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June 2018

Mixed Bag of Honors and Accomplishments


Moony2First of all Cher's Believe album will be out on vinyl in December.  

In Music

A few weeks ago Cher's album Dancing Queen made its debut on the Billboard album chart at #3. This felt disappointing as Cher and the fans were aiming for #2. Although the album did hit #1 in the list for Top Album Sales. And the song "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" reached #5 on the Dance Club Play chart. And the Gimme remixes were recently released

So it felt a bit short at the time but my Billboard guru friend tells me I was off my meds to think this way: Sos

"For me, I am super impressed with her position on the chart. The year is three-quarters done, so for her to have the largest week of sales for an album in 2018 by a female pop artist is a major achievement.  It means she sold more albums in her debut week than 20-something Ariana Grande, who is the hottest female pop star in the U.S. currently, when she released Sweetener a few months ago. It means that the only female in any genre to post a larger one week tally this year is Cardi B. Were this released four years ago, before they started incorporating streaming into chart calculations, she would have debuted at #1 on the Top 200 chart, rather than #3 (and #1 on the sales chart).  The last female pop artist to exceed this level of sales in a single week was none other than 20-something Taylor Swift who remains the biggest U.S. female artist of the last ten years.  Not shabby company to keep. The fact that it is a sales sum that has only been surpassed by one other pop artist this year (Justin Timberlake) is truly remarkable. 

Mary, please think of it this way--over 50,000 albums across genres are released in the U.S. each year and our 72-year-old beloved can in 2018 sell more in a single week than literally any other pop artist on Earth except one, and more than any other female artist on Earth except one.  That is stupendous."

So that perspective was great. But then in week two the album feel from #3 to #43. 

In Movies

Anyway, there was another Billboard list that made me feel better again: Billboards list of 100 top musician performances in movies. Cher ranks #1. J. Lynch has this to say:

Cher’s Oscar-winning turn in the 1987 romcom Moonstruck remains the standard by which you mentally check all others. Cher brings that mixture of reluctance and romantic recklessness to the screen with a self-effacing realism and millisecond-sharp comedic timing. Few performances are this irresistible, hysterical and believably low-key -- and the fact that it came from one of the 20th century’s biggest pop stars leaves us unable to snap out of loving Cher in her deservedly Oscar-winning performance more than 30 years later."

The Kennedy Honor

And then there's the incredible Kennedy Honor. Maybe not in and of itself but for the fact that fans and Cher-watchers have been lobbying so long for Cher's simple induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To be beset with yet a larger honor was fully unexpected. And a bit disorienting quite frankly. But what a big deal. As my friend Christopher described it, “the government's highest form of recognition for artists...its official intention is to identify and honor artists for their lifetime contribution to the culture of the United States. That is no small potatoes.”

Especially since nobody's been noticing Cher's lifetime contribution to the culture of the United States. 

The awards will be televised on December 26 on CBS at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Some articles about the honor:

Here is the 2016 batch with some unsmiling Eagles (I take that back, 2/3 unsmiling Eagles), James Taylor, Martha Argerich, Mavis Staples, and the incomparable Al Pacino. 

Last-year


Cher Conquers Music Again

Cherlove_dancingqueen_002Before we get into the new album, it should be mentioned Cher’s placement on Billboards Top Female Artists of All Time list. 

My Billboard sensei, Christopher, sent me this explication of the list’s meaning:

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Hot 100, Billboard posted the list of the Top 60 Female Artists of all time on the Hot 100.  You will be glad to see Cher ensconced all the way up at #16, (and right beside P!nk, which I thought was a nice, appropriate coincidence). It's for real; no opinions factored in.  The ranking was calculated based on how many weeks each hit spent on the chart and at which positions.  It's a cumulative inverse point system. So, if you have a song at #23 on the chart, it is awarded 77 points for that week.  If the following week it climbs to #19, for that week it earns an additional 81 points, and so on and so on. This system thereby rewards both longevity and ascension.  It is the same system they use when determining the year-end charts.

The Dancing Queen Album

So this all happened really fast. Mid-year, we found out Cher was recording a new album of ABBA songs and by September, here it was. 

Full disclosure: everyone has their own ideas about music they like. Methods are either cold and mathematical (example above) or infinitely subjective. There seems to be no in between. Even Cher fans have different inclinations. My personal favorite albums are: With Love (1967), Backstage (1968), All I Ever Need is You (1971 and for highly sentimental reasons), Stars (1975), Take Me Home (1979), It’s a Man’s World (1996), Believe (1999) and Living Proof (2001). I could go into my predilections for melody or unity but blah-blah-blah, who cares.

Cher’s last album, Closer to the Truth, was good but not great. It charted high (on the backs of concert ticket sales) and a few songs played on adult contemporary radio ("I Hope You Find It") but there was not a breakout hit. I'm liking this album much better. But I'm finding it hard to say why. Could it be outside cultural influences are working on me, (although don't we all feel like we loved Stars in a vacuum?). For sure, the advanced interest in this album was very high. Even Billboard predicts another high-chart debut, again possibly on the backs of merch and concert tickets sales.

On the other hand, you can’t really miss recording these ABBA songs. Are some arrangements are more original than others? Sure. Are some critics going to accuse Cher of being an opportunist,? Yes. But it would seem hard to sing ABBA songs (as Cher herself has admitted), so here is where the effort sits in my mind: in the stretch to do it. Cher could have picked easier opportunism.

