R&B Has Never Seen a Femme Fatale Quite Like Mariah the Scientist

The Atlanta singer chatted with VICE about her latest project ‘Ry Ry World’ and how heartbreak often feels like death.
KC
Queens, US
July 27, 2021, 11:00am
Mariah the Scientist
Photo by Gunner Stahl 

They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That rage manifests itself in Mariah the Scientist’s brooding and slightly twisted R&B. Her songs often find her dangerously in love, costumed as a modern-day femme fatale. If you make it out of her whimsical Tim Burton-esque soundscape alive, consider yourself lucky. On “Revenge,” the antagonizing closer on the 23-year-old’s latest project Ry Ry World, she sings, “Tell ‘em that in death we’ll meet again / Like it ain’t your blood that’s on my hands.” Her songs play out like episodes of Snapped, and although she swears she isn’t dramatic while she’s on the phone with me, her metaphors are hyperbolic enough for two lifetimes. 

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“‘Revenge’ was me trying to explain to this guy that I was on the edge and I told you, ‘I’m on the edge, please don’t push me over,’” she says over the phone. “That was completely disregarded. You pushed me practically off a cliff—to the death of me. It just so happened to be that I didn’t die, somehow, and when I climbed up from the fucking cliff I garnered way more strength than I had when I was knocked off of it. Now I know what it takes to do it to someone else because you taught me to be ruthless.” 

In 2019, Mariah released Master, her major-label debut led by the melancholy ballad “Beetlejuice,” a song so personal that the listener feels special by being made privy to the intel she reveals. Mariah’s superpower is in the intricacies of how she writes this love story, coming up with creative ways to describe that her man’s deception was eventually just another way to control her. “Cause you’ll lie to my face / And then you’ll say that even Jesus forgave,” she sings. In the two years since Master, Mariah has only strengthened that skill. And although Ry Ry World’s was also completed two years ago, the former science major kept tweaking it for precision. The result is a project that is both a haunting yet sentimental musing of relationships, and break-ups, that have held space in Mariah’s heart. 

The album art for her latest project, which features the singer smiling with an arrow through her chest, is the first indicator of Mariah’s pain tolerance. She is reflective on Ry Ry World, acknowledging that sometimes, she’s stayed in situations she should’ve left a lot sooner. On “Aura,” which samples the Isley Brothers’ “Make Me Say It Again Girl,” she’d use her last breath to salvage her relationship—even if he’d rather be friends. Elsewhere, on “2 You,” she sings “Should’ve left you last July, but I was only trying to save us.” 

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Where most love songs offer bouquets of flowers, Mariah’s music might as well commemorate her old flames on tombstones. VICE sat down with the singer to talk about her real-life love for science, heartbreak, and working with Lil Baby and Young Thug.

VICE: How would you say that Ry Ry World continues the narrative that you started on Master?  
Mariah the Scientist: It’s a different narrative now. [Master] was a little more down. I was down when I was writing it. I was down when I was recording it, but now I feel different. The dynamic has changed and the perspective has changed. If there’s any correlation between the two it’s just that I’ve grown and evolved and this project, when you deep dive and read between the lines it’s the most multifaceted depiction I could give of how I’ve changed in the past two years. 

Your music is a little dark and twisted. You describe your relationships like a Tim Burton film. Would you attribute that to being in toxic relationships, or is that just the lens you gravitate towards?
Someone can say there are a couple of different sides to a story. I can’t say how they interpreted those situations, but when I’ve looked back on those situations it just seemed so gruesome. I was done really dirty in a lot of those relationships. Even though I wasn’t literally murdered, it felt like a lot of things were taken away from me, or maybe I sacrificed a lot. It felt like a lot of things were killed off in me, and I felt like the only way I could show it imaginatively was what I can create. 

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Can you talk a little bit about where you were going with the creative direction for the “Aura” video, because it seems to be an extension of the album art. 
I wanted it to correlate that I ran from this thing—I didn’t want it—and it hunted me down. It got me, finally. In the video when I got shot and the sky lights up like that, I wanted it to show that a lot of times love is hypnotic. You don’t always see things clearly. I’m smiling on the cover and I have a fucking hole in my chest. Or [in “Aura”] I just got shot, and although it’s clearly hurting me and I’m probably going to die in the snow like this, the sky looks amazing. I can’t even focus on the fact that my chest is coming out of my body. When I was writing the treatment for that video, I just wanted it to seem euphoric. When we got to directing it, it took a long time to get an edit I was satisfied with because I had this particular vision in my head for it. Like the cover, I wanted it to be deceiving. 

You write a lot about the brain on “2 You,” which is an interesting choice considering when it comes to relationships, people tend to operate on emotion rather than logic. How would you say your grasp of science has given you a better understanding on why you might react to certain situations?
A lot of the things I’ve learned in college about science are beyond interesting to me. The idea that when you fall in love, there’s a particular hormone called oxytocin, and it’s released when you have an orgasm or give birth or when you breastfeed. It’s literally a hormone that makes you fall in love. If you are locked in on someone and your body is releasing oxytocin, you literally develop something for them. It’s really weird but it’s a real thing. Even with hallucinogens in general. Things like ecstacy, your body releases all this dopamine and you feel amazing. Then the next day when you’re burned out from using up all your dopamine, you are on this weird depressive comedown. But it’s all science. I would love to find more avenues to describe that to people but the best I can do now is doing it with imagery. 

It might be a little corny for Mariah the Scientist to make songs about science, but I would love to do it in other tasteful ways.

You can’t pinpoint your music to a particular region, but working with Young Thug and Lil Baby as collaborators is a subtle nod to your Atlanta roots. What were you looking for when it came to collaborating and incorporating a male perspective? 
The producer’s name [for “Always n Forever”] is Earl [on the Beat] and he’s also done “Act Up” for City Girls. He’s just really tapped into a particular scene, so when he was making the song, I just knew Lil Baby would sound good on it, but I had a lot of people telling me otherwise. I was dead set on it. The same with that Young Thug song [“Walked In”]. I obviously had to consider other people for it, but I really wanted him to get on it and he winded up coming through for me and I thought it was very genuine and real of him. 

I really wanted them in general because I like their music. I resonate with their upbringing. It’s very familiar to me. A lot of times Lil Baby talks about particular areas and stuff he might have done before [rapping], that's how I grew up and that’s where I grew up. Atlanta is such a special place and if I had a flag that said Atlanta I would literally drag that shit all over the world—and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.