Trends (2000): Contract Girl Era
In celebration of Adult Empire’s 20th anniversary, we look at some of the porn trends and genres that shaped the company’s history. In this edition: the CONTRACT GIRL ERA.
There was a time when signing an exclusive contract with a major studio was the most supreme indication of porn stardom. “Contract-girl status is something all pornstars are supposed to covet, and what the fans all believe to be the ultimate validation of our worth as pornstars,” said performer Monica Mayhem in her book Absolute Mayhem: Secret Confessions of a Porn Star.
Mayhem went on to compare the system to the one that existed in the old Hollywood era. Just like Clark Gable became known for his many performances for MGM, so too have pornstars like Jesse Jane and Asa Akira become synonymous with Digital Playground or Wicked Pictures. Vivid was the first company to sign stars to exclusive deals. Wicked solidified the contract era when it signed the legendary Jenna Jameson in 1995. The popularity of both James and Wicked surged, leading Los Angeles Magazine to comment, “Was it Jenna that made Wicked, or Wicked that made Jenna?” Having a stable of recognizable contract stars became the signature of many studios, ranging from Vivid (Briana Banks) to Digital Playground (Riley Steele) and more.
The upsides of a contract are guaranteed work and guaranteed income; the downsides are that the studio can dictate a performer’s approach and style, right down to changes in hairstyle and wardrobe. The contract era began to subside when piracy and tube sites cut into porn’s bottom line in the mid-to-late 2000s. (Wicked still maintains a lineup of three exclusive stars: Asa Akira, Stormy Daniels and Jessica Drake.)
In recent years, a different type of contract girl has emerged. Instead of signing contracts for all content, many stars will sign on with a particular company to perform a specific type of content over a given period. For instance, Kendra Lust inked a limited-term contract for interracial scenes with ArchAngel in 2015, and Mia Malkova agreed to a one-year deal for boy/girl scenes with HardX in 2014.
Even as the trend changes, many stars fondly recall the days of the more traditional contract. “I was very lucky,” one-time Vivid girl Briana Banks told Adult Empire in 2017. “I’m just so grateful that I got to do it.”