Yesterday's New York Daily News carried a pretty funny story about Mariah Carey. Business writer Phyllis Furman quoted an unnamed source who claimed EMI Records was considering "dropping" Carey from the label because her album Glitter hadn't sold well.
If you believe this, I've got some swamp land for you in Florida that I guarantee is about to be developed by Donald Trump.
In the history of the record industry there has yet to be a case of a big-name star with a multi-million dollar contract who was "fired" from their label because of poor sales.
I mean, if this were even possible, R.E.M. would have been shown the door by Warner Bros. years ago after the label paid the group $80 million to stay put. Since then, R.E.M. has been on a downward sales trajectory.
If Carey were to exit EMI/Virgin for some reason, the company would have to buy out her contract. Considering her track record of hits, this would not make such sense. It would certainly be wiser to let her get some downtime, then come back with a well-marketed new album.
Carey hired private investigator Jack Palladino last summer when she was convinced someone was planting stories in the press to ruin her career. Her enemies called her paranoid. I say, you're not paranoid just because no one likes you. I think hiring Palladino was the smartest thing she ever did.
Already in the New York press we've had unsourced allegations of Mariah being crazy, being re-institutionalized, of everything she's touched since leaving Sony turning to crumbly coal, and now this. What's next? How about 'Mariah Bites Dog'?
I'm surprised she's getting any sleep at all.
The fact is, Carey — who I've criticized more than praised over the years — is one of the few franchise stars left in the ailing music biz. She's been putting out records since 1989, and regardless of whether or not the singles were deep-discounted or millions were lavished on her for promotion, the result of all that is she's a star.
Glitter was not a hit, but the album suffered from more than one unexpected catastrophe. First there was Mariah's breakdown, which meant that the singer couldn't do a lot of promotion for it. Also, for anyone who released a record, movie, or book after Sept. 11, sales are way, way off.
Still, Mariah managed to bounce back admirably. She appeared on that ridiculous celebrity telethon and sang her "Hero" song. She seemed nervous, but she didn't break down. If anything, she proved she was on the road to recovery.
Meanwhile, though the Glitter album has not been a success in this country, in Europe and Asia it's sold well enough. Sony Japan claimed sales of one million copies when it first arrived. And though EMI didn't have the right to sell Glitter abroad, it will have those rights on Carey's subsequent albums for them. So no one's going to worry about EMI making money from their deal.
EMI's new head honcho Alain Levy would do well to sit Mariah down with a couple of mentorish producers and put them to work creating a new album, sound and image for this talented singer. My advice: go get Richard Perry, who made hits for Carly Simon, the Pointer Sisters and Harry Nilsson. He'd be perfect.
Is Mariah paranoid? How did she get out of her deal last year with Sony?
The first answer is: No. The second answer is more complicated.
Carey got an early start recording the Glitter soundtrack. In fact, she started it months before the movie started shooting, recording parts of it in Spain and in Italy. But this early planning would turn out to be a problem. Glitter was the last album Mariah owed Sony and ex-husband Tommy Mottola under her old deal. So when she was working on it, Glitter was still technically the property of Sony.
Carey and Mottola had been on icy terms since before their divorce. Her video for the song "Honey" depicted her being rescued from a thug-like Italian-American by a hunk, whom she then tangoed with on the beach.
The reference would have stung no matter what. Mottola was furious according to reports. And it didn't help that Mariah was blasting the company on her Web site, which this column first reported.
It was Mottola's access to Mariah's new album that may have caused a series of developments that ended with Mariah squirming out of the contract. A source close to the movie Glitter told me yesterday: "Tommy could have and would certainly have heard Mariah's early work from the Glitter album. It would have been through recording studio sources. The album was still on Sony then."
The source says it became obvious to the producers of Glitter and to Carey that a music loop from the Japanese group Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Firecracker” somehow made its way from Carey's work-in-progress song "Loverboy" to the new Jennifer Lopez album which Mottola was overseeing. Although Talk magazine alluded to this in a story earlier this summer, not much was made of it.
But, says my source, "we all knew about it long before the Talk piece. It was definitely part of the leverage Mariah had to end her Sony contract."
According to the Talk piece, the thinking was that Mottola had seen dailies from Glitter and merely handed Lopez the "Firecracker" sample.
But my source makes it simpler. "I doubt Tommy Mottola would have bothered to look through dailies from Glitter. He would have just heard the track of 'Loverboy,' with 'Firecracker,' from the recording studio. It's that easy. It was something that was done in the recording studio."
Another source says, "Carey and her attorney Don Passman threatened to reveal all of this when they heard the "Firecracker" loop on Jennifer Lopez's record. That was their leverage to end the Sony deal early."
Indeed, Mottola let Carey go without what seemed like much of a fight, even though she owed Sony one more record. Carey wound up using a different sample on the "Loverboy" record.
Passman refused to return calls himself. His secretary said, "We have a company policy not to speak to the press."
If Lopez got the "Firecracker" sample from Mottola, thus appropriating it from Carey, it means that a kind of weird karma was involved. Carey and Mottola have been involved together in several plagiarism suits in which other songwriters alleged that Mariah and songwriting partner Walter Afanasieff were somehow given their material. All the cases have been settled with Carey denying she ever lifted the material.