Music Video of the Day: Butterfly by Mariah Carey (1997, dir. Mariah Carey & Daniel Pearl)


I made a mistake yesterday when I spotlighted Fantasy by Mariah Carey. I only relied on mvdbase for directing credits, so I thought this music video was solely directed and shot by Daniel Pearl. It turns out, she co-directed it with him. He still shot it, but they made the video together. You can still see the strong influence that a talent of Pearl’s caliber had on the music video. It also makes it more interesting to talk about since this video does share aspects with Fantasy, that was directed only by Carey, and those elements are used correctly this time.

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The video starts us outside the house as we rise up from behind a birdbath. You’re immediately greeted with white columns that are like prison bars. It is raining. That means that inside of the two seconds that the initial shot lasts, we get a hint that there was once something here that is now empty, the house is like a prison, and the rain sets the sad tone the video begins on.

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The next shot we see a man walking past what could be flowers lying on the ground.

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That shot is followed by a clear shot into the rain-filled birdbath with the faceless man way in the background, and out of focus, climbing the stairs onto the porch of the house. That confirms to the audience that the birdbath is now only filled with rain that acts as a stand-in for tears while also telling us that the video is now moving from the emptiness of the outside to the interior of this prison. Him being out of focus also highlights his faded existence in Carey’s life.

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The rain is then shown washing off the mud his footprint left on the stair. Tears may be sad, but that shot tells us that we are supposed to see them as a cleansing force rather than something that is going to drive Carey deeper into herself. It is also another sign that he is being washed out of her life as he is in the present.

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Then we begin our trip into the house through the Baby Doll inspired hole-in-the-wall. You can just barely see the man’s finger in the lower lefthand-corner as the camera moves forward to show us Carey on a bed with a rocking horse behind it. Then, in a split-second, we see Carey get a small smile on her face. That is followed by a shot of her legs that, along with everything else about the shot, indicates to us that she is an attractive person that is cooped up in this house in bed like she is a baby in the safety of her crib. Then the lyrics kick in, we start to get to know her, and begin her journey.

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The next shot is of Carey in a barn with a baby horse. You can also see a shadow that moves across the entrance and quickly disappears. We’ve gone from his feet to a quick shot of his hands to a shadow. The horse has gone from something wooden in a room that obviously means something to him since he is making one last visit to it, but that we and Carey are already moving past it. These parts are memories that she is thinking of as she lies half-asleep in bed.

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We get a few more shots into the house through the hole, and our last shot of the guy as he pulls away. Awake and still in the bed, she visualizes the horse in the barn again and it running around a small patch of grass surrounded by a wooden fence. She sees the outside via a window that we can see has had been wiped away at to make it possible to see through it–probably on numerous occasions. It cuts between these window shots and her getting progressively up from lying in the bed before she finally rises to move onto the next stage of her recovery.

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Now we see her on the stairs. But we see her from behind the bars of the stairs.

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We also see the chandelier that is beautiful, but abandoned, as shown by the cobwebs on it. It’s another sign that there was something here once and that this house has now become a prison that needs to be escaped from no matter how gorgeous it once was. This is done at the same time as we see the golden-light shining in from outside representing hope, and indicating to the audience that the video will now move Carey to the next stage of her recovery, which she does as she runs down the stairs outside.

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As she does it, we can see that there is not only the peeling on the wall that we could see before, but also another hole in a wall.

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We next see Carey outside straddling a tree branch like she would if she were riding a horse. The tree is an intermediary step. It reminds her of both riding the horse and stability–since the tree won’t move.

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We can also see the wind blowing in her hair that is in contrast to her hair being stationary inside the house. We also get conflicting images of the horse still in the little gated area and running wild with other horses. It is also no longer raining outside, but can see tears on Carey’s face. She’s beginning to let go.

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We now see Carey holding onto the trunk of the tree. She is no longer in its embrace. She is standing on her own two feet, but leaning against it for comfort because she hasn’t completely let go yet. It cuts back a few times to her in the tree before she runs away from it.

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Next, we see Carey finally taking the horse out from the first gate that kept it in a very small area.

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That is followed by the horse jumping the barb-wire fence. While the horse makes it over the fence, it still catches its legs on it.

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Carey then runs up and grabs the fence herself, wounding her hand. It cuts back to her in the tree at first, then follows that with her knocking down the fence. Her and the horse are escaping free, yet wounded. This nicely ties the horse and Carey together. Both were trapped, and in releasing one, the other also gained their freedom. The cut tells us that while necessary, it isn’t painless, no matter how strong she has become at this point.

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We now see her ride the horse for the first time in the video.

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We see her feed it, and have some last moments with the horse before the camera pans up to show that she is alone again like she was at the start.

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The difference is she is outside in the sun, hopeful, ready to start again, and free of the memories of the relationship that were comforting and confining.

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The whole time, these images and transitions correspond with the music and lyrics. In particular, she keeps talking about what she is letting go returning to her if they were meant to be together. We see that it doesn’t. I like how you can read this apparent contradiction in different ways.

There are a couple of other things to notice while you watch the music video. There are several indicators of the passage of time. One of my favorite ones is the way the wood that makes up the wood fence changes. Sometimes it looks new.

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Other times it appears to be rotting with vines growing on it.

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The other thing I like is that it is usually not a single horse running free. You can read that several ways too.

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In Fantasy, the rollercoaster elements are isolated and don’t appear throughout the video. It’s a memorable visual, but that’s it. It is also gone at about a minute-and-forty seconds out of the approximately four-minute runtime. The Butterfly equivalent to the rollercoaster is the horse. The difference is that the horse, and what it represents, is interwoven throughout the video from it being a rocking horse behind the bed to running wild beyond both of the fences–wooden and barbed-wire. Yes, the two songs are quite different in their subject matter, but it could have served the same purpose. It kicks off the song, but doesn’t bookend the video even though it should since it can stand in for a ride through the “fantasy” as well as the song itself.

The other thing that is used better is blur. It is distracting in Fantasy, feels like someone trying out a new feature they discovered on their camera, and almost gives you the impression that Carey wanted to blur out everyone else to place the sole focus on her. Here, you only really notice it when someone tells you to look for it. Otherwise, just like the progression of the horse, it feels seamless.

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Enjoy!

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