On New Year’s Eve, 2016, in front of an audience of millions, live and on TV, we witnessed the complete failure of a pop icon. One of the biggest selling singers of all time, Mariah Carey, had a complete performance melt-down. This performance was heavily promoted by ABC as the big highlight performance before the ball dropped in Times Square. And it was a disaster. But there’s a lot for us to learn about sustaining success here.
It was obvious there were technical problems. However, many people were left wondering why Mariah wasn’t more prepared. Did she not know the lyrics to her song? It became obvious the entire performance was intended to be lip-synced when the music and vocals starting playing but she wasn’t singing along. Lip-syncing is not entirely shocking and under circumstances such as a live performance with two million audience members, it probably made sense.
Here’s where I think there’s a big lesson for all of us about sustaining success. To have continued success in life, we have to be willing to adapt. Of course, she had to lip sync. Not only was it a large and noisy crowd, but it is unrealistic to think she could ever belt out those notes like she did 30 years ago. Stick with me here. I’m using performers as a metaphor. Think about the “notes” of success in your own life.
So many performers stick to the genre of music that made them famous instead of adapting to their current skill set. Mariah Carey is still capable of making beautiful music. It doesn’t have to be the huge, crescendo music that made her famous originally. Change genres. Just be excellent at what you can do today. Another example, I’m a huge fan of Barbra Streisand. When I saw her perform live recently, it seemed obvious to me that she had to be “aided” by some voice toning. I’ve seen her live 3 times and she never sounded better at 72 years old. I’m fine with a little assistance from today’s technology, but I’d be just as happy hearing Streisand sing more mellow songs that her voice could keep up with in the tone that only she can deliver.
Continuing with the performer metaphor, if you’re going to base your success on belting out the big notes and exhausting dance moves, know that you are going to have to adapt. The success you created is not sustainable over the long haul. If you don’t adapt, you will likely follow a similar fate to Ms. Carey and not be able to keep up. This, I believe, is what’s behind the continued success of Tony Bennett, who still sounds great at 90 years old. His crooner style is sustainable. It doesn’t require big notes, levels that raise to a huge crescendo, or exciting dance moves. The style of Mr. Bennett is sustainable and we are fortunate to still enjoy his timeless music. There are performers whose style holds up over time. Now-a-days, most create an image so grand they can’t possibly sustain it. The bigger lesson for all of us to consider is to question why they don’t adapt. Instead, we’re left wondering they didn’t hang it up years ago. Quit while they were ahead.
It’s a shame. I believe there is still tremendous talent in the likes of Mariah Carey and Barbra Streisand and many others. Just like there is in each of us. So often we cave in to believing we have to uphold ourselves to some previous standard. The key to success is adapting and being the best you can be at that time. And then the next time. And so on. Even if it’s in a new genre.