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JANET'S DEAL OF THE DECADE

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IT MUST MAKE big brother Michael wanna scream: While 1995 turned out to be yet another annus horribilis for him, sister Janet Jackson is reportedly about to ring in the new year with an $80 million-$90 million record contract.

Although Jackson signed a $40 million contract with Virgin Records in 1991, an exit clause is allowing her to shop for a new deal after just one album. Of course, being the sanest and most appealing member of the Jackson clan (janet. sold 10 million copies), she has suffered no shortage of suitors. Execs from DreamWorks, Sony, MCA, and her first label, A&M, have met with her, but at press time only Virgin, which EMI bought in 1992, seems willing to meet her four-album, multimillion-dollar demands.

Is the singer worth so much money? With the exception of Warner Bros.’ 1992 deal with Madonna, who turned her $60 million contract into a surprise success with Maverick Records, megabuck deals with Prince, the Rolling Stones, and Michael himself have been disappointments. Another concern: the less-than-splashy debut of her Design of a Decade 1986/1996 greatest-hits package, which boasted two new Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis songs. Sluggish sales may indicate these longtime producers aren’t the R&B trendmeisters they once were. Yet there are ways for a label to make a deal this rich pay off: (1) pray she sells 10 million copies of each of her next four records; (2) reposition the dance-based diva as an adult contemporary singer in the Whitney Houston mold so she can retain audiences 10 years down the line.

EMI must think gambling on Jackson is worth it, especially when there could be bigger deals in the offing. ”This is corporate politics at its worst,” says a rival exec. ”[Ex-Virgin owner]Richard Branson got into this bidding war to fatten up Virgin the first time around and make it attractive to EMI. Now the hot rumor is that EMI wants to sell its business holdings within the next year.” With Jackson in the fold, EMI would have something to scream about.

— Dana Kennedy, with additional reporting by Chris Willman

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