We Belong Together
Even from the demo, I really felt something special
- Mariah Carey
Written by Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri, Manuel Seal, Johntá Austin, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Darnell Bristol, Bobby Womack, Patrick Moten & Sandra Sully
Produced by Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri & Manuel Seal
Samples: “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” by Bobby Womack & “Two Occasions” by the Deele
3:21 Album Version
4:28 Remix ft Jadakiss & Styles P.
7:27 Atlantic Soul Instrumental
4:24 Atlantic Soul Radio Edit
7:27 Atlantic Soul Vocal
9:39 Peter Rauhofer Club Mix Pt. 2
3:58 Peter Rauhofer Edit
9:28 Peter Rauhofer Reconstruction Mix
5:47 Tony Moran & Warren Rigg Edit
9:13 Tony Moran & Warren Rigg Mix
ABOUT THE SONG
On the midtempo ballad “We Belong Together,” Carey fretted so long over the background vocals that she ran out of time for cutting the lead. “That forced me to treat that session as if it were a live performance.”
NY Post “PARIAH CAREY – NEW ALBUM, NEW ATTITUDE – BUT MARIAH’S STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS” by Dan Aquilante April 10, 2005
LORRAINE ALI: "We Belong Together" is a pretty ballad, and I like that retro, slow-jam feel, but it's so sad that it hurts.
MARIAH CAREY: It does? Like in a bad way?
LA: Yeah, it's pretty depressing.
MC: But look at my past songs, like "Heartbreaker" or "Fantasy." You may think those songs were happy little ditties but, truthfully, they were steeped in misery. "We Belong" is sad, but some people really love it and make me play it over and over--like four times. In the beginning it wasn't my favorite, either.
Newsweek “Emancipation Proclamation” by Lorraine Ali, April 17, 2005
"We Belong Together" is my second single from The Emancipation of Mimi. It's probably one of my top three favorite songs on the record. It was a situation where I went back down to Atlanta to work with Jermaine after we had already written two songs for the album. I didn't think we could top the songs that we wrote because I really liked them a lot, but then I got there and we started just going back and forth with concepts and ideas and we came up with "We Belong Together". I feel like the end result was just a really heartfelt ballad that I think people can really relate to. Even though it's a very specific story, I think that everybody can probably apply it to their own lives.
AOL Music Commentary, April 22, 2005
Bobby Womack’s biggest hit was a song called “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” and in parentheses, it says “Wait until tonight girl.” We were writing the song, I was writing with Jermaine, and we were writing the second verse - we were listening to the radio and Bobby Womack was singing and it just was making us sad and that became part of the story of We Belong Together.
NRG Radio France Interview, 2005
You know, it’s funny because We Belong Together was number one 14 weeks in America on the hip hop chart and the pop chart, I wrote it with Jermaine Dupri, and co-produced it with Jermaine Dupri. The bottom of the record, like the bass and the feeling, is like a hip hop beat, but it’s a love song on top of it. It’s the same as some of the older stuff I’ve done, but just more what I like.”
NRG Radio France Interview, 2005
The last song recorded for The Emancipation of Mimi, it went on to become the biggest single from the album, giving Mariah her 16th number one hit and breaking airplay records all over the place! "Even though it's a very specific story, I feel like people can probably apply it to their own lives," she says.
Carey told Billboard she had an early sense this song would stand out: “ ‘I had the chills. I had a great feeling about it when we finished writing the song, and I was flying back from Atlanta at some crazy hour of the morning… But we were listening on the plane ride on the way home, and even from the demo, I really felt something special.’”
Billboard Magazine “Race for Record of The Year, A Close Call” by Todd Martens, January 7, 2006
"L.A. was like, 'You and Jermaine Dupri make magic together, why aren't you in the studio with him?' " Carey recalled. "I said, 'I love Jermaine, is he free? I know he's doing a million things, Usher and this and that.' But Jermaine said, 'Come on down.' "
When she arrived at Dupri's studio in Atlanta the next day, the two of them worked nonstop, popping off two songs in two days: "Get Your Number" and "Shake It Off."
