Who just signed the biggest deal in pop history? It's Robbie Williams, the British boy-band alum, whose $125 deal with EMI may be the most lucrative record contract ever
Robbie Williams
Credit: Robbie Williams: Anja Grabert/Vanit.de VANIT / Retna

EMI, the record label that went on a cost-cutting binge last year after its disastrous deal with Mariah Carey, has signed another star to what may be the most lucrative record contract in history, valued at $125 million. The recipient of the label’s largesse? It’s Robbie Williams. Uh, who is he again?

You know, Robbie Williams? The 28-year-old alumnus of the British boy band Take That? OK, he’s a virtual unknown in America, but he’s England’s top-selling solo artist, having sold 10 million albums there. The deal covers four albums and includes the kind of generous promotional support that could help him cross over to U.S. audiences, Reuters reports.

If the dollar amount, which Reuters reported at $125 million, is correct, it would dwarf contracts signed by other performers in recent years, including Whitney Houston (who re-upped with Arista last year for a reported $100 million) and Janet Jackson, whose 1996 EMI deal was reportedly worth $80 million.

Why would EMI spend so much on an artist unproven in the States, especially after the cost-cutting measures instituted last year after the failure of the company’s mega-deal with Mariah Carey? (She signed with the label in 2001 for a reported $100 million, but after the label spent $21 million on her flop ”Glitter,” it bought her out of her contract for another $28 million.) Well, Williams is a proven hitmaker in the U.K. and elsewhere. He was already signed to EMI, which faced a bidding war for his talents from other labels, including Sony, BMG, and V2, according to Reuters. Plus, the Associated Press reports, the deal grants EMI a piece of Williams’ touring, merchandising, and publishing profits — concessions artists rarely grant since they’re more profitable for a performer than record sales.

Williams wouldn’t confirm the $125 million figure, saying at a Wednesday press conference in London, ”My mum said it would be really uncouth of me to talk about money — but I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams.” Asked what he planned to do with the windfall, he said, ”I’m going to count it all.”