Janet Jackson is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her "Control" CD, but she and boyfriend-producer Jermaine Dupri have had no control over her current flop.
Dupri indeed took control of Janet’s latest, “20 Y.O.,” and turned it into Virgin-EMI Records with an edict: Release it. In doing so, Dupri — who was head of Virgin’s urban music department — left no room for discussion.
His vision of Janet was very different than that of Jimmy "Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis, the producing duo that had steered Jackson’s career for two decades. Harris and Lewis saw her as sultry but friendly. Dupri wanted to give the public a harder-core Janet.
The boyfriend and record exec won. The artist, it seems, has lost. “20 Y.O.” — with four album covers and two expensive videos — has been a sales disaster. It’s sold less than 400,000 copies since its release four weeks ago. This morning, it stands at No. 150 on Amazon.com.
Now I’m told that Dupri has either quit or been asked to resign his position. He’s claiming that Virgin hasn’t marketed the CD. On the contrary, Virgin can say it spent a lot of money it will never see again promoting Janet. She even appeared on “Oprah.”
In the end, the problem was that “20 Y.O.” — which meant 20 years old — made no sense and was simply no good. If Harris and Lewis had stuck to their plan, things might have been different. But starting with that awful title, Janet’s CD was a mess.
Certainly it was strange. The second single, called “So Excited,” didn’t even emphasize her. It was centered on a female gangsta rapper called Khia whose biggest record was with the law. In the video of the making of the “So Excited” video, you can see Khia getting all attention, and it’s just plain weird.
Sources tell me there’s been some idea of Mariah Carey coming in and re-doing one of the album’s songs with Janet as a stunt, but that doesn’t seem likely now. Even if Dupri reconsiders his position, Virgin isn’t going to put more money into “20 Y.O.” The damage is done.
And Janet Jackson finds herself in a difficult place, since this was her last release on Virgin. She’s going to find her next record deal negotiation a lot different than in the past. A new generation of execs may be humming an all too familiar song: “What have you done for me lately?”
There’s passive aggressive in the fabled world of mother and son, and there’s passive aggressive.
Last week it was revealed that Yoko Ono had sued Capitol Records for $10 million in missing royalties for her late husband, John Lennon.
According to wire reports, Ono accused EMI and Capitol Records Inc. of violating a half-dozen agreements by "willfully and knowingly underreporting royalties" by hiding the "true use and disposition of Lennon's recordings."
Ono's three-page filing claimed that EMI and Capitol "intentionally and systematically rendering dishonest and grossly deficient accounting statements."
Ordinarily, this would be of minor interest. All the Beatles have clashed with Capitol over the years concerning royalties. They’ve sued, and usually won.
But what a strange time for Ono to pick for this lawsuit. Her son with Lennon, Sean, has just released his second solo album, his first in nine years. And it’s on Capitol.
You didn’t know that? Surprise! Capitol has done little for the very expensive “Friendly Fire” CD and video released on Oct. 3. Its Amazon sales rank is No. 395. That’s high, considering no one knows it’s out.
I would guess Capitol has little motivation to assist Lennon right now, since his mom is demanding millions from them.
And it’s not like Ono is starving. She could have probably filed the lawsuit in a few months, after “Friendly Fire” had been released.
It might not have mattered much anyway. Lennon’s CD comes off much as a vanity project. The music is sort of watered-down sounding John Lennon as produced by Jon Brion, the king of making Beatle-esque pop records.
Rather than let Sean find his own persona, Brion has simply applied his faux Beatle technique to a Beatle descendant. Sometimes, as with Aimee Mann records, this works great. On “Friendly Fire,” it makes Sean Lennon sound like Klaatu circa 1976. He might as well be singing “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.”
“Friendly Fire” is misguided enough, but it has a second, strange component. It’s accompanied by a hugely expensive set of videos for each song. The videos, most of which can be seen on YouTube.com, feature Lindsay Lohan, Bijou Phillips, Harper Simon (Paul’s son) and an endless cast of characters who no doubt worked for free. But the videos also have a pretty high production standard, and you can almost see the money pouring out of them.
Sean — a very nice guy if you meet him — plays a number of roles, including, improbably, swashbuckler. This is called having too much money and just spending it on a marketing disaster. That’s all right if you’re Bob Dylan underwriting “Masked and Anonymous” late in your career, but for a 31-year old who might like to have his own career and persona, it’s the worst move possible.
The timing of “Friendly Fire” is awful for another reason. In the same period, a documentary called “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” has appeared and already failed. The doc, released in late September to theaters, made about $500,000 and is now gone. The public, smelling a rat, rejected it.
Now that I’ve seen “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” over the weekend at the London Film Festival, I know why: Ono. Lennon’s widow, the nominal executive producer of the film, did here what she accomplished last summer in her Broadway musical about the late Beatle. History is entirely rewritten or omitted.
Gone are the years 1973 and 1974 when Lennon had left Ono for May Pang and lived in Los Angeles. Erased is Lennon’s elder son, Julian, as well as nearly all mention of the Beatles. Never even spoken are the names of the other Beatles.
What seems pretty clear is that filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld made a deal with the devil. Ono isn’t listed as one of the producers — there are 16 altogether — but she’s thanked so many times in the credits that it’s almost a joke.
Leaf and Scheinfeld clearly would not have had her participation, rights to music and videos and Lennon’s likeness without her assent. The result is yet another Ono history hatchet job that no one can really take seriously. What a shame.
So many film festivals, so little time: It’s our first visit to the London Film Festival, which is run by friendly, accessible people and has lots of interesting stuff going on.
Sold-out audiences have seen premieres of at least two big studio films of great merit: Marc Forster’s disarmingly charming "Stranger Than Fiction"; and Mira Nair’s spectacular "The Namesake."
Since "The Namesake" won’t be released until March 2007, I will wait to write about it again. Suffice it to say, this should be an Oscar nominee whenever it comes out.
“Stranger Than Fiction,” which opens Nov. 3, stars Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Emma Thompson. Forster, whose other works are “Monster’s Ball” and “Finding Neverland,” turns this implausible fable into something quite moving. The basic story is that Thompson, a novelist, is writing a book. Ferrell is her main character, and somehow he’s hearing her as she reveals his fate.
The gimmick shouldn’t work, but it does, and we learn a lot about the two people as their paths come to a collision. Ferrell is the best he’s ever been, and you can see why Jim Carrey thinks the former "SNL" star has somehow stolen his thunder. It’s the kind of part Carrey was made for after "The Truman Show."
"Stranger Than Fiction" is a great little movie. It reminded me in pace and tone of Tim Burton’s excellent "Big Fish." Hopefully it will find a bigger audience.
Meanwhile: It’s not just the youngsters having a public snog these days. Last night at The Wolesley we spotted playwright Harold Pinter and his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, who are in their '70s, basically making out in their banquette after dinner.
They could have been celebrating his appearance in one of his plays, or her biography of Marie Antoinette turning into Sofia Coppola’s hit movie. Either way it was a far cry from the usual tabloid fare.