The decline of Wilson Phillips
The frustration in Carnie Wilson’s voice is obvious as she discusses the much-rumored breakup of Wilson Phillips. ”At this point we love what we’re doing,” she says a little defensively, ”but it’s very hard. I’m going to do this as long as I’m meant to — and as soon as I don’t enjoy it, I’m going to stop. I want to get into voice-overs.”
Voice-overs? A member of Wilson Phillips, the golden girls with the platinum pedigrees, making anonymous pitches on beer and car commercials? Sure, it’s a living, but just how far can the gilded have fallen?
Well, rather far, rather fast. Only two years ago, Wilson Phillips were the darlings of the pop world. The daughters of a Mama, a Papa, and a Beach Boy, the trio — Chynna Phillips, Wendy Wilson, and Carnie Wilson — were well on their way to selling 5 million copies of their eponymous debut album in the U.S. and 8 million worldwide. It generated five hits, including three No. 1 singles: ”Hold On,” ”Release Me,” and ”You’re in Love.” Wilson Phillips were so successful that their record company, SBK, even began to call them ”the franchise.”
Today, just after the release of an unconventional new single, ”Flesh and Blood” — about the breakdown of Carnie and Wendy’s relationship with their troubled father, Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson — the group is suffering from more than a sophomore slump. Their follow-up album, Shadows and Light, is one of the year’s major disappointments. Although it was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Associates of America, denoting sales of more than 1 million, industry sources say that according to SoundScan, only about 750,000 of Shadows and Light‘s 2 million units have been sold. The album’s first two singles, ”You Won’t See Me Cry” and ”Give It Up,” did poorly. And, darkest of all, the trio canceled its summer ’92 tour because of weak ticket sales.
It’s too soon to tell how ”Flesh and Blood” — whose stark subject matter marks a departure for the group — will do, but even good sales might not stop stubborn speculation that Wilson Phillips will split up. Phillips and Wendy Wilson, who would not talk for this story, have denied the tales. So does Carnie, but she makes it sound as if the group’s future is well short of certain. ”We feel that we have other talents as well,” she says. Besides voice-overs, she wants to pursue acting. So does Chynna, while Wendy is interested in writing.
”I’d be dishonest to say I’m not disappointed,” Charles Koppelman, CEO and chairman of SBK Records, says of Shadows and Light. Koppelman believes the album’s sales were hurt by the trio’s last-minute decision to cancel the tour scheduled around its release. ”If anything is missing, it is the girls being on the road,” he says. ”We lost two months of utilizing the best weapon we have: the girls.”
Replies Wilson, ”It’s a really s—-y time to be out there. A lot of groups are either not going out on tour or canceling. If it was up to them (SBK), we’d be out on the road every day of the year.” What do you expect? She adds: ”They’re a record company.”
If both sides seem a bit testy, it indicates how much the relationship between SBK and Wilson Phillips has changed. Initially the group was signed not only to SBK Records but to an SBK-financed management company; many attribute the group’s early success to the teen-friendly, California-girl image cultivated by their manager, Arma Andon, and his SBK Management. But Wilson Phillips declared their independence last year by hiring Trudy Green, who also manages Janet Jackson, Mick Jagger, and Heart. Koppelman admits that Green’s attempts to limit SBK’s influence at first rubbed him the wrong way, ”but that’s all history now,” he says. Still, one SBK staffer observes, ”She’s assisted in separating the girls from the label.”
Green, who won’t comment on these charges, is credited — or blamed — for the group’s more sophisticated look, which may have contributed to their drop in popularity. ”I have a feeling this image they’re presenting is too intimidating for their 15-year-old fans,” says Andon.
Says one SBK employee: ”I remember a time when those girls could get their hair and makeup done for $450 and have it done in two hours. Now it’s a $7,000 project, takes half a day, and they come out looking like 38-year-old women.”
Sometimes, Wilson confirms, the pressure of repeating success makes her feel just that way: ”I’ll admit it’s a high-stress job. I’m 24 years old, and I feel like I’m 40.”