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(Legal) Career Killers: Geffen Records v. Don Henley

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

Nothing can kill an artist’s career quite like a lawsuit.

After all, litigation not only taxes a party’s resources while putting them under an undue amount of mental and physical stress, it can also take time. Lots and lots of time.

And if an artist or band tries to take on their record label, time can be a real killer. After all, most labels simply put an artist on ice once the lawsuit is filed, essentially freezing their careers by refusing to release their recordings or promote them. Since most contracts have an exclusivity clause, artists often have limited-to-nonexistent options when it comes to recording on other labels or guesting on other people’s songs.

Simply put, for many musicians, time is a luxury they don’t have. All acts have a shelf life, and as Clive Davis once pointed out, if they aren’t in the public eye, they risk being forgotten about.

As such, artists end up losing years of their career that they’ll most likely never get back. For instance, George Michael was one of the biggest stars in the world when he sued Sony to try and get out of his record deal. The lawsuit dragged on for nearly two years and Michael’s career never quite recovered. Same for Prince when he challenged Warner Bros.

Same for Don Henley when he took on Geffen Records. Luckily, he had other things to fall back on…

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Career Killers: “Twelve Months, Eleven Days” by Gary Barlow

You’d think that being the primary frontman of a boyband would be an excellent platform for solo superstardom. After all, it’s your voice on all those hit singles and your face getting the most screen-time in music videos. Indeed, Jackson Five frontman Michael Jackson and NSYNC co-lead singer Justin Timberlake were able to parlay their group dominance into individual success. If you consider Wham! to be a boy band (I’m not sure, to be honest), then George Michael is another example.

But others weren’t able to find much success outside of their groups. Ralph Tresvant sang lead on most of New Edition’s hit singles, but only managed two hits on his own. That was one better than either Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block or Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees managed outside of their popular groups. And, of course, we’ve covered NSYNC co-leader J.C. Chasez’s solo debut album, which flopped so badly it ended his bid for stardom before it really began.

Then there’s the curious case of Gary Barlow. The Take That frontman was a fantastic singer who sang lead on almost all of his band’s songs. And whereas most boybands relied on outside songwriters, Barlow wrote or co-wrote nine Top 10 UK hits, including five #1 singles, during the band’s initial run from 1991 to 1996. When he went solo in 1996, the British media immediately anointed him as the next George Michael. Success was not only expected, it was preordained.

As such, that only made what eventually happened all the more shocking. In 2000, barely four years after Take That’s breakup, Barlow suffered the ignominy of being dropped by his label, all but ending his solo career. Worse, he had to watch as bandmate-turned-nemesis Robbie Williams wrote songs attacking him and making fun of his misfortune en route to becoming one of the best-selling artists in the world.

Where did it all go wrong? It started with his second album, Twelve Months, Eleven Days.

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Career Killers: The Super Bowl Halftime Show

If you go by the Nielsen ratings (which measures households), 19 of the 30 highest-rated programs in United States history are Super Bowls. If you look at average viewership, then the big game accounts for 28 of the top 30.

Either way you slice it, the Super Bowl is a proven ratings draw that provides a massive stage for players, performers and ad buyers.

As such, it’s no wonder that the Super Bowl halftime performance slot has become a highly sought-after gig for many musical acts.

When done right, the show can transcend the game and become an indelible part of the zeitgeist. In 2002, for instance, U2 gave a moving performance memorializing the people who lost their lives in the September 11 attacks and helped provide a moment of healing for a nation still in mourning. Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Madonna and Beyoncé reaffirmed their status as superstars while younger contemporaries like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars made a case for themselves to join their ranks.

When done wrong, however, the show can kill off an artist’s career. After all, it’s one thing to have a bad night, but to do so with the whole world watching?

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The Reluctant Pop Star

“There is no such thing as a reluctant star. Stars are almost always people that want to make up for their own weaknesses by being loved by the public and I’m no exception to that.” — George Michael, 1987.

But there is such a thing as a reluctant pop star. George Michael was no different from the many singer-songwriters desperate for critical acclaim and credibility. What made him unique was that he was willing to throw away his chance at being the biggest pop star and sex symbol in the world because he believed that his songs were good enough to sell themselves.

And in most cases, he was right.

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