THE CHER FACTOR: There Is No Stopping Cher

Last week, the legend turned heads when she performed at the annual amfAR gala in the vast gardens of the Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc on the French Riviera during the Cannes Film Festival. 

It was just after midnight as Cher appeared on the scene looking dazzling, performing her hits “Believe” and “If I Could Turn Back Time” in a sparkly leopard, knee-high black boots and not much else — pretty much the same outfit as for the legendary 1989 video for that same song, which she filmed on a US Navy battleship, surrounded by dozens of sailors.

Last October during Paris Fashion Week, the singer appeared in the front rows of Balmain, Givenchy, Valentino and Messika shows. Cher performed, briefly, at the launch party for the H&M collaboration with Rabanne, at Silencio Club. She missed Ann Demeulemeester, one of her favourite designers, because of traffic jams.

When she showed up at a Demeulemeester a few seasons ago, the crowd went wild.

Maybe because, at first, her presence seemed so random, although, of course, ultimately it made sense. And Demeulemeester’s esthetic, although far from the glamour of her iconic 1970’s Bob Mackie dresses, is a perfect match for Cher’s.

Possibly history’s most enduring pop star, Cherilyn Sarkisian — like the Kardashians, who are also partly of Armenian descent — has gone through multiple incarnations. She started her career in the legendary Goldstar Studios in Los Angeles, singing backing vocals on a number of major hits in the early 1960s, including “Be My Baby”, by The Ronettes, and “Da Doo Ron Ron”, by The Crystals.

Her first solo singles, “Ringo, I Love You” (as Bonnie Jo Mason) and “Dream Baby” (as Cherilyn), were not big hits at the time, but are now considered classics of the girl group sound. She did break through, in a major way, with her husband and fellow musician Sonny Bono. The pair scored numerous worldwide hits, including “I Got You Babe”, a number one in 1965, and “The Beat Goes On”.

With Sonny, she also embarked on a stellar US television career, with the “Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour”. The programme was meant to air only for a few weeks in summer but turned into a huge hit, and lasted from 1971 to 1974 when the couple separated. They returned, together, for “The Sonny & Cher Show” in 1976, which lasted another two seasons.

Bob Mackie, who she had worked with since 1967, created her often spectacular costumes for the TV shows. He went on to create hundreds of dazzling outfits for Cher, from stage costumes to red-carpet looks, merging bohemian chic, disco glamour, and a hard rock attitude. One highlight was a see-through body suit decorated with white feathers, which was photographed by Richard Avedon for Vogue, and also featured on the cover of Time magazine. The look would be perfectly au courant for a current celeb making her entrance on the Met Gala’s green carpet.

After her divorce, Cher continued dominating pop culture, and music, with a few more adult-oriented hits, including “Gypsies Tramps” and “Thieves”. In 1976, she married rock star Gregg Allman.

Like Tina Turner, Cher has never really stopped working and recording, although, like Turner, she did go through a dry spell, musically (both singers, perhaps surprisingly, kept their distance from the disco sound). Her comeback in the late eighties, with the aforementioned “If I Could Turn Back Time”, was huge.

Around the same time, she also turned to acting, which she was great at — with major roles in movies like Robert Altman’s wonderful “Come Back To The 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”; as well as box office hits “Mask”, “Moonstruck”, and “Mermaids”.

This was before her second, even more impressive comeback, in 1999, with the single “Believe”, the first commercial recording to feature Auto-Tune, an electronic vocal effect originally intended to disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies — which, frankly, Cher didn’t need. The song was number one in the US for a month and stayed in the charts for 31 weeks. 52 at the time, she was the oldest female artist to top the hit list.

Now 78, Cher is still releasing records: an album with ABBA covers or, more recently, her very first Christmas album.

She has conquered a new generation of fans with her often hilarious X account, and her recent battle with the powers that be at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, which had shunned her for decades. 

“You know what, I wouldn't be in it now if they gave me a million dollars,” Cher declared during an appearance on a talk show last December. “I'm never going to change my mind. They can just go you-know-what themselves.” She was finally inducted earlier this year, more than 60 years after beginning her recording career. 

Last week, a day after the amfAR gala, she was spotted walking around Saint-Tropez with her 38-year-old partner, Alexander ‘AE’ Edwards. They were first photographed holding hands in November 2022.

“At her age,” said Bob Mackie in a recent interview with Variety, “a lot of people don’t bother, but Cher does. And what she does is so daring. There are never any fears or nerves. She was never intimidated by anything. There is no one like her. Others can try, but it’s not the same.”

Text: Jesse Brouns