This time, at the start of the decade, a 17-year-old Cher Lloyd was just coming into the public eye via The X Factor, competing alongside the likes of One Direction. Although Cher didn’t win the talent show (Matt Cardle did), she certainly emerged as one of the show’s winning acts thanks to her ballsy, confrontational performance style; Cher’s debut single “Swagger Jagger” capitalized on this (“You can’t stop looking at me / So get up out my face” she commanded on the track). Her 2011 album Sticks + Stones established Cher as a bona fide pop superstar with hit records across the world.
As this decade closes, the now-26-year-old singer is in a completely different place yet also right where she needs to be. Cher’s latest single “M.I.A” is an addictive new sound for the British artist, but in the same breath, it encapsulates Cher’s bold, signature swagger which captivated the world in the first place and earned her a loyal fanbase, who have stuck around despite barely any new music since her 2014 sophomore record Sorry I’m Late.
In our interview, Cher is cool, calm and collected, sounding nothing like the “diva” she was so often painted as in the media. Throughout, Cher speaks passionately of her work, her fans, her newborn daughter and her ambitions to continue showing the world exactly what she’s capable of. Although a third album has still not been announced, Cher is entering 2020 as a brand new woman who knows exactly what she wants to achieve. She’s already racked up a huge list of accolades this past decade, and so it will be truly incredible to see how much unfolds in the next decade for one of pop music’s most recognizable names.
So nice to be chatting with you. What kind of music have you been listening to lately?
Oh – all sorts really. My playlist really really ranges. So like one song that I could be listening to could be like a Banx & Ranx song and then the next minute I’m listening to Queen. It just it really really ranges and I think that’s mainly because I like to take inspiration from all different types of genres. So yeah just everything really.
How did your upbringing influence that relationship with music?
Growing up my mom and dad played a lot of music. Like my mom would have a radio in the kitchen and the radio would always be on and then like my dad loved a lot of 90s house music so he would play a lot of that. He liked UB40 and my mom loved country so there was just always all different types of music playing in my house.
Awesome. And does that influence the way you make music now?
Oh yeah, definitely. Some of the songs I’ve written, some of the melodies might sound a little country-leaning, although I don’t go full Dolly Parton, they have a little bit of an edge to them. It’s almost like storytelling and I think that’s influenced a lot by the fact that I used to listen to a lot of country music. So it definitely brings a different flavor to songwriting.
Do you find that that makes it difficult to make music?
Yeah, it can be, because I experiment a lot and when you experiment for a long time you kind of get a little bit lost and lose focus on exactly what the sound is that you want to go for. And that’s why it took me such a long time to get to this point now where I feel like the music is absolutely one hundred percent me because I took a few years just to experiment, testing out different sounds to figure out what I really wanted to do.
So how would you say that your music has evolved since you first started?
I think the pattern in my music has been kind of crazy because I started out as I would say more of an urban sounding artist. That was the genre that I liked to perform and then when I got signed and I had a record deal and we did an album, all of a sudden it shifted to quite young pop and all that urban element was taken away. The drums weren’t as dramatic, the bass was hardly there. And then as I’ve got older and figured out how to explain what I want better it’s almost like I’ve come full circle and now I’m back at how I used to sound before anybody got involved, which feels really good.
And is that one lesson that you’ve learned in your career since being on The X Factor, to stay true to your sound?
Yeah. Yeah definitely. I think the whole “one size fits all” doesn’t work and it certainly doesn’t work for someone like me. I have a distinctive sound and certain songs that would work for other artists just don’t work for me. And I think the only way that this is going to work and that I can be honest and truthful to my fanbase is that if it comes from me. And that’s really what I’ve figured out, is that it does really really need to come straight from me to sound authentic.
So speaking of your new comeback single “M.I.A” What is the message behind that?
You know the whole concept behind that song was being at a party that you really really don’t want to be at, but you want to be with that person and you’d rather be anywhere else if it means that you get to be with that person, and you know instantly you think ‘oh, relationship’ but I never really saw it like that, I saw it as more like a friend. So I think it’s super relatable and I think everybody in their lives has been at some sort of party that they really don’t want to be and they’d rather be anywhere else. So that was really like the vibe behind the song.
And how know does “M.I.A” represent this new body of work that you’ve got?
I think it’s a great insight into what’s to come in terms of the attitude, the sassiness and of course, it’s still pop. I don’t think I’m ever going to veer away from being a pop artist because it’s just in me to love a formulated pop song but it has the elements that get me excited. Like as soon as I heard the track and that little sample bit at the beginning I was like “Yeah this is absolutely me, of course, it’s me.” So it’s a great insight into what’s to come next.
So I don’t know if you know this but M.I.A herself shared a tweet of a fan joking that MIA had released a comeback single called Cher Lloyd, like a good play on words. Maybe we should get a remix with M.I.A?
She is incredible, absolutely incredible. I’ve always loved her and loved her music too.
You’re also a new mother. Congratulations.
Thank you very much.
How do you juggle being a parent with your busy career?
