Arista Records — home to Whitney Houston, Santana, and Toni Braxton — celebrates its 25th Anniversary Monday night with a splashy network special (8 p.m., NBC), where you’ll see the label’s top acts (including Annie Lennox, Patti Smith, and Alan Jackson) performing their biggest chart hits while giving schmoozey kudos to label founder Clive Davis. But the behind-the-scenes picture for the label and its multiplatinum roster is in some cases less than, well, ”Smooth.”
Here’s a look at what to expect on the special, taped in Los Angeles on April 10, and what’s going on behind the music:
Who Clive Davis
Current Status Founder and President/CEO of Arista.
What You’ll See Numerous references to him as ”the man behind the music;” too many ”thank you Clive”s to count; and a career-retrospective narrated by Dick Clark.
Back Story On May 2 — after months of rumors and just three weeks after this special was taped — Davis was ousted as president by BMG, Arista’s parent company, and replaced by L.A. Reid, president of the Arista subsidiary LaFace. This action has caused several of the label’s top acts to threaten to leave out of loyalty to Davis.
Who Whitney Houston
Current Status Embattled diva who has a greatest-hits album in stores Tuesday. Her hubby Bobby Brown — or as she calls him, ”the original king of R&B” — was picked up last Thursday on an outstanding warrant issued when Brown’s probation officer reported that cocaine had been found in Brown’s urine.
What You’ll See A soulful and stirring rendition of her hits. At one point, she noticeably stumbles center stage and they show it!
Back Story Booted from the Oscar telecast just two weeks prior to this taping amid rumors that she was using drugs and was unable to perform.
Who Carlos Santana
Current Status Classic rock’s comeback kid.
What You’ll See An ill-advised Rob Thomas-less version of ”Smooth.”
Back Story Davis saved Santana’s career by executive producing his hit 11-million-copies-sold comeback ”Supernatural.” Santana has threatened to leave the label when Davis exits.
Who Toni Braxton
Current Status Diva-in-training; has a no. 1 R&B single (”He Wasn’t Man Enough”) and a top 5 album (”The Heat”).
What You’ll See ”Unbreak My Heart” performed with such elaborate hand gestures that she could be landing a plane.
Back Story In ’97, Braxton, who was reportedly unhappy with her 15 percent royalty rate, sued Arista and LaFace to be released from her contract. LaFace countersued Braxton for breach of contract. Last year, the parties reached an undisclosed settlement resulting in the singer’s new album.
Who Sean ”Puffy” Combs
Current Status President/CEO of Bad Boy Records, an Arista subsidiary; facing bribery and gun possession charges related to a New York City club shooting in December.
What You’ll See A red-clad Jennifer Lopez cheering him on as he performs ”I’ll Be Missing You” with the biggest explosions this side of Los Alamos.
Back Story Last year Bad Boy’s sales plummeted by more than half: to $50 million from $130 million in 1997.
Who Aretha Franklin
Current Status Still the Queen of Soul; currently working on album of duets.
What You’ll See A taped appearance from New York and one of the most bizarre hairdos — blonde hair wrapped around braids — in recent memory.
Back Story Franklin has long had a fear of flying, which is why she taped her segment. We have no explanation for that hair.