February 2006

Cash & Carey…And Clarkson, Too!
Mariah Carey & Kelly Clarkson Survive A Dismal 2005

The final tallies are in for 2005 and it was not a Happy New Year for record retailers. With more and more consumers downloading their choice of music rather than purchasing the entire CD the old-fashioned way, it’s the artists who are feeling the burn, even more so than the record companies.

Sales were down 48 million units from 2004. When you take a look at the sales chart for downloads, sales were up 150 percent in 2005! At least with the downloaded single, record companies still make a profit, though not as hefty. As far as the artists are concerned, they are taking a dramatic cut in revenue. The heavy hitting stars in the music business make as much as two dollars per CD sold, but only take in an average of fourteen to twenty-four cents per single download. With the trend expected to continue, we’ll soon be living entirely in a digital world. But 2005 wasn’t an unhappy year for all. Artists such as Mariah Carey and Kelly Clarkson had a great year. For Carey, it was her best since 2000, and for Clarkson, her sophomore album Breakaway exceeded all expectations.

Carey had the biggest selling album of the year, exceeding five million copies, while Kelly Clarkson, the American Idol cutie turned pop superstar, came in the top three, with sales of close to four million. The advantage that Clarkson and Carey also have is that they write and co-write most of their own music. Two years ago when I interviewed Kelly Clarkson, she was mid-way through the success of her #1 debut album Thankful, and said at the time, “I’m always working, always writing. I already have half of the new album done.” This was one year prior to releasing the mega-smash CD Breakaway. So far it has spawned four top ten singles; the title track, “Since U Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and the latest “Because Of You.” Another milestone for Clarkson is that Breakaway just logged its entire first year in the Top 20. A feat that is rare for artists, especially in the market today, and especially for an artist that could’ve easily been a novelty because of her American Idol status. No one’s making “Idol” jokes anymore. This is one talented lady who will be around for years to come.

Speaking of jokes, I guess it’s Mariah Carey who has the last laugh. Just four years ago, after her failure at the box office with the harshly criticized Glitter, and her CD of the same name, Carey changed labels and signed a lucrative contract with Virgin Records. When her follow-up album, Charmbracelet, sparked a flame but didn’t catch fire the way Virgin had hoped, they not-so-quietly bought her out of her contract. For an artist that had hit the heights in the previous years, there was only one direction for the fierce Mariah Carey to go, and that was higher. After a decade as the top selling artist of the 90’s, with sheer determination, newly written semi-autobiographical songs and a new label (Island/Def Jam), Carey not only succeeded with her album The Emancipation of Mimi, she became the talk of the industry again, but for all the right reasons! Her fourth single, “Don’t Forget About Us,” from her latest opus “Mimi,” reached another milestone, becoming her seventeenth #1 single, tying her with Elvis Presley. What’s even more astounding is that it took Carey 15 years and 44 singles to achieve this status, while it took “The King” 13 years and 111 singles. Both artists have very impressive statistics. But Mariah has another plus on her side, she’s still sizzling hot and it’s just a matter of time until she breaks Elvis Presley’s record. Who would’ve thunk it? The other singles from The Emancipation of Mimi were the #2 single “It’s Like That,” the #1 single and #1 Record of 2005 “We Belong Together,” logging 14 weeks at the top spot, and its follow-up, the #1 movin’‘n groovin’ “Shake It Off.”

Carey started her recording career on top and stayed there for 10 years without any let-up. The first four singles from her self-titled debut album all hit #1. The first was “Vision of Love,” followed by “Love Takes Time,” “Someday,” and “I Don’t Wanna Cry”. When it was time for her second album to be recorded just one year later, the first single “Emotions” gave Carey her fifth consecutive #1 song. Throughout the decade, Mariah Carey became the only artist to score #1 singles in every year of the 90’s. Following the previous five from 90-91, she scored with a remake of the 1970 Jackson 5 smash “I’ll Be There” in ’92, followed by two #1’s in 1993 and ‘94, “Dreamlover” and “Hero.” 1995 brought us her “Fantasy” and her touching ballad recorded with Boyz II Men “One Sweet Day,” which became the longest running #1 song in history (a record that still stands). 1996 rang in with “Always Be My Baby,” 1997 she dripped us deliriously with “Honey” and in ’98 she poured out her heart with “My All.” The end of the decade she scored two more #1’s, 1999’s “Heartbreaker” and “Thank God I Found You” debuted in December and gave Mariah her first #1 single in January 2000. Fifteen singles in nine years and a total of 61 weeks in the #1 spot. With the success of “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us,” Mariah has now logged 79 weeks on top. Besides Elvis, no one has ever come close to that record except for The Beatles, and even the fab four didn’t score like this.

Although the backlash of 2001’s Glitter, 2003’s Charmbracelet and her unfortunate incident with Virgin Records seemed to tarnish Carey’s crown from 2001 to 2004 as the princess of pop, she came back so enormously in 2005, the woman made history. Not just for tying the most #1 records of all-time, but for her comeback to an industry where 35 year-olds are already considered “old school.” Mariah Carey showed the industry and the world that true talent is ageless.

And we’re not even done yet. Come this week, February 8th, the 48th annual Grammy Awards will be presented. Carey has eight nominations including the top three categories; Record, Song, and Album of the Year. Clarkson has also nabbed a couple of big nods including Pop Female Vocalist and Pop Vocal Album. In an earlier column, I made my predictions and vowed that both Carey and Clarkson will emerge as big winners of the event. I’m confident and stand by my predictions.

Carey is one of the divas that will certainly be at the top of her game throughout her professional life, and has already joined the likes of the legendary Madonna. Will she keep up with such veterans as Cher, Aretha and Streisand twenty and thirty years from now? That remains to be seen, but as long as I’m in the mood for predictions, I’ll give her a big “Yes!”

I’m also going out on a limb and predicting Kelly Clarkson will join these women, along with other songstresses as Christina Aguilera and Celine Dion. When I asked Clarkson who her favorite artists were, interestingly enough they were all legends. She said, “I’m a big fan of Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin and Reba McIntire. I love Melissa Etheridge, and who isn’t into Barbra Streisand?! She’s just a given.” So, whether or not you like Kelly Clarkson and Mariah Carey, these are definitely two women with voices that do more than just sing.

© 2006 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.