Cher on her first Christmas LP, a new beau and 25 years of ‘Believe’
By Melena Ryzik
Though she’s been a singer and performer for six decades, Cher had never made one of pop’s most ubiquitous (and commercially viable) releases: a Christmas album. “I just didn’t want to,” she said. “I didn’t know how I would fit into it. I didn’t know how Christmas music and Cher could come together and be harmonious.”
Then, suddenly — being Cher — she changed her mind. “Christmas,” out Friday, is a 13-track romp through holiday music, with guest appearances from Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Bublé, rapper Tyga and Darlene Love, who reprises “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”, on which Cher first sang backup at 17. “There was no way I was going to do her song without her,” she said.
Just back from Paris Fashion Week, she spoke by phone from her California home, in a wide ranging conversation that touched on her affinity for assisting homeless people — “Just going and sitting down on the sidewalk, talking and interacting; I really loved it” — the time she went to Pakistan to save an elephant (there’s a documentary); and her new gelato pop-up, called, of course, Cherlato.
At 77, Cher has also recently suffered loss, including the deaths of her longtime friend Tina Turner in May and of her mother, Georgia Holt, at 96, just before the holidays last year; the album is dedicated to her. But she also has reason to be hopeful, like an unexpected romance with music producer Alexander Edwards, 40 years her junior, who encouraged her to go back in the studio, she said. He is credited as a producer on “Christmas,” and was responsible for the collab with Tyga.
“It was a surprise that he got T to be on it,” she said of “Drop Top Sleigh Ride,” a syncopated track that fit with her holiday party vibe. “I knew I wanted to make something that was fun — Christmas needs to be that,” she added. “It needs to be lighthearted because, you know, who knows what next Christmas will bring.”
Performances are in the works; she is also busy finishing her memoir — which, she admitted, is intense and all-consuming. “I’ve lived too long, and done too many things.”
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: How did your first musical conversations with Alexander go?
A: He talks about music a lot and we play music a lot. And he knew from knowing me what I would like. There are certain chord progressions and sounds on any record that your body responds to, your emotions respond to. He just had me pegged so right. And he said, Cher, you need to go — well, he doesn’t call me Cher. But he said, baby, you need to get back in the studio because you are not finished. You need to bring what you have back to the world. And I was like, Oh, come on, dude. But he was serious. He didn’t even ask to produce. I just thought it would be really cool for him to do it and me to have something that was a very now sound.
Q: How did your relationship start?
A: We’ve had a one-year anniversary. We met at Fashion Week — we were in the same picture at the end of the Ann Demeulemeester show. Then I went off to visit Tina in Switzerland.
My friend gave him my number, and he texted me. I was like, Dude, this is not going to work out. Come on. I mean, he was very, very nice. We just got to be friends and then by the time we saw each other, we were more. It’s still crazy.
I’m like, old enough to be his — oh, I’m probably older than his mother. It doesn’t work on paper, but it seems to work in whatever reality we’ve created.
Q: Your landmark single “Believe” is about to have a deluxe rerelease for its 25th anniversary. It helped popularize Auto-Tune.
A: The sound for “Believe” started with an argument that Mark [Taylor, her longtime producer] and I had. The verse was not good. And he kept saying, Cher, you’ve got to sing it better, you’ve got to sing it better. And finally I said, Dude, if you want it better, get somebody else. And I walked out.
And then, the next morning, I’d seen this guy, this beautiful guy [Andrew Roachford] on a morning show, singing into a vocoder. I called Mark — can we do it into a vocoder? He said, I just got this thing called a pitch machine, and I’m playing around with it.
I went in later to listen and we both just jumped out of our chairs and high-fived. I said, you don’t even know it’s me! He said, Well, that’s what I was afraid of. I said, No, it’s perfect. I love this.
Q: You couldn’t have had any idea about its legacy — it changed music.
A: No, of course not. We were just trying to fix a problem. The other day, Alexander was telling me that sometimes, when someone can’t sing all that well, they use it. That was something I didn’t really know.
Q: Do you mind that sound being associated with you?
A: Are you kidding? I love it. I mean, young people don’t know it came from me, but it’s OK. Maybe old people don’t know either. You know what I believe? What comes to you, belongs to you. That’s my theory about life.
Q: What’s your relationship to ambition at this point in your life?
A: Look, I’m working my ass off, so I must be ambitious. If I don’t have the love for it, I wouldn’t do it. But I’m proud of this album, too. And I love everyone on it. I never had people on my albums before, and I didn’t plan to. It kind of started with Cyn [Cyndi Lauper]. I said, I’m going to do this Christmas album, and I’m not even sure what I’m asking, but I just want to know that if I need you, that you’ll be there. She said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, fine.”
And then I did a Stevie song [his rendition of “What Christmas Means to Me”], but there were parts that I just didn’t know how to access. Because it belongs to him, not to me. So I did my version, and I sent it to him. I thought I was going to have to, like, get down on bended knee — but I didn’t. He said, Cher, is it one of my songs? Do you want me to play harmonica on it? When he said yes, my sister and I were in my bedroom and I just ran around and jumped up and down on my bed. I was yelling, “Stevie Wonder is going to be on my album!”
Q: Are you watching other veteran performers now, to see how you might do things differently?
A: I’m not going to do things differently. If people come to see you, they want you to do things they like. I remember seeing Bob Dylan — I think it was “Blood on the Tracks.” And I went to the first concert and some of the songs I went, “What is this?” He got tired of singing the songs the same way. But people really want to hear their favorite song exactly the same way. It doesn’t make any difference if I’m tired of it. I have to find it inside myself to love it and to love what I’m doing.
Q: Had you thought much about this stage of your career?
A: I never thought I would get here. I mean, my age is so frightening. It’s like, the numbers are so big. And I keep thinking, Where did it go? I was busy working. While I was busy being Cher, how did this happen? No one’s given me any info.
I still have a lot of energy and I can still be really excited about things. I live in Malibu. I can see the ocean, and that’s my favorite thing. I love my house. I’m grateful.
Q: How do you celebrate Christmas?
A: I don’t cook, but everyone ends up at my house. Stragglers, family. We’ve got lots of kids around, and teenagers. Mostly we’re just talking and acting crazy and watching movies and hanging out. We don’t put on really Christmas music, just fun music. But music doesn’t seem to be a large part of it. Everybody’s talking too loud.