In the premiere of her docuseries, Mariah’s World, Mariah Carey makes her priorities clear. “Here’s the thing,” she says, addressing some changes her creative director has made to her forthcoming world tour. “For me, it’s always been the music first.” Even as she says it lying atop a French pastoral chaise lounge, decked out in a sparkling black bustier, fishnets, and a diamond necklace, you want to believe her. The legend of her ostentatious aura may have ballooned in the past decade, but the woman has a five-octave vocal range and a pile of Billboard world records to prove it.
However, incidents like her most recent screw-up — the botched New Year’s Eve performance in which she refused or was unable to sing because her in-ear monitors allegedly malfunctioned — threaten to dislodge the notion that Carey is still focused on her music. Her sarcastic commentary throughout the appearance may have been amusing for those who appreciate her particularities, but the NYE fiasco is only the highest-profile entry of what has become an unfortunate pattern recently. In 2013, she cursed onstage amid a wardrobe malfunction on Good Morning America. The following year, she messed up the words to her own song during a Today show gig and delivered a cringey rendition of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” during NBC’s Rockefeller Center tree-lighting special. Then there was the lackluster opening show of her two-year Vegas residency.
So, what to do? A celebrity’s sheen fades with age, but entertainment professionals exist to ensure it never gets this dingy. Consider Mariah’s manager, Stella Bulochnikov. Last year, Carey hired Bulochnikov — a straight-talking cheek-highlighter enthusiast whose personality seems loosely based on the show Mob Wives — after an introduction from filmmaker Brett Ratner. Bulochnikov has told Page Six to “fuck off and lose my number” at least once, which is respectable. But her qualifications to manage a Grammy-winning musical legend stop right about there. Before becoming Carey’s manager, Bulochnikov collected production credits on reality TV shows starring celebrities like T.I., Master P, and Paris Hilton. At her hiring, swaths of Carey’s longtime staffers reportedly quit in protest; insiders deemed her a “Russian dictator.”
The complaints about Bulochnikov’s credentials aren’t completely unfounded. On Mariah’s World, Bulochnikov comes off as a fiercely defensive gal pal, rather than an employee. A few dramatic subplots, like when Carey is late to a show in Luxembourg because of a time-zone snafu, suggest a managerial sloppiness for which someone like [looks behind shoulder, shifts to a low whisper] Beyoncé would have zero patience. Bulochnikov may be very adept at sprinkling Carey with compliments, accompanying her on joint single-mom vacations, and securing reality TV contracts, but she doesn’t have a knack for details in the area musicians live and die by: live performances. Her instinct to blame ABC for the NYE technical difficulties, suggesting that it aired the botched performance “to get ratings,” makes you question the level of self-reflection that took place among Carey’s staff on New Year’s Day.
Carey doesn’t need a “yes” woman to surround her in a comfortable bubble of velvet stilettos and lip-synced Christmas appearances. She needs professionals who will lock her in a recording studio until she gives us new music and work harder to ensure that nationally televised live performances do not spiral into embarrassing, chaotic blame games.
Carey has always been unapologetically herself. She has remained charming and unwavering through much worse circumstances. I don’t blame her entourage for doting on such a heavenly presence. But she has a legacy to protect. And her staff should help her do that by balancing out the camp of glittery, prerecorded holiday jams with new, challenging material and a baseline level of professionalism. Even if she can’t hit those high notes anymore, she said it herself: music first.
An earlier version of this story misstated the network that broadcast Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance. It was ABC, not NBC.