[It’s] about being your own role model, about looking inside yourself to gather strength
- Mariah Carey
Written by Mariah Carey & Walter Afansieff
Produced by Mariah Carey & Walter Afanasieff
4:20 Album Version
4:22 2009 The Ballads Version
4:37 Live Version
4:17 Heroe (Spanish Version)
4:40 Live with Luciano Pavarotti at Pavarotti & Friends for the Children of Guatemala & Kosovo
5:38 Live at the Pearl Palms Concert Theatre (Unofficial Release on iTunes)
ABOUT THE SONG
There’s not really one specific inspiration for the song, ‘Hero’ but the basic theme is looking inside yourself - being your own role model.
Mariah Carey DVD, 1993
“‘Hero’ is about being your own role model,” Mariah explains, “about looking inside yourself to gather strength.”
Music Box Tour Book, 1994
"I like to try and give positive messages, if I can in my music, whenever I can... like with the songs Make It Happen and Hero," the singer/songwriter notes. She adds: "I do this because there is a lot of negativity out there and lot of people are singing about how screwed up the world is, and I don't think that everybody wants to hear about that all the time.”
Jet Magazine ‘Mariah Carey Says: My Mom Taught Me To Believe In Myself” by Robert E. Johnson, January 24, 1994
‘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…
Music Box Album Promo Video, 1994
MC: “One person could say that 'Hero' is a schmaltzy piece of garbage, but another person can write to me a letter and say, 'I've considered committing suicide every day of my life for the last ten years until I heard that song, and I realized, after all, I can be my own hero,' and that, that's an unexplainable feeling, like I've done something with my life, you know? It meant something to someone.”
“Mariah Carey: Revisited” by Chris Nickson, 1998
I like to sing ‘Hero’ live ‘cause it’s pretty easy to sing and I can do different things with it - I don’t do it like the record. I was going to put a live version of Hero on the album [#1s], but they wanted me to just put the regular version. It might have been produced and you know, more towards a middle of the road, mainstream way, it might have been some more towards that way, but I would have preferred to sing it differently. When I sing it live, I don’t sing it anything like the record, but I think it ended up, because the statement is so strong, being a song that was universal.
#1s DVD Interview, 1999
If “Hero” sounds like it was meant to be heard over the end credits of a film, there’s a good reason. Dustin Hoffman and Geena Davis starred in a movie for Columbia Pictures called Hero. Producer Walter Afanasieff recalls, “The people over at Epic Records were going to do the soundtrack for the film. They wanted to have Mariah sing the theme to it, but they didn’t really think they could because at that time you couldn’t get near Mariah to do anything film-wise. So they wanted to try the next best thing, which was to have us write something.”
The film was screened for Afanasieff in Los Angeles and he was told that Gloria Estefan would probably be asked to sing a title theme. At the time, the producer was working with Carey on her Music Box album. “I went to New York and we were in the studio and came to a break. I was sitting at the piano and told Mariah about this movie. Within two hours, we had this incredible seed for this song, 'Hero'. 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 ballady or too old-fashioned as far as melody and lyrics.
The pair was almost finished writing the song when Tommy Mottola, president and COO of Sony Music Entertainment and Carey’s fiancé (later her husband), walked into the studio. Hearing the song they were working on, he asked them what it was, and Carey replied, “This is a song for the film Hero.” Afanasieff recalls Mottola responding, “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.”
Initially, Carey was guided but the subject of the film, but Afansieff acknowledges that the artist made it a very personal song. After she decided not to give the song away, she completed the lyric and made it her own. The producer went back to the soundtrack people and told them, “You know what? I didn’t come up with anything.” Estefan never heard the tune originally meant for her, and the song that ended up on the soundtrack was “Heart of a Hero,” written, produced and recorded by Luther Vandross.
Afanasieff and Carey came up with a couple of different versions of “Hero” in the studio. “There was a simpler performance on tape and a more difficult one, with Mariah singing out more, with more licks. But we chose a happy medium. The song really calls for not anything really fancy. But she's always fighting the forces inside of her because she's her own devil's advocate. She wants to do something that's so over the top and use her talents and the voice she has. But she also knows she has to restrain herself and do what the music really calls for.”
Before the song hit number one on the Hot 100, Carey announced that she was donating the proceeds from the sales of the single to the families of the victims of a December 7 shooting rampage on the Long Island Rail Road. Three days after the tragedy, Carey was on stage at Madison Square Garden when she dedicated “Hero” to the three men who subdued the gunman. Carey, who had been a frequent passenger on the LIRR rush-hour ride out of Penn Station, had been shocked but the senseless brutality of the incident. Afanasieff remember the audience reaction: “We started playing the song, and there was a guy standing in the aisle and the light from the stage hit him. He was a grown man and he had tears streaming down his face. And I looked out and saw so many people crying and realized the power of the song.