Up to that point, Carey and Reid had planned to make "Say Somethin'," a collaboration with Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams, her new album's first single. But once Reid heard the Dupri-helmed songs, Carey recalled, "He was like, 'Oh no! Now we've got to change the single, make these singles one and two.' "
Carey agreed. "Nobody could tell me that 'Shake It Off' wasn't going to be my first single. It was my favorite song, just from the demo."
Dupri had quickly sized up what he felt the album needed. "The records that I made are very melodic records, regardless of their hip-hop influence," Dupri said. "I think that's what she was missing."
And since he and Mariah had come up with those two songs in two days, why stop? "Then it was like, 'You want to go back down to Atlanta again?' " she said. So the pair teamed up again, coming up with "It's Like That" and "We Belong Together" — the first two songs in the album's final sequence — in two days.
"We said, OK, we love 'Shake It Off,' " Carey recalled. "We don't know how we're going to top that, but let's just try.' It turned out that 'It's Like That' was the right fire-starter, and 'We Belong Together' was the bigger record."
MTV News “ROAD TO THE GRAMMYS: THE STORY BEHIND MARIAH CAREY'S 'WE BELONG TOGETHER’” by Jennifer Vineyard, January 27, 2006
The recognition really started to kick in after I wrote and produced song on Mariah's big comeback album, The Emancipation of Mimi. One song in particular, "We Belong Together", made music history with more radio play than any other record since Elvis and The Beatles.
That hookup came through L.A. Reid. After Virgin paid Mariah off for $28 million, Kevin Liles signed her to Def Jam, but then he left for Warner Music Group. Except for Charmbracelet in 2002, an album I produced that did pretty well, she was left to drift for a minute. People figured it was all over for her after the "Glitter" disaster. But you don't write off talent like that.
L.A. knew it. Mariah's next big album was high on his list the second he moved over to Def Jam. He was one of the few people who could still see what she was capable of. He remembered what me and Mariah did together almost a decade earlier on "Always Be My Baby", and loved it. Even though I'd already moved on to Virgin, L.A. wanted me to work on her next album.
From the first beats to the final demo version we had just a few hours to get the whole record done. Mariah came to me this time, but she was the one on the night shift. She was scheduled to show up at 10:30 but she didn't get to Atlanta until 1 a.m. When she walked into SouthSide, she was all laid back, happy, and cracking jokes. People don't realize how much fun she is.
The whole thing went so fast. First the two of us sat down and discussed a couple of ideas. Then I brought in Johnta Austin into the conversation. That was a small feat. Mariah doesn't like working with writers she doesn't know, but I sorta snuck him in. As soon as she realized how good he is, she was cool.
Johnta's a songwriter who I produce now as an artist. But I wasn't feeling Johnta when I first met him. I wasn't down with having another songwriter around me. I wanted to be the only one. But not only was he persistent, he was good. I grew to like him out of respect. Musically we're so on the same page that having him as a permanent fixture at So So Def has allowed me to branch out and do even more.
The songwriting went smoothly, but, musically, me and Mariah had some back-and-forth. At first Mariah was pushing for something more ghetto. "No it's too out there, too urban," I said. "Lean it more towards the middle." I didn't want her doing all the syrupy ballad stuff her pas label executives tried to push her into. She also needed to hold herself back from trilling up and down the scales. I wanted to keep the power of her voice inside the framework of a great song. We finally agreed on what she called a "thugged out ballad".
People say Mariah's a diva, all bossy and controlling, but I never noticed that side of her inside the studio. We have different styles of working. If a TV's on in a room she has to turn it off, and other artists, their crews, and their girlfriends are all banned from SouthSide when she's in the building. I respect her wishes. But musically she always meets me halfway. She wants the right record and so do I.
The song ended up being completely different from our original idea. By 5:30 a.m. we knew we had our hit single. I had to sing half of the end of the song because she wouldn't get on the plane without me finishing the lyric. I told her I didn't want to - like I said I hate singing in front of my artists - but she wouldn't leave until I did it.
