"Hero" is a song written and produced by American singer Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff, and recorded for Carey's fourth album, Music Box (1993). Its protagonist declares that even though we may feel discouraged or down at times, in reality we are "heroes" if we look inside ourselves and see our own inner strength; in time, this will help us "find the way." It was released as the album's second single in the fourth quarter of 1993 and became a worldwide commercial success. "Hero" is considered one of Carey's signature songs, and she regularly performs it when invited to charity events and closes most concerts with it. It is also known for being one of the most frequently performed songs at her concerts next to "Vision of Love". The song was nominated for the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, losing to Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do". "Hero" won two ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards, one ASCAP Pop Music Award and one BMI Pop Award for the Songwriter Award.
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."
Writing and producing:
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 were almost finished writing the song when Tommy Mottola, president and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment and Carey's fiance (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 by the subject of the film, but Afanasieff 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 was originally meant for her, and the song that ended up in 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."
"Hero" was the subject of a copyright plagiarism case. Christopher Selletti, a former limo driver for Sly Stone, said that the lyrics were based on a poem that he showed Stone in 1991 (and that he believed Stone had shown to Carey). Carey defended herself with entries from her personal lyrics notebook, although the lyrics from the notebook were dated six weeks after the release of the film Hero (for which the song had originally been intended). Nevertheless, the $20 million lawsuit was eventually dismissed, and Selletti was forced to pay a fine to Carey. Years later Selletti launched a second lawsuit, which was also dismissed, but he has stated that he will try a third time.
"Hero" became Carey's eighth number 1 single on the U.S Billboard Hot 100. It reached number 1 in its tenth week and spent four weeks at the top, from December 19, 1993 to January 15, 1994. It replaced "Again" by Janet Jackson, and was replaced by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting's "All for Love". It remained in the top forty for twenty-five weeks, with fourteen of those spent in the top ten. It received heavy radio airplay and was certified platinum by the RIAA. It was one of the year's biggest hits, being ranked fifth on the Hot 100 1994 year-end chart.
"Hero" also became a hit outside the U.S., reaching the top ten in the UK (where it peaked higher than "Dreamlover", the previous single from Music Box) with total sales of 270,000 units. It also reached the top ten in France, and Australia. It was more successful across Europe than "Dreamlover" by reaching the top ten in most markets, but it performed moderately in Canada compared to Carey's previous singles. "Hero" was certified platinum in Australia by ARIA, gold in New Zealand by RIANZ and silver in France by SNEP.
Doesn’t this song make you feel that you can satisfy your need for acknowledgment by rewarding yourself with acceptance and love? We can be our greatest and most generous supporter. By turning to ourselves for recognition, we give ourselves the benefit of relying on a limitless source of positive reinforcement. We can acknowledge ourselves and our actions whenever we wish. We are then motivated to continue to do things that fill us with pride and satisfaction because we know we will be rewarded for our efforts. Reward yourself and your efforts today, and you will fulfill your craving for recognition and acknowledgement.