How Cher influenced Kanye West... and most 21st century pop music!
By Fraser McAlpine, 20 July 2018
Despite its plethora of forward-thinkers, pop also deals a lot in homage and inspiration. Every so often, though, you get a big star that makes such an impact that you can see their influence trickle down through the decades of music that follows them.
She also revealed a very exciting ABBA-themed secret...
So, while Cher pays tribute to music's master songwriters, here's a timely reminder of just a few ways that she changed the face of modern pop herself:
She made Auto-Tune a thing
For such a revolutionary song, Cher's 1998 hit Believe had a very troubled gestation. The product of six different songwriters and two producers, it was an unloved demo with a great chorus that was in need of something extra. At the time, Auto-Tune was a new plug-in made by Antares for digital recording software, designed to subtly correct pitching errors in singing.
Believe's producer Mark Taylor turned it on full, to see what would happen, and rather liked the effect. Often compared to a vocoder - which uses the sibilance of speech to modulate synthesised sound - Auto-Tuned vocals still use the actual sound of the voice, with a few unearthly variations as it glides from note to note.
Needless to say, it made Believe the smash hit it deserved to be, and made pop music sound a lot different for the next two decades.
And inspired Kanye West in the process
Influenced by Cher's studio wizardry, other artists started whacking up the Auto-Tune, especially in hip hop and R&B. In fact, it remains a staple pop sound of the 21st century.
Will.I.Am loves it. Kanye West made a touching use of the robotic voice throughout his album 808s & Heartbreak, and hip hop artist/Auto-Tune advocate T-Pain used it to such an iconic degree he even launched his own smartphone app which simulated the effect in real time.
Rita Ora's recent hit Anywhere has a wordless refrain created from her voice, which has been edited and stretched so the timbre shifts while the notes remain the same, and it's hard to imagine that happening without the influence of Believe.
She invented Wrecking Ball
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Plenty of singers have experimented with sexual imagery, but Cher's cartoonish sauciness took things to a next level with her video for If I Could Turn Back Time, which saw the star straddling a cannon.
You can see echoes of this playful approach in the stage presentation of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, and particularly in Miley Cyrus's hotly-discussed video for Wrecking Ball. For a song that's a very Cher-like power ballad, Miley straddles a concrete ball just like Cher, only without her predecessor's bodysuit, leather jacket, or, well, anything else.
She was pop's original diva
Cher is the quintessential pop diva: she's a female performer of startling vocal talent, personal strength, magnetic charisma, and who performs with total intensity.
She's acknowledged by her successors, too. Beyoncé bought her old house, Lady Gaga wrote the song The Greatest Thing for her. She also noted that while Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez have made excellent work of their glamorous residencies in Las Vegas, this was ground that had been prepared already: "Babe, I was doing Vegas when they were in rompers!”
"I love that in the seventies Cher and Diana Ross looked like superstars and never played it safe," Beyoncé has said. "When they were onstage, they gave you drama—and I love drama."
One of Cher's truest heirs has to be Sia, who hasn't been shy of her love for the Goddess of Pop...
She remains a massive LGBT icon
As well as blurring gender lines, Cher's music has also been embraced wholeheartedly by the LGBT community. In fact, she remains a LGBT icon to this day. She has long championed gay rights, has inspired an entire generation of drag artists and even headlined the 40th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras just this past March.
"When I think about the songs that I grew up listening to... it was mostly straight women: Cher, Madonna, Miley, Robyn, Lady Gaga. Those are my gay icons," pop singer Troye Sivan said in a recent interview.
She was a pioneer of pop androgyny
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Take a look at this clip of I Got You Babe, Cher's first hit from 1965, with her partner Sonny Bono. Her contralto voice starts the song, low and deep. She isn't dressing the way other female performers did at the time either.
Pop has always been full of so-called "pretty boys" (everyone from Elvis to Harry Styles), but Cher proved androgyny could be a two-way street. It's a key part of her impact on modern pop. Take any modern artist blurring gender boundaries and Cher has probably inspired them. It can be argued that her '60s fame set things up for the likes of David Bowie and Patti Smith to flourish a decade later.