It’s no fantasy: Mariah Carey’s current single, ”Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)” — now clinging to the No. 77 spot on Billboard’s pop chart — is the lowest-charting commercial single of her decade-long career. The ballad’s poor performance comes at a time of increased tension between Carey and her record label Columbia, which is overseen by her ex-husband, Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola. What’s more, Carey, who owes Columbia only one more album on her contract, is rumored to be in talks with the new and still unnamed label helmed by ousted Arista Records president Clive Davis.
Though Carey’s publicist didn’t return phone calls by press time, the singer herself has been airing her complaints (via her Columbia-sponsored website) about the label’s lack of support for the single, which peaked five weeks ago at No. 28. ”The political situation in my professional career is not stellar,” she said in a May audio post. ”I’m getting a lot of negative feedback from certain corporate people.”
Mariah didn’t name names, but her dissatisfaction may be what’s leading her to shop her talents elsewhere. And Davis, who discovered Whitney Houston and recently masterminded her comeback hit ”My Love Is Your Love,” could be just the person Carey needs to help her regroup after ”Can’t”’s flop.
So what happened? Unlike most of her other hits, ”Can’t” received almost no play on Top 40 radio. Even ”Can’t”’s B side, ”Crybaby,” which features a rap cameo by Snoop Dogg, got more on-air spins. ”’Crybaby’ was getting some airplay at R&B stations,” says Silvio Pietroluongo, chart manager at Billboard magazine. ”But ‘Mariah’s Theme’ wasn’t getting played much anywhere.”
Part of the problem is that with jangly rock (Vertical Horizon, Nine Days) and spunky teen pop (‘N Sync, Britney Spears) ruling the top 40 terrain, radio programmers are cutting back on slow tunes — no matter who the artist is. ”Even Christina Aguilera’s ballad [”I Turn to You”] wasn’t a big radio record,” explains John Ivey, music director at Boston’s KISS 108.
But some industry observers say that Carey’s continued forays into hip hop and R&B may be alienating Top 40 listeners. ”This album [”Rainbow”] hasn’t yielded any big pop hits in terms of airplay,” says Ivey. ”[That’s] Because she’s working with a lot of urban producers and rappers.” Adds Harry Legg, music director of Chicago’s pop station KISS FM: ”We don’t see our audience begging for Mariah.”
This resistance from radio comes at a pivotal point in Carey’s career — just as she’s about to branch out into movies with a starring role in ”All That Glitters,” which begins filming July 24 in New York City. Carey has already recorded songs for this semiautobiographical tale, and once she delivers the soundtrack, she’ll be free to sign with a new label. If anyone can help her combine a future film career with a return to the pop charts, it’s Davis, who has navigated the same waters with Houston. So will he be Mariah’s new hero? An announcement is expected within the next two weeks.