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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

A Brief History of Mariah Carey Blaming Glitter's Failure on 9/11

"Anything released the week of 9/11/2001 was not going to work," she claimed. Wrong!

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Mariah Carey arrives at a screening of her film Glitter at the Village Theater in Los Angeles, Ca. 9/20/01
Mariah Carey arrives at a screening of her film Glitter at the Village Theater in Los Angeles, Ca. 9/20/01
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

The 2001 movie that was supposed to catapult Mariah Carey into film stardom, Glitter, is known as one of the most notorious cinematic flops of all time. It did have audiences cheering, albeit not for the intended reasons. The shot that elicited applause, according to multiple write-ups at the time of its release, was of the fully intact Twin Towers, which had been leveled just 10 days before Glitter thudded into the theaters.

Glitter and 9/11 would remain inextricably linked moving forward, but for reasons beyond a stray glimpse of the New York skyline as it once was. For years, Carey has used the unfortunate timing to explain away her project’s failure. The album had originally been planned for an August 21 release (with the film teed up for August 31), but both had been pushed back three weeks after Carey’s very public battle with exhaustion while promoting the project had landed her in the hospital. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

If things went according to plan, Glitter might have been an afterthought by the time 9/11 rolled around. The buzz had been bad all summer and the first single, “Loverboy,” had received a tepid response at radio. The high-profile project should have simply been written off as Carey’s first commercial failure after an unstoppable string of successes in the preceding decade.

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Instead, 9/11 bore Carey’s blame for a misbegotten project for years in its wake. Sometimes she botched her already dubious recounting of events, like when she claimed the movie was released on 9/11 during a 2013 Watch What Happens Live interview:

The timing of Glitter trumped its content in Carey’s recollection. She told the New York Times in 2005 when promoting her comeback album, The Emancipation of Mimi, “I don’t care if it was the best one of my life, anything released the week of 9/11/2001 was not going to work.” But that’s not true—other new album releases on that day included Jay Z’s classic album The Blueprint and Nickelback’s ...less-than-classic album Silver Side Up. (They were certified two and six times platinum, respectively.)

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The first instance of Carey attributing Glitter’s failure to its bad timing that I could find happened in January 2003 during an interview on New York radio station WWPR (105.1 FM). “Carey also said her Glitter CD and film project failed partly because it came out after 9/11 and had inadequate support,” is how the New York Daily News recapped it the following day. But seems that Padma Lakshmi, who appears briefly in Glitter as a Vanity-like character for whom Carey’s Billie Frank sings backup, was the first to state the connection publicly. In the January 2, 2002 entry of the New York Daily News’ gossip column Rush and Malloy, Lakshmi lamented that acting offers “dried up” as a result of her involvement with Glitter. However, “she doesn’t think the film flopped because star Mariah Carey had ‘shortcomings as an actress, but because the movie was released just too close to the 9/11 atrocities, and the public wasn’t in the mood for a showbiz story.’” This was kind and, apparently, inspiring.

Carey has echoed this claim several times in the years since. In addition to the aforementioned examples, the Press Association quoted in her in 2010 as saying:

Here’s the thing that a lot of people don’t know, that movie was released on September 11, 2001 - could there be a worse day for that movie to come out? I don’t think so - I don’t even know that many people even saw the movie.I don’t think it’s the worst thing ever done. I don’t think it’s the best thing ever done. If I could go back in time and not do it, yeah, I would definitely not do it.

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In 2005, she reportedly said, “I released it around 9/11. I became a punching bag. I was so successful that they tore me down because my album was at No. 2 instead of No 1. The media was laughing at me and attacked me.” (Note: Glitter peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 album chart.) She told Paper in 2009: “It was after September 11th. A lot of people taking shots at me had no place to go. We are friggin’ ADD, this country. There’s a huge ADD situation.”

There’s some truth to her “punching bag” claim. SNL’s post-9/11 return to air, its September 29, 2001, episode, featured a Weekend Update joke linking 9/11 and Glitter:

US officials continue the search for Osama Bin Ladin. Reports suggest that Bin Ladin is most likely somewhere remote and barren, where he will not encounter others. The FBI has begun searching theaters showing the movie Glitter.

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In 2002, The Daily Show’s movie critic Frank DeCaro reported, per the Knoxville News-Sentinel, that Glitter was the first movie he saw post-9/11. “I never thought I’d laugh again after 9/11,” he said. “And that made me laugh. I do have a warm spot for Glitter. It’s just the worst movie ever.”

To be fair, there is probably a nugget of truth in Carey’s 9/11 excuse: In its March 10, 2002, issue, Newsday quoted then-president and CEO of the Recording Industry of America, Hilary Rosen, as listing the terrorist attack among the reasons why music sales slowed in 2001. (Also blamed: a slow economy, online piracy, and CD-burning.) But the claim that 9/11 directly caused Glitter’s failure is undoubtedly overblown and has appeared to be an extreme avoidance of accountability in the years since its release. The old 9/11 excuse—Willa Ford knows it well.

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Carey has since updated her own explanation with more excuses. In her 2020 memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, she wrote, “The saga of making Glitter was a collision of bad luck, bad timing, and sabotage.” To explain Glitter’s underperformance, she cited her then-ex-husband/former mentor Tommy Mottola’s meddling (he had a direct line to the production, as the movie was a Columbia Pictures release and he still worked at Sony, which owned Columbia), a “very bubblegum” and constantly changing script, her acting being inhibited by a coach who was “too invested in my career,” and a refusal by the powers that be to allow a romance between her character and Terrence Howard’s on account of interracial optics (though they’re both multiracial).

Carey goes on:

The box-office sales for Glitter were dismal, in large part because the country was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. The tragedy was still fresh, and no one was ready for the lightweight distraction that was Glitter. Out of respect for our collective mourning, one would think the media would have turned their obsession away from me as well, but it seemed only to intensify.

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Note: Its opening weekend, Glitter debuted in the No. 11 spot in the box office rankings. Ten other movies were deemed more worthy distractions by filmgoers.

Memory can function like a game of Telephone, in that when you think you are recalling an event you might actually be recalling your last memory of it. The further you get away from said event, the more liable your recollection is to be distorting it. “Never forget” becomes a tough proposition when remembering is so dicey. At least Carey has shown some growth in the recent content critiquing of her infamous bomb, instead of hanging most of it on 9/11. The terrorist attack took a lot from us, but Glitter was destined to be a pop-culture casualty no matter when it would have hit.