Cheryl: 'I'm happy if people think I'm miming'

Cheryl Cole: "It's a tough industry to be a woman in"

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Cheryl - the artist formerly known as Cheryl Cole and formerly formerly known as Cheryl Tweedy - is in high spirits.

It's three days after her TV comeback on The Voice, and the feeling in her camp is that it all went to plan, largely thanks to that daredevil entrance.

"I thought about swan diving into this interview but it wouldn't have had the same impact," she laughs.

The singer also brushes off criticism that she lip-synced her single, Call My Name, on the show.

"If you think my live vocal sounds so good it must be mimed, I'm happy," she says. "I take it as a compliment."

'Best work'

The 28-year-old has another reason to be cheerful. She is about to release her third album, A Million Lights, after 18 months away from music.

"It's been a long time coming," she says, "But I think it's the best work I've done".

Cheryl Cole The singer's first two albums debuted at number one in the UK

The new material is the first she's recorded since divorcing footballer Ashley Cole, and marks her return to the public eye after being very publicly dropped from the US X Factor last year.

In places, A Million Lights is immeasurably sad, soaked with tear-stained references to broken hearts and shattered self-esteem.

"You broke me down. Do I even exist?" she asks on Screw You, an otherwise vitriolic kiss-off to a former lover.

In the song's introduction, Cheryl cries "love is so lonely" - sounding simultaneously strong, vulnerable and grief-stricken. It is the best vocal performance of her career.

Yet Cheryl did not write the song. In fact, she only has two credits amongst the album's 11 tracks.

"But you have to connect with something you're singing about," she counters.

"I'm not going to sing about a subject I've not got any feeling for."

Fans will recognise those quotes. They are the star's rote answers when asked to explain her lyrics. Despite further prompts in this interview, she avoids going deeper into the album's more despondent moments.

What she will say, however, is that she deliberately withheld some songs from the record because they were too close to the bone.

"Every record I've made, there are songs I've written that I haven't put out because... well, I don't want to. I write for my own pleasure sometimes."

Cheryl on her manager - will.i.am

Cheryl and will.i.am at the Cannes Film Festival

"My first experience after Girls Aloud was writing a song with will.i.am and it was the most daunting thing I've ever done. I was always surrounded by the girls and we had a system I was very much familiar with. To then be with one of the world's biggest producers, being told, "ok, let's go, you write your bit" - it was really scary.

"It's been interesting to see everyone else's reaction to him on The Voice. It's like the nation's fallen in love with him.

"I've known him for years now, so all his little comebacks - 'I don't have tactics, I have Tic Tacs because I stay fresh' - that's just Will to me. He's so mischievous and fun."

So how does one arrive at such a deeply personal record with so little creative input?

Cheryl says it's all about auditioning songs and choosing the ones that reflect her feelings.

"I get sent a lot of tracks where there'll just be a beat, or a chorus," she explains.

"Sometimes I think, 'that chorus is amazing' and I'll write a verse to it, or someone else will write a verse to it."

Other times, she says, a song arrives fully formed. That was the case with the flirtatious Ghetto Baby - which was emailed to her out of the blue by a pre-fame Lana Del Rey.

"I kept getting notes with songs saying, 'this track is amazing, you need to hear this' and I would listen to them and think [pulls face], 'that's not for me. I don't really like that one'.

"And then I got a really blase message with this track. It just said, 'you might want to listen to this, tell us what you think'.

"So I put the song on and I was like, 'is this email a joke? This song is incredible and I need it.'"

Tummy troubles

So despite the lack of writing credits, A Million Lights is covered in Cheryl's fingerprints. She admits the year-long recording process was a big departure from her previous work.

"With Girls Aloud, Brian [Higgins, producer] had a very unique way of recording. We'd all just be hanging out in a lounge while another girl went out to record six, seven songs. Then the next girl... and the next girl.

"Then he'd go through every vocal and choose which one sat best in every part of the song. We wouldn't know how it was going to sound until he delivered it - which was actually quite fun."

Cheryl was often pushed to reach high notes when recording with the girl band - but her solo material more often utilizes the middle of her mezzo-soprano range.

Cheryl Cole The singer worked with a combination of new and established artists on the new album

"I'm more comfortable singing in a lower register," she says.

"I think that could be due to the fact that all I grew up listening to was male soul music."

But there could be another, less artistic, reason.

"There's a track on the Super Deluxe edition of the album called Teddy Bear. When we were recording it, I just sat eating Oreo Cookies and Pinkberry frozen yoghurt, and In and Out Burger all day.

"I was singing in the morning and everything was fine. Then I went in after having a burger and I was singing [exaggerated Batman growl] down there.

"You have to use your stomach when you sing. If it's digesting, it's not a happy place to be."

Tummy troubles aside, Cheryl says A Million Lights is "the most fun I've ever had" recording an album.

She has been teasing fans with lyrics on Twitter, a medium perfectly suited to her feisty personality.

"Don't believe everything you read... except what you read here," read her profile when she signed up in July 2011.

She has since used the site to quash rumours and dress down her critics - most famously taking rapper MC Harvey to task after he claimed to have had a relationship with her (their dispute is now the subject of a libel action).

"I don't know what I was doing before Twitter, I really don't," Cheryl says. "Burying my head in the sand.

"I never answer back unprovoked... But I'm always answering something back.

"I don't have any middle-men now. I've got my voice back."

Call My Name is out on 9 June. A Million Lights follows on 18 June.

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