“Hero” is a song by American singer and songwriter Mariah Carey. It was released on October 19, 1993 via Columbia Records as the second single from Carey’s third studio album, Music Box (1993). Originally intended for Gloria Estefan, the song was written by Mariah and produced by her and Walter Afanasieff. While writing the song, Carey did not connect to its style or sound, therefore forfeiting it over to the soundtrack of the film of the same name. However, after being convinced to keep it, she personalized it, giving it a more pop and R&B melody, as well as changing some of the lyrics to more precisely fit her personality. Lyrically, the song is regarded as one of Carey’s most inspirational and personal ballads, with its protagonist declaring 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, it will help us “find the way.”
The song received mixed reviews by contemporary music critics for its lyrical content, while Carey’s vocal performance was praised. Aside from its lyrics, “Hero” derived its hook and sound from several musical instruments such as the guitar, piano and organ. The song experienced strong success in several international markets, and also became Carey’s eighth chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100. Additionally, it was ranked number 53 on the Decade-End Chart. Outside the United States, “Hero” enjoyed strong charting, reaching the top five in Canada, France, Ireland, New Zealand and Norway and the top ten in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Due to fan requests and letters, as well as their connection to its personal meaning and content, the song remains one of Carey’s most performed songs. Deemed by many as her signature song, the song was originally performed on The Arsenio Hall Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Hey Hey It’s Saturday during its original chart run. Additionally, Carey performed it on several live telethons and specials, such as Pavarotti and Friends and Michael Jackson & Friends in 1999, America: A Tribute to Heroes in 2001, Live 8 in 2005, and the inaugural ball for Barack Obama in 2009. Additionally, the song was featured on the set-lists of all of Carey’s tours, usually serving as the encore or closing number, and making its debut during the album’s accompanying set of concerts, the Music Box Tour. The song was included on several of Carey’s compilation albums, #1’s (1998), Greatest Hits (2001), The Ballads (2008), and #1 to Infinity (2015).
Throughout the course of her career, Carey has re-recorded the song twice, and filmed other music videos aside from the original. The first music video for the song was filmed by Larry Jordan in July 1993 during a private concert at Proctor’s Theatre, later released on the home video Here Is Mariah Carey. In 2001, following the September 11 attacks, Carey re-recorded the song as a mash-up single titled “Never Too Far/Hero Medley,” a medley with her single at the time, “Never Too Far.” Additionally, prior to the release of her compilation album The Ballads, Carey re-recorded “Hero” and filmed a new video featuring behind the scenes footage of the studio. “Hero” won two ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards, one ASCAP Pop Music Award and one BMI Pop Award for the Songwriter Award. The song has been covered many times during both studio and live recordings, such as on global singing competitions.