L.A. Reid's Battle to Sign Britney Spears
The "X Factor" judge is wooing his co-star with big promises -- but Barry Weiss, head of Justin Bieber's label, won't give up without a fight.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
A battle for Britney Spears is brewing. The pop star's recording contract with the former Jive Records (now RCA, a division of Sony Music) has one album left, and among those courting the chart-topper are L.A. Reid, chairman of Sony's Epic Records and Spears' X Factor sidekick, and Barry Weiss, former Jive head who's guided her career through its greatest heights and now chairs Island Def Jam Motown and Universal Republic, home to Justin Bieber, Kanye West and American Idol's Mariah Carey.
Both execs want to sign the 30-year-old singer, whose seven studio albums have sold some 100 million units worldwide, to their rosters (at a cost of $3 million to $5 million per album, according to one estimate). But in what’s being described by sources as a virtual faceoff, the two are approaching the courtship with divergent strategies.
Reid, with whom Spears has become “chummy” since joining X Factor -- to the extent that she and Demi Lovato swapped table positions so Spears can sit to Reid’s left -- is in dire need of an artist who can chart, having run Epic for more than a year now with nary a hit to its name (staffers insist new signings Ciara and Avril Lavigne could turn the tide). According to sources, Reid is using his proximity to Spears to woo her while also offering his counsel and promising to take her career “to the next level.”
Weiss (pictured), who essentially swapped jobs with Reid in 2011, at least where IDJ is concerned, has time on his side. "I have a 15-year history with Britney and would love to be reunited with her," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. Indeed, Weiss is one of few executives with whom Spears has interacted directly and he represents a sort of “comfort zone for Britney," says an insider. “Barry understands how her business is run and the many buffers in place."
Chief among them: the decision makers in Spears' life. They include Jason Trawick, Spears’ fiancé, former agent and co-conservator (along with her father Jamie Spears), who sits at his own judges’ table-like spot on the X Factor set and keeps a close eye on the proceedings, and Larry Rudolph, her longtime manager. Rudolph is close to both Reid and Weiss -- the former via Lavigne, whom he also reps, and the latter from his years with Spears.
Worth noting: Spears’ affiliation with X Factor, which is aligned exclusively with Sony Music, does not give the label group a signing advantage nor does Spears' contract preclude her from negotiating a new deal concurrently. The show could, however, bar other executives from coming onto the set. RCA Records would not comment for this report, other than to say that the label does not disclose details of its artists' deals.
“Larry and Jason will want to go where the money is,” offers one source, who cautions that, after all these years in the business, Spears has developed “a pretty good shit-detector [where] if L.A. goes overboard, that could push her away.” Ultimately, says the insider, Spears can be easily swayed but will go where she’s comfortable. Adds another high-ranking executive, “She’s a hot commodity, and that’s a good position to be in.”