[From LA Times]
They've got the name; do they still have game?
Eminem's latest single is exploding, Justin is leading Nick, and Carlos and Christina have it all over Whitney and Mariah.
With pop music's fall superstar siege underway, who needs surnames?
New singles from many of pop's biggest-selling acts have set up a high-profile horserace that also hints at how their new albums may fare during the all-important final quarter of 2002.
Some of the most intense scrutiny will be on Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, whose offstage exploits have landed them on the covers of supermarket tabloids more often than on those of music magazines since their last albums came out.
Houston is releasing "Just Whitney ... " next month, her first new album in four years, and radio hasn't heard much to get excited about so far.
The first single, "Whatchulookinat," flopped at pop radio, barely cracking the Billboard Hot 100 chart in September, although it was a dance-club hit, and her Web site notes it has reached No. 7 in Poland. Her recently released second single, "One of Those Days," hasn't generated much enthusiasm back home yet either.
"I don't necessarily think Whitney's got any baggage, but it remains to be seen how she's going to do," says Michael Steele, program director at L.A. Top 40 station KIIS-FM (102.7). "It's all about a great song, and she's going to need a great song."
A great song presumably would swing the spotlight back on Houston's voice after her run-in two years ago with Hawaiian authorities who allegedly found marijuana in one of her travel bags. Possession charges were dismissed, but the incident added to her status as a favorite target of the tabloids.
"It's always harder to get the second single going once the first one hasn't come through," says Jeff Pollack, one of the nation's leading radio consultants. "I think ["One of Those Days"] will do better than the first single, but it's too early to tell." Representatives for Houston's label, Arista Records, did not return calls seeking comment.
Carey likewise is attempting to refocus attention from her private life to her music with the single "Through the Rain," after last year's nervous breakdown, the disappointment of her "Glitter" film and album (it's sold just 554,000 copies) and a humbling contract buyout.
In January, EMI Records paid her $30 million to close out the remainder of an $80-million, four-album contract she'd signed in 2001. Four months later, however, Carey signed a $20-million, three-album deal with Island Def Jam Records, part of the Universal Music Group.
At that time, Island Def Jam Chairman Lyor Cohen said, "We were dying to sign her.... I never once looked at Mariah as washed up. I've always viewed her as this amazing artist -- a great singer and a great songwriter."
Radio's response to "Through the Rain," the first single from her "Charmbracelet" album due in December, has been less than amazing since it was released last month.
Anthony Acampero, charts manager for the Radio & Records trade publication, thinks that amount of time makes it too soon to render a verdict, but Pollack says, "The first single does not look like it's going to get it done."
Cohen, however, says he's taking the long view on Carey's career and isn't concerned about an out-of-the-gate hit, which would have been more likely with an up-tempo leadoff single than a dramatic ballad such as "Through the Rain."
"I did not want to do the typical record company fake artificial radio boogie on this because Mariah is in a different place in her life," Cohen says. "I chose an entirely different method and that is to let this record go out without a video, take its time and slowly and methodically penetrate and gain traction. Then we'll put the video out. Then we'll do 'Oprah' and then the 'Today' show. And at that time is when this record should be judged."
At KIIS-FM, Steele says, "I like [Houston's new single].... I can't say the same for Mariah's.... But I'll tell you what's going to be an even bigger hit is the next Christina [Aguilera] single, 'Beautiful.' That's not just a great record; it could be a career record for her. And 'Dirrty' continues to be a big hit for us.
"By far the biggest record of the fall is going to be Santana. The single ["The Game of Love"] with Michelle Branch is already a No. 1 request with us."
Aguilera and the Carlos Santana-led group Santana are more typical of the current trend in which superstar records are getting listeners fired up fast.
"It looks like almost everything on the superstar level is being pretty well-received," says R&R's Acampero.
In the solo teen-idol sweepstakes, 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake is the victor over his Backstreet Boy rival, Nick Carter, at least with their initial volleys. Timberlake's single "Like I Love You" is getting almost double the airplay nationally that Carter's leadoff solo single, "Help Me," is, according to R&R.
Meanwhile, rap's 800-pound gorilla, Eminem, is muscling his way to the top of the charts again with "Lose Yourself," from the "8 Mile" soundtrack, which is expected to give him one of the fall's runaway hits and his second monster album of the year.
"The Eminem record is massive," Pollack says. "He just gets better and better. He's really swinging to the fences here."
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