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Look who's in the diva doghouse

Look who’s in the diva doghouse. Mariah and Whitney need to learn the lesson of J. Lo and Shania before it’s too late, says David Browne

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Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey: Michael Caulfield/WireImage.com

Look who’s in the diva doghouse

Last week, Billboard reported that Universal Records was attempting to add some luster to Mariah Carey’s tarnished ”Charmbracelet” album by having stores sell its dud first single, ”Through the Rain,” for $1.99. The idea is to make you, the consumer, buy it and thereby turn the song — a gauzy, barely-there ballad even by Carey standards — into a ”hit.”

The scheme may work, as it has in the past. Carey’s earlier label, Columbia, was notorious for engaging in the same product-moving practice. But it’s too much, too late. The apathetic public response to both ”Charmbracelet” and Whitney Houston’s ”Just Whitney…” confirms that these two longstanding, long-screaming divas have met their expiration date.

If there’s any solace for Whitney and Mariah, they should at least know they’ll have company in the diva doghouse. There’s Michael Jackson, who, after his Feb. 6 television interview, is either the savviest or most clueless megastar in history. Old-school ’60s and ’70s diva Phil Spector, once the hippest of the hip in his groovy threads and bell bottoms, was reduced to the sorry sight of bedraggled, bug-eyed suspect in the murder of a B-movie actress. If I were Celine Dion — who is about to begin a three-year engagement in Vegas, with tickets priced in the hundreds of dollars — I would be very, very worried.

The lesson to learn from all this chaos would appear to be obvious: You can only take your control-freaky, money-flaunting, power-tripping behavior so far before it all comes crashing down around you. It’s a lesson that has clearly made an impact on the two women who have replaced Whitney and Mariah in the hearts and stereos of America, namely Shania Twain and Jennifer Lopez.

Shania and J-Lo are as rapacious and steely-careerist as their predecessors, but there’s a crucial and telling difference. In the current economic and political climate, they’re downplaying their cash flow and omnipotence in favor of Everywoman charm.

Twain will tell any interviewer who listens that despite her Swiss chateau, she still loves to do her own laundry. And as ”Jenny from the Block” attests, Lopez continually reminds us, with a face as straight as a razor, that she’s still that same little kid from the Bronx. Acting surprised and embarrassed over their good fortune, they’re the new down-home divas.

Personally, I don’t believe a word of it, but it’s very shrewd, and based on the sales figures of their latest albums, it’s working. If Mariah and her people were smart, they’d drop the low-cost-single strategy and instead have her visit Wal-marts around the country, where she could talk up the surprisingly good quality of their jewelry counters. And one more thing, ladies: don’t forget the coupons.