My take on the not-so-rockin’ New Year’s Eve set from Mariah Carey

For New Year’s Eve this year, I stayed home and kept the TV on channel 13 (KTRK-DT) to watch Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest. Most of the show was enjoyable. Mariah Carey’s set set started with “Auld Lang Syne” which. If only things didn’t go completely sideways right after it…

Mariah’s next song, “Emotions”, was marred by technical problems; according to her on-air commentary at the time, she couldn’t hear the audio in her in-ear monitor well enough to sing along with it. She sort of just stood there on stage for most of it, letting the crowd sing along for a bit. The song after, “We Belong Together” also appears to have been affected even though Mariah was able to either sing along or lip-sync to some of it.

Unfortunately the YouTube copies of the videos have been blocked by Dick Clark Productions on copyright grounds, despite the fact that a clip of just Mariah’s performance for commentary purposes quite clearly qualifies as fair use under US copyright law. Fortunately, I found someone with a copy of the broadcast and was able to make my own clip of the performance, which will be available via BitTorrent shortly after this post goes live. The clip starts at the introduction to “Auld Lang Syne” and ends at Ryan Seacrest’s great ad-libbed commentary about what had just happened, which also happens to drive home that clearly things did not go as planned.

Indeed, it wasn’t long until USA Today labeled the performance “a disaster”, US Magazine asked “What Went Wrong?”, Complex referred to it as “awkward” and said “Twitter let her have it” during the following number, “We Belong Together”, CBS News said she “botched” the performance, and many others.

Mariah herself tweeted a very candid, if slightly profane, summary shortly after the performance:

Shit happens 😩 Have a happy and healthy new year everybody!🎉 Here’s to making more headlines in 2017 😂

During an interview for Entertainment Weekly (EW), Mariah issued this response to a question about her feelings of how the show went now that some time had passed:

All I can say is Dick Clark was an incredible person and I was lucky enough to work with him when I first started in the music business. I’m of the opinion that Dick Clark would not have let an artist go through that and he would have been as mortified as I was in real time.

Perhaps most telling, however, was this EW interview with Stella Bulochnikov, Mariah Carey’s manager. Stella runs through the events leading up to the disastrous moment. In summary: Mariah arrives at the stage for the rehearsal at 2:30pm, which winds up being almost an hour early. The rehearsal runs 3:20pm to 3:50pm, and during the sound check the sound is coming in choppy to Mariah’s earpiece, but she was reassured it would be working by the evening. The sound was choppy again during an interview Mariah does with Ryan Seacrest at 10:30pm. They try a different set of equipment and a different battery pack, which also do not function correctly (the sound is faint) and Mariah is told “it will work on the stage” so they go to the stage. I’ll quote from here:

It’s now four minutes to showtime. She says, “I hear nothing in my ears, my ears are dead.” The other stage manager says, “It will work right when we go live.” Then things start to get chaotic. They start counting her down — four minutes, three minutes. Mariah: “I can’t hear.” Them: “You’re gonna hear when it goes live — two minutes!”

So, right when it goes live, she can’t hear anything. The ears are dead. They’re dead. So she pulls them out of the ear because if the artist keeps them in their ears then all she hears is silence. Once she pulled them off her ear she was hoping to hear her music, but because of the circumstances — there’s noise from Times Square and the music is reverberating from the buildings — all she hears is chaos. She can’t hear her music. It’s a madhouse. At the point, there’s no way to recover.

On the third song when she could hear her track playing it was so bad she said, “F— it, I’ve had enough.”

Stella goes on to describe the conversation she had with Mark Shimmel, the producer at Dick Clark Productions, in which she asks Mr. Shimmel to cut the West Coast feed to limit the damage. He refuses, and then:

So I’m like, “You would prefer to air a show with technical glitches so you can have a viral moment rather than protect the integrity of your show and Dick Clark Productions?” He said, “We just won’t do it. Do you want to do a joint statement?” And I said, “No, I want you to go f— yourself.” And that was it. I don’t think it was an unfair ask to ask them to cut [the segment from] the West Coast feed after they had this huge mechanical glitch.

And now for my take on all this…

Regarding Mariah being “mortified”: I think most of us, myself included, would be mortified as well, if our own national television appearance had gone sideways as badly as this one did. In fact, Mariah’s personal brand equity has a better chance of recovering, I think, because her past fame gives her a bit more room for error. Personally, if I went on national television tomorrow, it would be my very first time, and I’m not sure I’d ever recover from a disaster like this. While there are some who expected better, Mariah probably maintained poise better than I would have in the same situation.

Regarding Mr. Shimmel’s refusal to cut the performance out of the West Coast feed: were I the producer of a program similar to this I would have refused as well. Unless there’s a danger of a lawsuit or fines from the FCC by letting the program air unedited on tape delay, I would lean towards not tampering with the part of the show that’s already aired to half of the country. However I should note, were I the one in Stella’s position, I’d have asked for the cut as well, but realistically I would have expected a rejection. (There’s nothing to lose by trying to do what’s clearly in the best interest of the artist.) I would have left the decision on what to do regarding the joint statement up to the artist I was representing instead of saying what Stella did. (Though for all I know, Stella knows Mariah would have just said “he can go (screw) himself” so she didn’t bother.)

So for the most part I take Mariah’s side on this, and I can’t really blame Stella for getting heated. A lot of the blame here has to go on the side of Dick Clark Productions if the majority of the story as told by Stella is true. However, Hanlon’s Razor definitely applies here: never assume malice that which can be explained by incompetence. I would say those in charge of the audio equipment, including the earpiece monitors, are most to blame here. As much as I can understand how personnel matters are usually kept relatively private, this is a well-publicized incident that happened on live national television and there just isn’t any putting the genie back in the bottle. In that vein, it would be good to see a press release from Dick Clark Productions acknowledging that someone responsible, even if not named, is no longer working for them as a direct result of what happened.

And then there are the accusations that Mariah’s performance was sabotaged by staff at Dick Clark Productions. For those who either never watch television or who are unfamiliar with American television, Dick Clark is a legend in the television industry. In addition to his own production company, he was a fixture on television shows ranging from several incarnations of Pyramid (with changing dollar amounts in the title as the years went on), TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes (now just known as Bloopers), American Bandstand, The Challengers, Scattegories, Winning Lines, in addition to the New Year’s specials which bear his name. Yes, some of these were shows that he also produced, but many were not. Now, I concur with Mariah that Dick Clark would never have let this happen on his watch, but as a fan of Dick Clark’s work over the years both in front of and behind the camera and thus of the legacy he has left behind, I find the accusations that the current staff at Dick Clark Productions did this on purpose to have a viral moment quite offensive, egregious, and tasteless (see above regarding Hanlon’s Razor). This will remain my standpoint on the accusations until evidence surfaces to indicate those accusations may be justified.

That said, even if this was caused by incompetence and not malice, I still think Mariah is due an apology, as are the viewers who were disappointed by what we got instead of what could have been a great performance. And again, even if this was caused by mere incompetence, this looks quite bad on Dick Clark Productions and the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve brand. I hope I’m not stuck at home again next New Year’s Eve, but if I am, this is enough for me to possibly rethink where I tune the TV, or for that matter, maybe even if I bother watching TV at all.