What’s interesting to me, reading all the reviews, is how trends are showing up around who likes which songs. Dance clubs are already springing to the beats of “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” other fans are gravitating to Cher's more original take on “Chiquitta. ” I also love the novelty of hearing Cher sing “The Winner Takes it All.” Not everybody does. Boys seem to like the “SOS” track. “One of Us” consistently stands out as a critical favorite. Trends like this show this album has gems on it. I don’t remember any similar consensus around “Closer to the Truth.”

And the critical reviews are mostly favorable, which is an odd thing to experience with a Cher album. I tend to want to deconstruct those things. Why is it happening? Is this really Cher’s best album of all time? You’d think so by the reviews. I break it down to three aspects of the current Cher phenomenon: (1) old white reviewers are all retired or dead and women and gay men are in positions of reviewing albums, (2) Cher has been canonized lately (a sub-phenomenon we can't get into right now), (3) the concept of this album is so juicy, it’s immediately lovable, (4) the album has one producer for the most part and feels very unified, and (5) during these political times, we crave "the happy, happy."

But what do I know? I do know this: Believe was a very good album with a magical-single attached to it and Entertainment Weekly still dissed it. Music critics were not inclined to like Cher circa 1999. And that means everything because reviews are perceptions always based on the trends of a larger culture or sub-culture (which makes decoding "good" all but impossible). Culture is arbitrary, capriciously suggestible and apropos of nothing true. I can both hide behind that convenient fact, as a much maligned Cher fan, but it also makes my many rationalizations about it meaningless. Ah, what fun.

So the good reviews feel amazing, no doubt. But they’re so packed with so much unrelated, Cher love going on right now, it’s hard to know how good the new album really is. Do I overthink it? Yes, but that’s what cultural study is. You can make the claim that these songs are just cotton candy to give us a respite of happiness, (a point made in many Mama Mia 2 reviews)but I hate to think that way. It short-shrifts the album and our human capacity to deal with bad political times. 

I love that Cher dedicated the album to her mom. I love that she thanked her bffs and her long-time assistant. And I dearly love “Chiquita.”

I have three ABBA greatest hits collections: one double LP, one cassette tape, one compact disc) and I still missed all the visual ABBA references in the “SOS” video and on the album cover. I had to read about video references in articles about the video and Mr. Cher Scholar pointed out the album cover similarity as we looked at a CD prominently displayed at Target last week.  

The album is predicted to debut at #2 on Billboard's album chart. “Gimme Gimme Gimme” is now at #8 on the dance chart. “Fernando” (the Mama Mia 2 version with Andy Garcia) made it to #22 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

More Chart News:

As I said, the announcement of this album was big news, the track listing was big news, the single releases were news:

Cher-cover-dqMore on this later, but Cher has also done general interviews for The Today Show, The New York Times and the L.A. TimesAll the songs have attracted a bee swarm of re-mixes. Search album song titles on YouTube and you'll find some, including a fabulous Madonna mashup with "Gimme Gimme Gimmie."

Gimmie News:

The mashup guy even got his own interview. One funny quote about the mashup from a fan, “This mashup has cured my diseases, watered my crop and saved my soul. This mashup has turned me 200% gay.”

And then the “SOS” video made news:

Here's the original ABBA video to compare to the Cher version. A good scholarship project would be to do screen-capture comparisons. No time for that right now but someday. Cher also performed the song on Ellen. And Cher is performing "Waterloo," "SOS" and "Fernando" in her latest New Zealand and Australia shows.

The following are excerpts from the reviews so far.

Continue reading "Cher Conquers Music Again" »


Sometimes When I'm Down and All Alone

Cher-1There’s so much to catch up on. It’s very daunting, all the words we need to think up for this year's Cherness. And I’m so, so very tired.

This is a white-hot Cher year for sure. And so much is worthy of scholarship: reviews, commentaries (all more positive than we’ve ever seen them: a good Rolling Stone review? A good Entertainment Weekly review? What alternate universe are we living in?). So much amazing stuff: personal essays about Cher that you find here and there on the internet, canonization in Mama Mia 2 (with Cher-tapping no less), a plethora of personal appearances and interviews, Broadway, Vegas, a new tour, a new album. It’ll probably takes us many years to process it all, like dutiful curators in the museums of Cher.

So wow. My year was just...wow. I’ve never experienced a year quite like it. Both awful and awe-ful in so many ways. Heartbreaking, a lot of it. I’m sitting in a new proverbial chair surrounded by an entirely different world than I started with back in January. Everything has suffered through the metamorphosis: activism (although I created three new voting ads this month for ArtBrawl), poetry (although I published my second book at the end of August), Cher blogging (although I’ve been hanging in there with about 75% of the product and appearances). The job changes have been daunting alone but there were also family illnesses, three family trips (one amazing Arizona trip tracing family history) and we were forced to move. I say 'forced' but really we just realized our rental situation was untenable and it was time to stop living like transient drifters. Brave. New. World. Moving was not easy and the pressures all year happening at the same time made me literally crazy (not that far to go, quite frankly). To date, I’m slightly more damaged than I was. I’m not living in the same house. I’m not working the same job. My friends have changed. I’ve had to put my coping mechanisms to the test and sometimes I failed to live up to them. But I’m here. And I am grateful to friends, my parents, and Mr. Cher Scholar for continued support during the mess of it.

Every time in “Chiqutita” when Cher sings “your life’s a broken feather,” I start to tear up. Indeed, this year was a broken feather. And I’ve loved that song since I was a tween, but never could parse what that phrase way saying: “your loves a broken tether?” I had no idea. “Your love’s a blown out candle”...also big news to me. But these things are so lovely to discover….finally.

Anyway, we need to get going and digesting all of this good media and “try once more like we did before” to blog about Cher stuff.