It’s that scenario that most artists have nightmares about and something that’s bound to happen to some while others breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them.
Few singers can match the career of the multi-octave superstar Mariah Carey, the winner of five Grammys who has sold more than 200 million records worldwide.
But sometimes, life gets a little strange in the spotlight.
She cursed on television during a 2013 appearance in Central Park that aired on “Good Morning America,” a performance also disrupted by a tear in the back of her dress. While singing “Always Be My Baby” on the “Today” show in 2014, she seemed to suffer from temporary voice freeze, as her mouth moved but for several seconds no sounds came out.
TV watchers also remember her wacky “ice cream cart” cameo on MTV and the sight of her needing four people to put on her shoes during a scene from the reality program “Mariah’s World.”
Then there was the humiliation of “Glitter,” Carey’s disastrous 2001 foray into film stardom, which was lambasted by the critics and public alike.
But nothing quite compares to the meltdown of New Year’s Eve, a case of what could be called “Auld Lang-ziety.”
A representative for Carey cited technical difficulties for a disastrous appearance on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest,” which aired on ABC and was the subject of widespread mockery on social media. Commentators called the fiasco a fitting end to a traumatic year for the music industry, marked by the deaths of Prince, David Bowie and George Michael, among others. One tweeter, referring to the 2016 presidential campaign, joked that Carey’s show had been hacked by the Russians.
Carey began with a brief, flawless “Auld Lang Syne” before descending into a show business nightmare. Her mood seemed to range from frustration to resignation as she struggled with the pre-recorded musical tracks. Telling revelers jammed into Times Square there had been no sound check for her hit song “Emotions,” she lamented that “we’re missing some of these vocals, but it is what it is.”
“Let the audience sing,” she decided as she paced the stage.
“I’m trying to be a good sport here,” she said, adding her own sarcastic review of the performance. “That was … amazing.”
The next song, “We Belong Together,” went no better. At times, she lowered the microphone from her mouth and the music, vocals and all, kept playing, making it clear she was lip-synching.
“Unfortunately there was nothing she could do to continue with the performance given the circumstances,” Carey spokeswoman Nicole Perna said Sunday.
A representative for Dick Clark productions did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Carey later tweeted about the night, starting with a brief profanity, throwing in a couple of sad emojis and concluding with, “Here’s to making more headlines in 2017.”
Mariah Carey’s troubled performance on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest has left many people asking the question: What happened?
The singer’s three-song set began promising enough with “Auld Lang Syne,” but went downhill with “Emotion” and “We Belong Together.” Carey claimed during the latter that she couldn’t hear through her monitors. The situation quickly devolved in front of 1 million revelers and a worldwide television audience on ABC.
Carey took the evening’s performance seriously, rehearsing the night before the show for three hours, according to her representatives. She then rehearsed at 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve with “no sound issues.”
“She was not ‘winging’ this moment and took it very seriously,” BWR-PR’s Nicole Perna tells Billboard. “A shame that production set her up to fail.”
Perna says Carey alerted production and the stage managers that her ear piece was not working. “They told her it would be fine once she was on stage,” Perna says. “However, that was not the case and they were again told that her ear piece was not working. Instead of endeavoring to fix the issue so that Mariah could perform, they went live.”
Carey was intent on honoring her commitment and therefore took the stage, essentially “flying blind,” Perna continues. As for singing to a track, “it is not uncommon for artists to sing to track during certain live performances.”
Adds Perna, “Any allegations that she planned to lip sync are just adding insult to injury.”
Carey rehearsed earlier in the day with her dancers and a body double blocking her entire performance. The singer watched from a monitor checking out every detail and gave a check on her mic to make sure it was working.
A source tells Billboard that time constrictions for the show are extremely tight, as every act has a rehearsal time and the show runs like clockwork. Because of the tightness of the schedule of live television, they “had to go.”
(Robert Goldstein of Maryland Sound International, the longtime audio company for Times Square on New Year’s Eve, disputed her complaints: “There were zero technical malfunctions,” he wrote in an email to media outlets. “Every monitor and in-ear device worked perfectly.”) Beyond a handful of phrases, Ms. Carey didn’t attempt to sing her lead vocals. Meanwhile, both speaking and singing, her voice was considerably lower, huskier and scratchier than it had been during “Auld Lang Syne.”
But what could be more thankless, at this point, than that live New Year’s Eve gig? Why would anyone chance it? It’s cold in Times Square; it’s loud and crowded. It’s an outdoor stage in the middle of a city; it’s one segment of a long show, not a concert production controlled by the star. And it’s full of unavoidable high-definition close-ups, although the cameras did mercifully pull back and turn away through some of Ms. Carey’s travails.
Beyond that, expectations for performance on TV have been raised to impossible levels by music videos, with their faked, idealized live performances fronting the technical perfection of studio recordings. Far too many musicians now play it too safe, attempting to appear superhuman by bolstering live sets with canned material, trying to approximate their own video clips. Yet even the most well-rehearsed live shows are bound to have moments that are out of tune, mistimed or just plain mistaken: human, one-time moments that can make a performance memorable. Those slip-ups used to be ephemeral, something that could be laughed off afterward. Now they live on forever in the perpetual online blooper reel that YouTube can become.
On her best nights, a performer like Ms. Carey, whose voice has dropped and coarsened since her first hits in 1990, is not going to match her early stratospheric hits. Her more recent songs, wisely, place themselves where her voice is comfortable now, hoping to make up in grit and experience what they lack in sheer vocal acrobatics. Those adjustments are necessary to maintain as long a pop career as Ms. Carey’s. One of her major problems on tour has been that some of her most beloved songs, the hits her audience wants most, demand a voice she has outlived. She’s simply not as flexible as she was in 1991 when she released “Emotions”; then again, her online trolls probably aren’t either.
So the truly startling thing about Ms. Carey’s New Year’s Eve fiasco is that she planned to perform “Emotions” at all. The canned music already included the song’s near-dog-whistle vocal flourish, which Ms. Carey no longer pretends to be able to deliver. But what the world heard from Times Square was a backing track awaiting a lead vocal — presumably a live one.
Ms. Carey could have smiled her way through another lip-sync, hitting her marks with her dancers, and it would have been one more forgettable television performance. There would have been a little ripple of complaints that she was lip-syncing, followed by the collective shrug that lip-syncing is now business as usual. Instead, bravely, Ms. Carey was set up to sing that strenuous song live, outdoors, in 45-degree weather. Then, for whatever reasons, she backed out and set off the first pop feeding frenzy of the year. Technical problems, temperament, nerves — or could it be some perverse genius calculation? One of a celebrity’s main jobs is to draw attention, and this was a spectacle that drew comment worldwide — a grand diva moment that was noticed, and will be remembered, the way a perfect performance never would.