It was billed as the biggest recording contract of all time - but it could be about to prove the costliest embarrassment in the history of pop.
According to reports which swept the music industry yesterday, the singer Mariah Carey is to receive a payment of £35m to release her label, Virgin Records, from a contract which would have paid her more than £13m for every album she recorded.
The deal was signed in April after Carey left Sony Records following a bitter argument with her former husband, Tommy Mottola, the label's president, who is credited with discovering the star.
It was reportedly worth either £53m for four albums or £66m for five, along with $5m for music videos and promotional work - but the first album, entitled Glitter, flopped relatively badly.
It was released, inopportunely, on September 11, and sold a mere 2m copies in the US, compared to more than 20m for Carey's 1993 album Music Box. An accompanying movie, also called Glitter, recouped only £3m - one fifth of its production costs.
Yesterday the New York Post reported that Virgin, part of EMI, had decided to cut its losses. The paper said Carey, 31, had been spotted celebrating the bailout while on holiday with her boyfriend Luis Miguel in the ski resort of Aspen, Colorado.
But lawyers' Christmas holidays meant the rumours stopped short of being confirmed.
"Everyone has been on vacation, everyone: no one's been reachable during the holiday season, so I haven't spoken with her attorneys, and I've nothing to add," Carey's spokeswoman, Cindi Berger, told the Guardian yesterday.
"I can tell you that Mariah's already at work on her next album, that she's planning to go to the Sundance film festival with her film Wisegirls, with Mira Sorvino, and that she will be singing the national anthem at the Superbowl. That's all I can say right now."
Virgin Records referred all inquiries to Carey's public relations agency, where a spokeswoman expressed mystification. "As far as we know, she's signed to EMI for many albums."
It has been a bad year for Carey, who was admitted to a New York hospital just before the release of Glitter suffering from what Ms Berger described at the time as an "emotional and physical breakdown".
It left her unable to undertake advance promotion for the album. EMI reportedly spent nearly £7m on publicity in an attempt to limit the damage.
EMI has been suffering from the worldwide decline in record sales, and lost £53.7m in the first half of the current financial year.
Carey is one of several formerly bestselling artists, including Macy Gray, Shelby Lynne and REM, who saw their latest albums sell disastrously in 2001.