The dangers of pop stardom inspire his first new songs in a decade

Maybe Barry Manilow’s latest should include a thank-you to Britney Spears. “I was watching her being chased by the paparazzi,” Manilow says. “This young, talented singer just trying to live her life, but being followed everywhere. I thought, ‘Is this the price of fame now?’” The question inspired his first album of all-new material in a decade, penned with lyricist Enoch “Nick” Anderson: a cautionary song cycle called 15 Minutes. Manilow fans may be surprised by the uncharacteristically cranked-up guitars and funky grooves. “It’s the riskiest thing I’ve ever done,” he declares. “A concept album with music out of my safety zone.”

What inspired this album?

For the last eight years I’ve been making these albums with [label executive] Clive Davis’ guidance. He thinks a person of my age with my reputation would not be able to sell an original album. He pointed to my contemporaries like Sting, Elton John and Joni Mitchell, who were making original albums and none were selling. So we started doing this series of covers albums and it went on for eight years. Clive was right about the sales, but I really missed songwriting.

Did you ever seek fame?

I never went after fame as a performer. All I cared about was the music. So when “Mandy” [1974] hit, it threw me for a loop. I was grateful, but I was very unprepared for everything that came along with fame.

What did you learn?

The main thing is to keep family and old friends around you. About four years into my career I found myself at a beach house in Florida and realized everybody in that house was on my payroll. I couldn’t figure out where my old friends were, where my old life went. Everything had changed. It was thrilling, but I was very unhappy. I had to make a choice as to what life I wanted. I chose my old life—and from that moment on, I’ve tried to balance the new, crazy life with the old life as a musician.

How do you and Nick work?

The hard part of writing for me is the idea. “What are you going to write about?” Even just a love song. What’s it going to be about? That’s what I’ve gone through my whole career. This one, we were not only writing songs, we were writing a whole concept. I chose Nick to do this because he’s a fantastic lyricist, especially when it comes to writing stories about situations and characters. We’d talk each idea down for weeks, then go our separate ways and write the song.

How has the internet changed things?

The veil between fan and artist is disappearing, and the magic is going away. You get out of your car or have a roast-beef sandwich, and everybody knows. Years ago there were major stars, and nobody knew anything about their lives. We were just excited to watch them work and guess about their next move. It helped preserve the magic. These days it’s too easy to get to performers. It is what it is, but I feel like something has been lost.

Any advice for aspiring artists?

A lot of young people today say, “I want to be famous,” and that’s the be-all and end-all. But if you’re doing this for the money or applause or fame, look out. Do it because you believe in it, because you can’t not do it. You’ll have a better chance of having a happy life.

–Bill DeMain

‘I really missed songwriting. I needed to challenge myself, to scare myself.’

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