The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Page 823, by Fred Bronson 2003
I wrote a song a while back even before "One Sweet Day" and it was not my favorite song in the world, but I wrote it. Someone asked me to write a song and they told me the story, and you know it was kind of a moving concept or whatever. And I did it, and I was like you know it’s not necessarily what I like per se, but after doing the song over and over again and having people coming up to and saying, thank you for writing ‘Hero’ because it saved my life or it saved my father’s life or my brothers or sisters life, or something of that nature, I said I always have to sing that song when I’m performing because if I don’t, you never know who I’m leaving out and you know what, in times of my life I’ve had to turn to that song lyrically and flip it onto my own life and sing it to myself. So its from the ‘Music Box’ album, and it’s called ‘Hero', this is for you.
The Adventures of Mimi Tour DVD, 2006
Carey’s second single from the album was the iconic “Hero” and Afanasieff tells a fascinating story of how the song came together with assistance from Tommy Mottola.
“One of my favorite stories of the Mariah Carey era was when I was asked to write a song for a film that was being finished in Hollywood that Sony/Columbia Pictures was putting out,” says Afanasieff. “Being intertwined with Sony Music you’re sort of connected to the company next door which is Sony Pictures. So a lot of times Sony Pictures calls upon Sony Music to produce the music for the movie, which is a pretty standard procedure. They asked me if I would come in and screen a movie called “Hero” which was a Dustin Hoffman and Andy Garcia movie.
“At this particular time, they asked Gloria Estefan to sing this song and they asked me to write and produce a song for the movie. I was carrying this bit of information in my head when I came to New York City to work with Mariah on her album. We were getting together to do some writing for her album. One day, while we were at Right Track Studios I told her about this project I was working on and asked her if she wanted to write this song with me. I told her it was pretty cool and the concept of the movie. I started playing the piano part at the beginning of the song and she asked me, ‘Is that your idea for it?’ I told her, ‘Yea, this is what I’ve been working on for it.’ She goes, ‘Yea, that’s really pretty. Let’s try it.’ So we sat there and tried it.
“Within the next two hours we had the bulk of the song done. She started to not be Mariah Carey, the singer, she started to become the songwriter for someone else. She wasn’t really worried about it being for her and her style. She just came out of the box and we wrote “Hero.” At that time, Tommy Mottola walked in and asked us what we were doing. We told him we just wrote this song for the movie “Hero.” He said ‘Let me hear it.’ and after he heard it he looked at us and he said, ‘There’s absolutely no way you’re giving that song to that movie. This is your song, Mariah.’
“She said, ‘What? I’m not going to sing this song. This song is not for me. This isn’t what I want. This isn’t my style.’ He told her, ‘No, trust me. If you put this song on your album and put this out, it’s genius. This will be one of your biggest songs I promise you.’ She said, ‘I don’t want to. This isn’t who I want to be. I want to be less smaltzy. I want to be less pop and less ballad driven.’ He said, ‘Trust me. You have to record this song.’ So she ended up recording it herself. We didn’t give it to the movie and I didn’t write anything for the movie. Low and behold it was one of the biggest hits of her career.”
Soul Culture - Return To The Classics “MARIAH CAREY'S MUSIC BOX LP (1993) REVISITED WITH CO-WRITER WALTER AFANASIEFF” by Chris Williams, July 3, 2011
“I guess this is the song that people associate with me the most. Over the years I’ve grown to love performing it. I sing it different each time because I am singing it directly to people’s hearts. Through the years, people have told me that this song helped get them through difficult moments in their lives. When I sing this song, it seems as though it is a moving experience for myself and the audience together.”
#1 to Infinity liner notes, 2015
AF: Some of your songs veer close to being schmaltz—how do you know how to walk the line between good schmaltz and bad schmaltz?
MC: After I wrote “Hero,” for a while I was like, “Ugh, this song is so schmaltzy, I can’t take it anymore.” Tommy [Mottola] had said, “Oh, there’s this movie, and Luther [Vandross] is gonna do a song, and Gloria [Estefan] is gonna do a song. You want to write the song for Gloria?” I said, “Cool,” and then I walked out, went to the restroom, came back, and I came up with the melody and the lyric—[sings] and then a hero comes along—at the same time. I think I wouldn’t have written that song for myself. It’s got this big, grand melody that actually just came to me when I was walking to the bathroom.
AF: But you of course ended up recording it yourself and it’s one of your biggest hits. How’d you keep it from turning too treacly?
MC: There’s no modulation in that song. If it had a modulation, it’d be way more schmaltzy. What matters for me with that song is that people really responded to it, and a lot of people who were going through difficult times felt some relief from that song. I knew it was schmaltzy, but now, years later, I see how people at a concert will respond to that more than any of the other songs.
Pitchfork “Forever Mariah: An Interview With an Icon” by Alex Frank, November 28, 2018
1993 Released on the Music Box album
1998 Included on the #1s compilation
2001 Included on the Greatest Hits compilation
2009 Included on the The Ballads/Love Songs compilation
2011 Included on The Essential Mariah Carey compilation
2015 Included on the #1 to Infinity compilation
2018 Included on the Japan Best compilation