Oh, God. I don’t know. I don’t know how I juggle it but it’s working somehow, but I’m not gonna lie and try and glamorize it and say that it’s really easy because it’s really not, it’s not. It can be really difficult at times and luckily I have a great team that helps me balance it all and we’re all learning together how to adapt and schedule things better so that it suits her too. But yeah it’s difficult, especially when you’ve got a video shoot and she just would not go to sleep the night before and you’re just like, “ugh I’ve got to be up at 5 am and it’s 2 am now and she still won’t go sleep.” So yeah. It can be difficult for sure.
Would you say that being a new mother might have inspired your new music?
I wouldn’t say inspired the music but I’d say it inspired me to want to be more truthful and not do anything that I don’t want to do. Just be completely open and honest and put out material that I’m 100 percent happy with. Just because sometimes I sit down and I think one day she’s gonna see all of this and she’s gonna listen to this music and I just, I’d really love it if she was proud of her mum. And also I want to show her that no matter what obstacles get put in your way like I’ve had my whole career, I’ve always had little hurdles I’ve had to jump over, but just keep pushing and keep going for it and never give up. So it’s definitely driven me to be better, to do better.
That’s really nice. Would you say that’s a big difference in terms of when you made your previous albums then?
Yeah, I think this time around where it has been so driven by me, I’ve not had a big machine behind me giving me all the songs and telling me that this is going to happen and this is gonna happen. This has literally been me and a small team of really passionate dedicated people that you know we have a vision and we’re just all working really hard towards that end goal. But it does feel different this time, really different. I feel like I’m sort of stripped back and just kind of vulnerable in a way, because I’ve been so open and honest about everything.
You mentioned hurdles – so was there ever a moment where you thought, “you know what, this isn’t for me, let’s just do something else?
I’ve never felt like that because I think I’ve always been such a stubborn person (laughs). And I just won’t back down or give in. But there have been moments where I thought to myself, I definitely could have done something a lot easier with my life. But then again, I think of how lucky I am. That I even get to say that this is my job and I do this for a living. And I think about if I wasn’t a singer and I never got an opportunity to stand in front of people and perform and the thought of that is much much worse than jumping over a hurdle or two, you know?
As a musician who’s been in the industry for so long. What challenges do you think musicians are facing today?
I think there are lots. I think we are– it’s so different now. We have social media so everything is sort of like on-demand and people want to see every single aspect of your life. And I don’t think it was like that. I mean growing up, I listened to a lot of Britney Spears and literally the most connection I could get to Britney Spears was pulling out the booklet in the album and reading the lyrics and singing along, but nowadays I can go online and I can private message Britney Spears. That to me is just like crazy. And that means the fans want music quicker. So literally I dropped “M.I.A” on a Friday and then the Saturday, fans were asking me when the next one was out. And that’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of pressure. And that’s something that’s been kind of tough to come to terms with.
What kind of advice would you give to other musicians who might be struggling with that same pressure from fans or even the industry itself?
I think I’ve learned to take a step back and be grateful for what you have. And the fact that I’m even doing this is amazing. But then the other thing is that you can’t please everyone all of the time. And to put that sort of pressure on yourself, it’s just not realistic. And also not to release anything that I’m not 100 percent happy with and proud to get behind, because of course I could give my fans a new song every week but I can’t guarantee that those songs would be incredible and I want them to be incredible. And that’s why it takes me a little bit of time but it is worth it in the end.
So you launched your clothing line recently which is quite exciting and then you’ve also done a perfume in the past as well. But is there anything else you’re interested in, but haven’t ventured into yet?
Yeah. I’ve held back for many years but I would love to have my own makeup line. I think I’ve always been very experimental with makeup and it’s part of my whole look, I have a trademark winged liner that I always wear, and it’s something that I feel I could connect with girls and boys with. But I’ve held back for the right moment because I am a perfectionist and I just want it to be right. But at some point, it’s definitely going to happen for sure.
Do you think that there are any misconceptions that people have of you?
Yeah, I’m sure (laughs). Strangely I think lots of people sometimes might think that I am aggressive I guess, and I’m really not, I’m probably the opposite. I’ve met a lot of people just in everyday life that I bump into and they’re like “Oh my God I didn’t realize you were like this” which is kind of funny. So I don’t know whether people think I’m not nice and then they meet me and they’re like “Oh my God you’re really nice.” So it’s kind of weird.
What is left for 2019? What’s coming up in 2020?
Oh, I wish I knew. I think we all wish we could see into the future. But I think for me it’s just continuing to work hard, to be able to see as many fans as I possibly can and hopefully release some more music definitely a lot quicker than the gap between “None of My Business” and “M.I.A,” 100 percent quicker than that. But I’d really just love to get out and perform as much as I can because that’s what I do. That’s the thing that I’m known for. So yeah, that’s really what I want to do.
Photography: Jack Alexander
Styling: Thomas George Wulbern
Hair & Makeup: Gemma Wheatcroft
Retouching: Ross Geelan