and release into the world on their own, like a butterfly.
The song's music video depicts Carey in an abandoned house, trapped in a desolate life. As the video progresses, she leaves, apparently for the first time in years, and runs into a nearby meadow. Towards the end, Carey jumps over a barbed fence and goes out into the world on a horse. The song's lyrics and video were directly connected to Carey's personal life at the time. "Butterfly" was performed live on the Late Show with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and various European television programs. The song was also a permanent part of the set-list during her Butterfly World Tour during 1998. Due to current conflict with Columbia, "Butterfly" was never issued a commercial release, therefore hindering its charting ability. The song performed weakly on the charts, peaking outside the top twenty in most countries, except for New Zealand, where it peaked at number 15. In the United States, "Butterfly" was not eligible to chart on the Hot 100 due to Billboard rules at the time.
Background and Release
During the recording for Butterfly, Carey was in the midst of her separation from then husband, Tommy Mottola. While writing the material for the album, she wrote a house music record titled "Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise)" with David Morales. When the song was finished, Carey felt there was something more she could do with the song; the lyrics were very personal and a perfect fit for a ballad. After contemplating on the matter, Carey re-wrote "Fly Away" in ballad form, and incorporated new lyrics and vocals.
"It was '97 and I was leaving my marriage [to Tommy Mottola]. which encompassed my life. I was writing the song 'Butterfly' wishing that that's what he would say to me. There's a part that goes, 'I have learned that beauty/has to flourish in the light/wild horses run unbridled/or their spirit dies/you have given me the courage/to be all that I can/and I truly feel ...[sings] and I truly feel your heart will lead you back to me when you're ready to land.' At that point I really believed that I was going to go back to the marriage – I didn't think I was going to leave forever. But then the things that happened to me during that time caused me to not go back. Had it been, 'Go be yourself, you've been with me since you were a kid, let's separate for a while,' I probably would've."
The song was named "Butterfly" and became Carey's "favorite and most heartfelt ballad." Its lyrics were very personal, linking to Carey's personal life and relationship with Mottola. Carey wrote "Butterfly" for Mottola, hoping he would say its contents to her, and choose to do what was best for her. She described the song as "the best ballad she had ever written" and credited it as the epitome of her magnum opus, which was Butterfly.
"Butterfly" is a personal ballad, which blends pop, gospel and R&B genres. It incorporates piano and drum notes, including heavy beats and grooves. As part of "layering the song," background vocals are featured throughout the chorus and sections of the bridge. It is set in the signature common time, and is written in the key of G♭ major. It features a basic chord progression of A♭-F♭-1. Carey's vocal range in the song spans from the note of G♭3 to the high note of A6; the piano and guitar pieces range from G♭3 to G♭5as well. The song contains choral lyrics written by Carey, who produced the song's melody and chorus as well. Aside from assisting with its writing and chord progression, Afanasieff co-arranged and produced the track as well. In his review for the album, David Browne commented on the song's lyrics and message "The title song, a slice of florid pop gospel, explores the old if-you-love-someone-set-her-free theme; It isn't a reach to interpret these songs as describing life with the reportedly controlling Mottola.
The single's music video was co-directed by Carey and Daniel Pearl. It was inspired by the Tennessee Williams play Baby Doll and a dream Carey had one night. The video begins with scenes of a man leaving his home one early morning; only his feet are shown. Carey is first seen residing in the derelict house, in the middle of a large meadow. She awakes, sad and depressed, wearing battered and disheveled clothing. As she walks down the stairs, Carey sits on the staircase, lamenting in agony at her loneliness. As the video climaxes, Carey is seen finally leaving the foyer, apparently for the first time in many years, escaping from the misery she once called home. As she reaches the outskirts of the property, Carey mounts a horse, which assists her in jumping over the barbed fence. After leaving, Carey is seen smiling for the first time in the video, while waiving her arms in the air.
The video drew many comparisons to the rumors of Carey's deteriorating marriage at the time. Author Chris Nickson felt the video, like the song, served as a metaphor for the things that were taking place in her life at the time. Rumors circulated that Mottola was controlling, abusive and would even monitor Carey's phone calls. For this reason, she is portrayed with tattered clothing and hair in the video, with the final moments showing her escape. It features Carey finally leaving the lonely and abusive marriage she once was part of, and finally breaking free into the outside world. Unlike the video, the lyrics spoke of setting your loved one free, because it is the best thing for them; showing that their love for the person should be greater than their own happiness.
The accompanying music video begins with a shot of an empty street, followed by clips of disadvantaged and poorer members of society going about their daily activities. Two men play dominoes on a wooden crate outside a building, a gang make fun of an elderly man hanging newspapers outside his store and an obese woman walks down the street. Clips of Carey leaning against a wall and sitting on some steps looking on at what is happening are shown. As the first chorus begins, everyone starts to dance joyfully in the street and help those in need. A gospel choir comes out of one of the buildings as the street becomes more crowded with people of all ages and backgrounds rejoicing and getting along with each other. One of the shops in the background has a neon light outside the entrance which says "Jesus Saves".