When it was time for her to go home and record, I gave her my pep talk, "You've gotta sing the song full voice. Just do you and sing. People are gonna love you!" But she didn't even need me to say it. She was outta there by 6 a.m.
Mariah's a career artist. She'll be cranking out hits long after the pop tarts' careers finish up. When that whole album came out with all its hits - "We Belong Together", "Get Your Number", "Shake It Off", "What It Look Like", "Don't Forget About Us" - people were looking at her like, " Yo, she came back!" But she just did what she's always done. She had a good song and sang her heart out. She can't tell me, "J.D. you're a lifesaver." I don't look at it like that. I just helped her remember who she was.
The Emancipation of Mimi “Young, Rich, and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul” by Jermaine Dupri, October 16, 2007
On what was supposed to be the eve of Carey’s comeback, one of her most trusted advisors sent her down to Atlanta for just one more try at a true smash, uniting her with her longtime songwriting partner, Jermaine Dupri.
L.A. Reid: Mariah had recorded the entire album and we were literally celebrating in a hotel room. It was me, Mariah, Mark Sudack, and Benny Medina. We were about to toast and we raised our champagne glasses. And I wouldn’t do the clink. I said, “This album is not complete. It’s missing a big song.” It wasn’t the greatest news, but basically she said, “What do you recommend?” And I told her, “You need to see Jermaine Dupri.”
Jermaine Dupri: L.A. sent her to Atlanta to finish the album, but she had come down before to make some songs. First two songs we did were “Get Your Number and “It’s Like That.” She came and we got that, and it [“It’s Like That”] became the first single. When she came back, we said, “Let’s do a ballad.” So we ended up making two ballads. “We Belong Together" and “Shake It Off.”
Reid: One of my favorite Mariah songs was “Always Be My Baby.” She wrote that with Jermaine. I thought they never truly revisited that, so they did.
With only a small time in Carey’s schedule, a crack team assembled to try to make the classic that Reid was demanding of her.
Dupri: Mariah didn’t want to come stay in Atlanta. She didn’t really want to spend the night. We didn’t even get to finish recording it down here. Her plane was ready to go. It was like 6:00, 7:30 in the morning, and Mariah was like, “Focus, c’mon let’s go.”
Mariah Carey: This is the song that I worked hardest on with Jermaine. Me, Jermaine, and Johntá [Austin] were writing for the album. I loved “Shake It Off,” then we had to really sit down together and focus. I’m used to be being the most focused person in the room, but on this particular track, Jermaine was so focused. I’ve never seen him this focused before.
Dupri: That was the first time that Johntá was brought in to write. Me and Manuel [Seal] did “Always Be My Baby” together. We were trying to recreate the magic we had. That was the thought in bringing him back to do that.
Johntá Austin: It was very, very late when we recorded this. All of them started after midnight. This was a twist for me. I usually like to work in the day, so I had to readjust my body clock. She would throw an idea out there and Ron and Jermaine would start on the track. There was definitely some pinot grigio on hand. It was a relaxed environment, with everyone throwing ideas on the piano and humming back and forth.
Carey: Me and Johntá were fooling around. We were writing the second verse, “I didn’t mean it when I said I didn’t love you so,” and then JD was working on the track, and we sitting on beanbags singing, “I need you baby and everybody knows, you without me is like Snoop without hos.” Then Jermaine walks in the room and he was laughing, like, “Stop playing around and get to work.”
Austin: The second verse was different. Jermaine wasn’t blown away. He came to me and he said, “I need you to come up with one of those verses that I know you could do.” I threw the Bobby Womack line out there, and it was received pretty well.
Dupri: This process is unheard of, to get a song that good in that little bit of time. It was magic.
Carey then left Atlanta and went to New York City to finish recording the song and to show the team’s work to Reid.
