Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve saga is simply unending, dahling, and it’s all her team’s fault. On Tuesday, Entertainment Tonight reported that Carey fired her creative director Anthony Burrell as a direct result of the disastrous performance that aired live on ABC. Per “a source close to Carey,” “part of the reason for Burrell’s departure is due to a placement decision he allegedly made without the approval of Carey or her management team.” The item continues:
The source further explained to ET that Burrell’s decision to move the backup dancers offstage “left Mariah without any support,” as backup singers can be a source of support and help an artist pick up cues if their inner earpieces don’t work and they can’t hear the music.
This, like many explanations out of the Carey camp this week, doesn’t quite ring true in my (working) earpiece. The problem during Carey’s performance seemed to come down not to cues and keeping pace with her track, but with an inability to hear her own voice over the crowd, if we believe her disputed assertion that her ear monitor wasn’t working. During her performance of “Emotions,” you can hear her sing a word or two where they belong during the song—at the top of the first verse (“I feel...”), and at the start of the bridge (“Feels like dr—...”):
The performance was bad, but the followup from Carey’s camp, especially via her manager Stella Bulochnikov, has been horrible. Too much has been revealed that just doesn’t add up in the long, detailed explanations Carey’s manager Stella Bulochnikov has given the press regarding her client’s debacle.
For example, Entertainment Weekly asked if Carey had planned to lip-sync parts of her performance and Bulochnikov responded:
No. It’s not lip-syncing. Lip-syncing is when people don’t sing at all. This is what people should understand. Every artist sings to a track, especially in circumstances like that when it’s really loud and impossible to have a great musical performance. You’re not singing at the Philharmonic. Every artist who goes out there sings to tracks. What Mariah was doing was singing to tracks. What you heard on the second song, “Emotions,” was her going to sing it live. That’s why you heard no vocals. It’s a song she sings every other day.
This explanation only makes sense for “Emotions,” which came via a largely instrumental track (except for canned whistle notes that precede the song’s chorus). “We Belong Together,” which followed, was, per Carey’s own admission onstage that night, “the album version so I’m just going to let you put this skirt on me and sing along with it.” She did sing along for a few lines, as the full studio vocal dominated the sound track, as it was clearly intended to do. Her introductory portion of “Auld Lang Syne” seemed to be entirely lip-synced.
On New Year’s Day, Bulochnikov began waging her war of words with Dick Clark Productions via interviews. She accused DCP of “sabotage” and said they left Carey’s much-tweeted performance in their West Coast broadcast of the show unedited for the sake of ratings. The culprit, she said and has maintained was a nonfunctioning earpiece that made it so that Carey was unable to hear herself onstage.
[Mariah’s allegations are] defamatory, outrageous and, frankly, absurd. In very rare instances, there are, of course, technical errors that can occur with live television. However, an initial investigation has indicated that DCP had no involvement in the challenges associated with Ms. Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance.
Further, the New York Times quoted an email from Robert Goldstein of Maryland Sound International, which does audio Times Square on New Year’s Eve:
There were zero technical malfunctions...Every monitor and in-ear device worked perfectly.
Still, the earpiece narrative is at least plausible given that Carey could be seen ripping it out of her ear at the start of “Emotions” and then heard remarking, “We can’t hear, but I’ll just get through the moment.” It seems unlikely that she’d craft this story while onstage in some sort of impromptu refusal to do what she’d showed up to do. It seems reasonable that the noise of Times Square and a “choppy” earpiece feed (per Bulochnikov) would impair herself from hearing her own voice.
What is less plausible, though, is the Carey camp’s response to a DCP source on TMZ that Carey didn’t soundcheck before the performance, but relied on a stand-in. Carey’s team sent pictures to TMZ that were taken during soundcheck hours before her New Year’s Eve performance, in an attempt to prove that Carey had performed the soundcheck. Bulochnikov was adamant to EW that Carey, “did not ditch rehearsal... She sat on the side of the stage with her ear-pack and her in-ears and her microphone to make sure she could do the sound check. The most important thing to her was the sound. The sound was coming in choppy. She was assured it would work by the evening”
But during “Emotions,” Carey noted repeatedly onstage that she had not adequately prepared the song. “We didn’t have a check for this song,” she said, and then moments later, “We didn’t have a soundcheck, but it’s New Year’s, baby.”
Watching the performance, a technical glitch seemed to be the primary cause of what was largely deemed a “meltdown.” Perhaps it was exacerbated by Carey’s own nerves or insecurities with her unpredictable instrument (long gone are the days that she would just open her lungs and blow—now she has good days and bad days, seemingly arbitrarily). You could understand how in a suboptimal situation, she’d be reluctant to wing it when that’s led to ridicule in the recent past. But Bulochnikov and Carey’s own defensive stances have done them no favors as the dubious assertions have piled up.
Carey has noted on her reality show that when things go wrong for her, “It’s always my fault. It doesn’t matter. What I do is live in the solution, so I always have to acknowledge, take the blame, apologize and keep it moving.” This may often be true, but it’s not always—Carey has repeatedly blamed Glitter’s failure for its 9/11 release date (it was actually the soundtrack that came out on 9/11—the movie followed 10 days later) and in 2015, she blamed her record label for not “doing what they should have done” to ensure hits from her recent albums. Sometimes the less you explain, the better off you are.
But less-is-more only seems to be a strategy as far as Carey’s wardrobe on Mariah’s World is concerned. Bulochnikov, who produced reality shows like Charm School and Paris Hilton’s My New Best Friend, allegedly spearheaded Carey’s candid-reality turn. Mariah’s World, by the way, foreshadowed the reported firing of her creative director Anthony Burrell as early as its first episode when Burrell’s demands chafed Carey and prompted her to sigh, “I just hope that one day he’ll respect my process as much as I respect his.” It almost feels like an immersive experience, a multi-screen narrative is being crafted from the Carey drama, but it’s too sloppy to admire.
Even though I wish Carey had kept her response to the NYE debacle at 140 characters or less, the tweet she sent after still rubbed me the wrong way:
For an artist who’s so synonymous with chart success that her 18 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s are practically part of her title, for a singer who would never let you forget that she’s also a songwriter, for someone who has been so unwilling to discuss her personal life that it often results in utterly dull interviews, this pride in headline-grabbing, this all-press-is-good-press ethos just doesn’t jibe. Perhaps this is Bulochnikov’s way of revitalizing Carey’s career to be more relevant in these salacious times of lowered standards, but it’s a quick fix at the potential expense of legacy. Legends like Carey, are bigger and better than this.