Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

Mariah Carey’s NYE Ball Drop: Accident or Sabotage?

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Mariah Carey started off the new year by starring in a rather embarrassing viral video of her NYE performance—and you’ve probably seen it. “We can’t hear,” Carey announced at the beginning of her song "Emotions." Background music and vocals played behind Carey while the artist made unsuccessful attempts to join in with the melody. “I’m gonna let the audience sing okay,” she said, awkwardly turning the microphone towards the crowd. At a few points, Carey’s prerecorded track belted out the singer’s signature high notes while it was clear she was not singing.

Carey’s ball drop stole the New Year’s Eve headlines. Twitter and Facebook users posted and reposted the cringe-worthy video. Comment sections berated the artist for lip-synching and poor preparation.

Carey was humiliated, but videos of her performance received millions of views. From her misfortune, ABC received a stream of viewer traffic and attention—and Carey’s team called foul play. Her performance, they suggested, was sabotaged for the sake of an attention-grabbing “viral moment.”

Viral moments, the easiest way to fifteen minutes of fame, have entered the American life hand in hand with social media, but live television has been slowly fading. Younger viewers are statistically turning off the big screens and scrolling through the small ones—accessing Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix from their phones and laptops. Even daily news has moved to social media, with forty percent of Americans getting their news from Facebook. Social media captivates the modern audience.

ABC’s “New Years Rockin’ Eve” show faced a downturn in ratings this year. From the beginning of the night, viewership was below the previous year, perhaps providing an incentive to produce a viral moment.

Stella Bulochnikov, Carey’s manager, said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the singer complained three times to the producer and stage managers that her ear-piece was not working, but they did nothing. According to Bulochnikov, they responded, “It will work when we go live,” and dismissed the artist’s persistent complaints.

Once the performance was underway and Carey was struggling, Bulochnikov said the show’s producer refused to intervene.

“He’s like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I said, ‘I want you to cut the West Coast feed.’ He calls me back and says, ‘We can’t do it.’ So I’m like, ‘You would prefer to air a show with technical glitches so you can have a viral moment rather than protect the integrity of your show and Dick Clark Productions?’ He said, ‘We just won’t do it.’”

Carey’s team maintains that the show held no regard for the artist’s reputation, at least during the performance, because they knew her misfortune would improve their ratings.

Dick Clark Productions has responded to the allegations, calling them “defamatory, outrageous, and frankly absurd.” Moreover, Ms. Carey is no poster child for preparation; the 46-year-old is somewhat notorious for skipping rehearsals and arriving late to her own shows.

The anatomy of a viral video, including the financial incentives of a fluke performance, raises questions about the integrity of the production company. Just a day later, no one remembered the other performers and celebrities on the show—only the stunned expression on Mariah Carey’s face as the background track sang over her. If Dick Clark Productions sought to revitalize the show, what better way than going viral?