Carey: I was recording in the studio, back in New York City and L.A. Reid was upstairs. I had already spent two or three hours doing background vocals and fixing the arrangement, all those background parts. That’s where I have the most fun. Next thing I know, L.A. comes down with all of his money people as I’m singing, “When you left, I lost a part of me,” over the outro and my friend Tracy Cloherty [former Hot 97 programmer and current BET exec] stopped by. I never let people in the room when I’m recording, ever, and I knocked it out because I said, “I don’t have another chance for L.A. to hear this song and I need him to hear this record.” And I jumped up the octave and I sang it, and that was it.
Reid: My head exploded! I said, “That’s the one we’re looking for.”
The song was now complete, and Carey chose her longtime friend Brett Ratner to direct the music video, which to date has more than 128 million views on YouTube.
Brett Ratner: Usually the process is that Mariah will come over and will sing me a rough cut of the song and I’ll film her. One of the best things about Mariah is that she sings lead vocal and all of her back-ups and all of the ad-libs on her songs. She’ll do the ad-libs for me, so I learn the song really well . . . I just felt like this was a smash. It was a moment. She was on the top of her game and wrote an incredible song.
Carey: Well I remember playing the song for Brett. Different tracks inspire him different ways. We’re on our way to the video shoot now for the song “Infinity,” and it was the same type of reaction when he heard that song. When he heard the song, he felt like it was a really big record, but we knew we had to get two videos out at once. We came up with the concept for both and got Eric Roberts and Wentworth Miller to be in the video.
Ratner: The wedding dress she wore in the video is the same one she wore at her wedding to Tommy Mottola. She wanted to light the dress on fire, but I thought it was going to be too much. Filming the wedding was so much fun. My grandparents were in the audience.
Carey: I wanted to burn the train of the dress. It was 27 feet long and Brett wouldn’t let me burn the train! I don’t know what was wrong with him. He didn’t want to set me on fire but we could have done it in post. I mean, c’mon.
Ratner: It was so much fun. I only come out to do videos for Mariah. I love her music so much and we’re like brother and sister. The rumors that we were dating were ridiculous because we’ve been friends for 20 years. She’s like my little sister.
The song was released on March 29, 2005, and made its debut on the charts at number 81. The crew watched as the song climbed the charts.
Dupri: I made so many records. When I hear it on the radio, I can tell something when it comes across that it’s going to be a big record. You can listen to the people that were talking, the air jocks, they’ll say something like, “Mariah’s back.” You could tell that conversation was leading to this song becoming what it is. You start hearing this commentary. Then you can believe that it’s coming in that way.
Reid: I really did know it was that special record. I was driving in Miami and I pulled up to a stop. A lady pulled up beside me singing the song at the top of her lungs and her windows down. I said, “I’ll be damned, she cracked the code.” This is what we look for when we make music. One of the greatest tests is when you hear someone singing a song in their car. That’s a private moment, like singing in the shower. I wish I could have pulled her over and taken her picture.
Austin: It was euphoric. I grew up listening to Mariah before this song. All the way back to “Vision of Love.” To have a record that was doing well and making history for an artist you really admire, to work with and have fun. It was the icing on the cake.
Carey: I felt it in my heart that it was a hit record. It’s just sometimes you have a great song but the planning’s off and the stars don’t align and it doesn’t go all the way. I think there was a little lapse in the genre of female vocalist in that style of song and I think that all of those factors made it work.
The song has gone on to sell over 1.6 million copies in the U.S., and Billboard named it “the song of the decade” in 2011. Her comeback was cemented. Carey continued her success, netting two more number-one singles, judging American Idol, and now performing in her Las Vegas residency.
Reid: I think that all great artists have chapters in their career and that was her second chapter. The first was from “Vision Of Love” until she left Sony. That was a massive run for her. This was her return chapter. We kid around about it but that was her moment, and boy, did she come back. It was a massive success.
Carey: It came at a pivotal point that was so necessary for me to have a very big record but nobody could have predicted how big it could have been. Nobody would have predicted it was going to be just as big as “One Sweet Day.” If people want to call it a comeback record, I don’t know if they would’ve called it a comeback, if it was number one for five weeks or four weeks. It just seems like with me the standards are so high, and I set my standards so high, that it’s hard to live up to.
