Oct 31 2005

The Eager Diva

In a business that measures market share by the weekly charts, Mariah Carey counts as a blockbuster global product. In 1990, her eponymous debut album made her a household name from New Jersey to Japan. Bought and sold by three of the world’s four largest music companies since then, she is a brand into which millions of dollars have been invested, and which – sometimes – has returned millions more. She is also among a celebrity elite upon which the newspaper, magazine and television industries lean ever more heavily.

Yet four years ago, brand Mariah was looking seriously tarnished. Her first foray into acting, a film called Glitter, had been panned by the critics and ignored by the public. The accompanying soundtrack albums had sold just 2m copies – a tenth of what she had sold at her peak. With the tabloid press turning on her after a couple of eccentric public appearances, she collapsed exhausted on the floor of her mother’s kitchen. And then, in January 2002, EMI paid an unheard-of $28m to get out of the contract it had signed with her only a year before.

I have come to her London hotel to find out how an asset that had been so expensively written off could become so valuable again. This year, she has staged one of the most remarkable brand comebacks in marketing history. Her last album, The Emancipation of Mimi, has already sold 7.2m copies, spawning a series of chart-topping singles and earning her armfuls of industry awards, culminating in eight Grammy nominations this month.

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