NEW YORK • For all the confusion, charges and countercharges surrounding Mariah Carey's ill-fated New Year's Eve performance, one thing has now become clear: Team Mariah are waging an all-out war to ensure that she does not become the next Janet Jackson.
Carey's representatives could have taken the predictable route of issuing a statement defending the star and then moving on. Instead, her manager has heaped blame on the producers of ABC's Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest, including an extraordinary, profanity-laden interview with Entertainment Weekly.
The implicit takeaway from these fireworks is that the singer's allies are bent on protecting her reputation so that her career does not suffer like Jackson's after her infamous "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl half-time performance.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Carey has also broken her silence on the performance.
"All I can say is Dick Clark was an incredible person and I was lucky enough to work with him when I first started in the music business. I'm of the opinion that Dick Clark would not have let an artist go through that," she said in the interview posted on Tuesday.
"It's not going to stop me from doing a live event in the future. But it will make me less trusting of using anyone outside of my own team. My true fans have been so supportive and I am so appreciative of them and everybody in the media that came out to support me after the fact because it really was an incredible holiday season that turned into a horrible New Year's Eve."
To understand the strategy of the Carey camp, let us walk through the events in question - including the strong denials of the show's producers that they did anything wrong.
By 2am on Sunday, her Twitter account posted a response to the social media maelstrom that exploded after the three-song, just-before- midnight performance. In an incredibly awkward five minutes, she said as the music played that her monitors were not working and she did not attempt to sing her lead vocals.
"S*** happens," she wrote. "Have a happy and healthy new year everybody! Here's to making more headlines in 2017."
The account moved on to promoting her reality series on E!, which, coincidentally, was premiering that night.
Then her supporters went to work.
"I will never know the truth, but I do know that we told them three times that her mike pack was not working and it was a disastrous production," her manager Stella Bulochnikov told Us Weekly magazine on Sunday.
"I'm certainly not calling the FBI to investigate. It is what it is: New Year's Eve in Times Square. Mariah did them a favour. She was the biggest star there and they did not have their act together."
A spokesman, Ms Nicole Perna, told The Associated Press Carey was not at fault for the performance. "Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do to continue with the performance given the circumstances," she said.
She also told Billboard magazine the production had "set her up to fail".
Dick Clark Productions, which produced the show for ABC, released a statement in which it strenuously and emphatically denied it was in any way at fault for the glitches on New Year's Eve.
"To suggest that (Dick Clark Productions), as producer of music shows including the American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, New Year's Rockin' Eve and Academy of Country Music Awards, would ever intentionally compromise the success of any artist is defamatory, outrageous and frankly absurd. In very rare instances, there are of course technical errors that can occur with live television; however, an initial investigation has indicated that (Dick Clark Productions) had no involvement in the challenges associated with Carey's New Year's Eve performance."
On Monday, Ms Bulochnikov gave a detailed interview to Entertainment Weekly, running down the events of the night and who was at fault minute by minute.
"It's now four minutes to showtime. She says, 'I hear nothing in my ears, my ears are dead.' The other stage manager says, 'It will work right when we go live.' Then things start to get chaotic. They start counting her down - four minutes, three minutes. Mariah: 'I can't hear.' Them: 'You're gonna hear when it goes live - two minutes.'
"So, right when it goes live, she can't hear anything. The ears are dead. They're dead. So she pulls them out of the ear because if the artist keeps them in their ears, then all she hears is silence. Once she pulled them off her ear, she was hoping to hear her music, but because of the circumstances - there's noise from Times Square and the music is reverberating from the buildings - all she hears is chaos. She can't hear her music. It's a madhouse. At the point, there's no way to recover."
Ms Bulochnikov called the production company "disgusting" for not apologising to Carey.
Why the impassioned defence of their artist? Carey's representatives know all too well that when a performer stumbles - or even appears to stumble - justice is delivered swiftly in the court of public opinion.
In 2004, singer Justin Timberlake ripped a key piece of Jackson's costume during a Super Bowl half-time performance, thrusting the word "wardrobe malfunction" into everyday language. The incident came at the end of their final song. Jackson clapped a hand over her breast and the lights went dark.
In the days and years that followed, neither performer was ever able to completely escape the performance, though Timberlake was far more successful than Jackson.
Radio and television stations refused to play her songs, a planned performance at the Grammys was cancelled and nearly every interview she gave for the next decade at least mentioned the incident.
"I probably got 10 per cent of the blame," Timberlake told MTV. "I think America's probably harsher on women and... unfairly harsh on ethnic people."
In 2014, Mr Michael Powell, who was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during "nipplegate", told ESPN The Magazine that Jackson unfairly bore the brunt of public shame for the incident.
"I thought that was really unfair," Mr Powell told the magazine. "It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it's Justin ripping off her breastplate."