Reid: “We Belong Together” was many things. It was a massive, big comeback for Mariah, and it was a comeback for me, too. The song symbolizes the relationship we have. It’s our love song. Not that we have a romantic relationship, but she is my music industry wife and I am her industry husband, and that is our theme song. It was our magical moment together, and we’re still together, because we belong together. [Laughs]
VOGUE “‘We Belong Together’ Turns 10! Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri, and L.A. Reid on Making the Smash Hit” by Myles Tanzer, May 15, 2015
“Obviously this song was an undeniable hit that reintroduced me to the world at a crucial time when I felt very vulnerable. I put all of my emotions into all of it. I love singing this song in concert and seeing the audience reaction as they sing along to the lyrics. It feels like we are singing the soundtrack to my life together, in unison, just me and my fans.”
#1 to Infinity liner notes, 2015
SIMON: You describe how you'll begin to write a song, and it grips you. You've just got to finish it.
SIMON: What other songs of yours have done that for you?
DUPRI: Yeah. "We Belong Together" with Mariah - she came to Atlanta. She wanted to finish the song that we created in four or five hours. And it was late. It was, like, 5 in the morning. She was catching a flight. Half of everybody that was in the studio was already sleeping. It was just me and her. She was like, I need this one little part to finish this song. And she said, Jermaine, go ahead and write this part. And I was tired. And I was, like, nah, just leave it. I'll send it to you. And she was like, no. We have to finish this song right now. So that was that same burning feeling that I had with "Jump." And that song became song of the decade. So when you feel it, you feel it.
SIMON: Well, it could also be Mariah Carey said finish it now, or I'm getting on an airplane and you'll never see me again (laughter).
DUPRI: Nah, nah, nah. She's just like me. She doesn't want to listen to the song incomplete. And you just got to push yourself to go ahead and find the words that go in that space.
NPR “Jermaine Dupri Is A Songwriters Hall Of Famer And We Have The Playlist To Prove It” interview with Scott Simon, June 16, 2018
‘We Belong Together’ is a song I wrote for The Emancipation of Mimi which is one of my favorite albums of mine, and we, the team, always knew that ‘We Belong Together’ was going to be the main single from that album. I had gone through some ups and downs, and I was working with my friend Jermaine Dupri — working on these really, like, late night schedules, which [I love], and everybody is like, ‘Here she comes. We’re going to start working at 12 and get done at 5 in the morning, 6 in the morning’ — but we started going back and forth with different melody ideas, and then we were also working with my friend Johntá Austin, and he and I were kinda like having fun and laughing and writing a bunch of different lyrics and Jermaine walked in like, ‘Are you guys serious? Like, focus!’
So we all sat there and really focused on the second verse, “‘I can’t sleep at night when you are on my mind, Bobby Womack’s on the radio, singing to me, ‘If you think you're lonely now,’” and like, It was incorporating other songs into that song, and we knew it was going to have an effect on us when it came down to the publishing, but we didn’t care because we really, really focused on that song, and I don’t know that we’ve ever actually been able to top it.
The music video — it was just about my character getting married and running away from that to find her true love, which goes with the lyric, "we belong together.” I mean, I get goose bumps thinking about it because it really was such a special time in my life when we did that record, and I feel like the video definitely captured the emotion of the song.
I feel really proud of it because I still love it, it’s one of my favorite songs to perform. And some songs that I write I’m sitting alone writing the lyrics by myself and sometimes when you collaborate with others you can brainstorm and really work together for the end result, and that was one of those songs. It really was a labor of love.
The Voice “Story Behind the Song: Mariah Carey "We Belong Together””, November 3, 2018
2005 Released on The Emancipation of Mimi album.
2005 Included on The Emancipation of Mimi: Ultra Platinum Edition.
2009 Included on the The Ballads/Love Songs compilation.
2015 Included on the #1 to Infinity compilation.