Ten minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve and we saw one final 2016 death: Mariah Carey’s reputation. Millions have seen Carey’s disastrous performance—some in person in Times Square, some live on television and the rest later online. In a year full of divisive rhetoric and bitter clashes, we were all able to agree in the final moments of the year that Carey screwed up.
Unfortunately, Carey refuses to own up to the failed show, and instead points fingers at everyone else.
That compounds her mistake on stage. Instead of learning from past lip syncing scandals, Carey and her PR team are ensuring that this crisis—which should have lasted a day—will last an eternity. Carey is going to be the new Ashlee Simpson, who most people only remember for her lip syncing debacle on “Saturday Night Live” in 2004.
While Carey could have apologized and owned the incident, she instead blamed Dick Clark Productions, accusing the event hosts of deliberately sabotaging her performance to increase ratings. Shouting conspiracy is ridiculous and is rightly seen as a last-ditch effort to deflect blame. This was without a doubt the worst move Carey and her PR team could have made. To save what is left her brand, Carey must quickly replace her PR team and shift into damage control mode.
In this situation, there was no way to avert the inevitable negative press. And, despite what Carey’s PR team may think, there was no way for Carey to talk her way out of it. But that does not mean they couldn’t have mitigated the damage.
As a crisis PR professional, I would have told Carey to publicly acknowledge that she screwed up, humanizing herself to her fans and the world in the process. Fans are usually quite forgiving of their heroes, but her poorly conceived attempt to shift the blame will inevitably leave many of her fans with a bad taste in their mouths.
Carey could have then released video of her performing those songs again—this time without the lip syncing—via social media as a graceful mea culpa. Such a response would show that Carey is taking responsibility for the failure and that she is devoted to giving her fans a good performance—even if they have to wait a day.
But it is not too late to turn this around. Carey can still do what I’ve suggested. Although she has definitely damaged her image by her initial response, there is nothing barring her from improving her brand by admitting that she erred. She should apologize for the flop and she should publicly apologize to Dick Clark Productions for casting aspersions. Fans like seeing their celebrity idols admit mistakes and take responsibility.
Of course, her New Year’s Eve performance was just the cherry on top of a season filled with bad press for Carey. In the aftermath of her broken engagement to Australian billionaire James Packer, numerous tabloids have branded the singer as a diva, criticizing how she handled the relationship and how she is handling the outcome. A lot of press has been focusing on the money involved in her split with Packer, going so far as to paint her as a gold digger.
Carey can now take out two birds with one stone in a PR move that addresses her poor performance and accusations regarding her breakup. Carey should make a goodwill gesture and donate the proceeds of her performance—she was paid millions of dollars to perform—or at least a portion of the proceeds to a high-profile charity. The revenue lost through donation would be miniscule when compared to the losses her brand could incur following this incident.
But, as it seems Carey is resolutely set on the course her PR team laid out for her, she is unlikely to recover. Her brand is now tarnished in a way that it has never been before, taking a hit on her professional life instead of her personal one. To turn this around, she had better get to work on a sincere public apology.