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Yeah, Mariah Really Could Get Sued for Saying She Was Sabotaged During Disastrous Performance


Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance was a debacle so grand that it almost has to end in litigation. When a seasoned performer knows she was that bad, someone is getting blamed. Mariah’s rage was all over her face, even as she was still onstage.  As her signature dolphin calls played in the background, she put the mic down and just waited until it was time to duck back into her feather cocoon.

When the disaster subsided, Mariah tweeted out the following:

But the professional graciousness didn’t last long. Yesterday, Mariah’s rep, Nicole Perna told Billboard, “She was not ‘winging’ this moment and took it very seriously. A shame that production set her up to fail.” According to Perna, Mariah told the production team that her earpiece was not working, and that they responded with assurances that things would be resolved by the time she took the stage. Perna continued, “However, that was not the case and they were again told that her ear piece was not working. Instead of endeavoring to fix the issue so that Mariah could perform, they went live. Carey was intent on honoring her commitment and therefore took the stage, essentially ‘flying blind.'”

Mariah’s people were also adamant that she had not planned to lip sync during the performance. Ms. Perna explained, “It is not uncommon for artists to sing to track during certain live performances,” but assured Billboard that “any allegations that [Mariah] planned to lip sync are just adding insult to injury.” Put that account together with the rumors that Mariah’s team felt there were “too many coincidences” and that the botched performance was the result of “sabotage so they could get Mariah drama,” what started as a lousy performance at the end of an always-lousy show just might be the makings of serious legal drama.

Dick Clark Productions doesn’t seem so willing to chalk Mariah’s accusations up to excusable diva behavior. In fact, the Dick Clark people have publicly suggested to TMZ that Mariah may have opened herself up to a defamation lawsuit with her “outrageous and frankly absurd” allegations. Such a lawsuit would likely hinge on the truth behind the cause of the onstage trainwreck. If Mariah had any actual evidence that Dick Clark Productions purposely messed with the audio for the purpose of throwing her off her game, she’d be in the clear for a defamation lawsuit.

But there seems to be at least some credible evidence that the fiasco was not due to unprofessional behavior on the part of Dick Clark Productions. Robert Goldstein, an experienced audio producer with Maryland Sound International (which has worked on the Times Square event for years), told the New York Times, “Every monitor and in-ear device worked perfectly. I can’t comment beyond that and don’t know what her nontechnical issue may have been.”

If Dick Clark Productions were to sue Mariah Carey for defamation, the two critical elements it would have to prove would be Mariah’s public claims of sabotage 1) were false; and 2) caused the company specific, quantifiable financial damage. The truth or falsity of the claim (AKA “who is really to blame for the horror that was the pre-ball-drop medley?”) would need to be sorted out with some sort of pop-music postmortem, and the onus would be on Dick Clark Productions to prove that it didn’t do anything to purposely cause the technical malfunctions. That could be a little tricky; there’s a good chance some sort of audio malfunction did happen –but how and why it happened could be challenging to demonstrate in court.

The economic harm aspect of a defamation claim would probably be a little easier – but still not truly easy to prove. A fact-finder could certainly form a reasonable inference that other entertainers might avoid working with Dick Clark Productions after its professional reputation was sullied– but as plaintiff, it would have to allege specific examples of such contract cancelations. But such a line of logic could bring up a ton of relevant related questions, such as whether anyone believed Mariah Carey when she pointed the finger at Dick Clark Productions, what shape the company’s reputation was in prior to this whole incident, and how quantifiable any economic damage to the company could be.

Lastly, Dick Clark Productions, because of its notoriety, would likely be treated as a “public figure” for purposes of defamation.  This would require a showing that Mariah made her statements with “actual malice”; such a standard means that the plaintiff would have to show that Mariah knew she was lying when she accused the company of sabotage.   For Mariah, actual malice could well be the key to defending any defamation claim.  Attorney and defamation expert Susan Seager explained,”Mariah Carey can easily win dismissal of any defamation lawsuit by Dick Clark Productions if she can testify that she believed her statements were true at the time she made them.”  

There’s no question that a defamation lawsuit against Mariah Carey would be anything but straight-forward. But people (*cough, cough,* Trump) have threatened and (*cough, cough,* Cosby) even brought defamation lawsuits that are far weaker. If Dick Clark Productions really did litigate, the lawsuit would certainly become a pain in Mariah’s sequin-wedgied ass, underscoring the truth we all know: a bad cover-up can turn a little mistake into a huge problem. We’ll have to wait and see whether Dick Clark Productions’ threats are blueprints for an epic courtroom battle, or simply some aggressive PR work. Either way, though, this was a nice little reminder that it’s not it’s not perfection, but rather, professionalism that makes a superstar.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos