Sorry For Being Late

Though she first burst into the public’s consciousness as a finalist on the U.K. version of The X Factor in 2010, Cher Lloyd began to makes waves in the U.S. the following year with one of that summer’s most irresistible songs, “Want U Back,” a double-platinum hit that led The New York Times to proclaim, “She’s the future.” The 20-year-old British singer and songwriter followed it up with the gold-certified ode to female friendship, “Oath,” a Top 10 album, Sticks & Stones, and numerous high-profile television appearances, including performances on The Today Show, Dancing With the Stars, and The Tonight Show. (She also collaborated with Ne-Yo on the track “It’s All Good” and is featured on Demi Lovato’s new single “Really Don’t Care.”) In the process, this outspoken, determined individualist has attracted a rabid global fan base whose members call themselves “brats” and follow her every move online and off. To them, Cher is the voice of the underdog, a once-quiet girl from the small English town of Malvern who found her own voice through singing, writing songs, and performing, and is now taking on the fight for others to demand to be heard.

To do it, Cher felt the time had come for her to reveal more about who she is and what is meaningful to her on her new album, Sorry For Being Late. “I’ve really let my barriers down on this record,” Cher says. “I’ve opened up and written songs about things I’ve never talked about before. It’s a big step. I’m kind of nervous for people to hear the album, because they’re going to know a lot more about me and that I am imperfect, but I want to be honest about who I am as a person and as an artist.”

Cher’s vulnerability is evident on new songs like the gut-wrenching “Sirens” as well as “Goodnight” — a deeply heartfelt ballad she describes as a “breakthrough” and one of her proudest songwriting moments. “It was inspired by being away from home so much, which has made me realize how much I miss my family,” she says. “My dad has been ill, so that’s all I could think about it. And it was just one of those moments where I thought, ‘Well, if I can’t talk to anyone about it, why don’t I sing about it?’ which I find so much easier to do. I want people to realize that I am completely human and go through the same things as everyone else.”

Even the upbeat songs on the album divulge more about who Cher is, including the playful, cheeky “Dirty Love,” where Cher laments that her guy is too accommodating (“You’re always so nice, I’m getting bored,” she taunts). “When my mom heard the song her jaw dropped to the floor,” Cher says with a laugh. “I thought, ‘This is great. I’ve definitely done what I wanted to do.’ Because this is me. I’m like this in real life. I don’t mind cracking jokes about naughty stuff. And for a long time, people haven’t been able to see that side of me.”

Then there’s the first single “I Wish” (featuring T.I.) on which Cher catalogs how she might fall short in the eyes of a guy she likes. It’s a sly take on the way girls perceive themselves and their self-worth. “Sure, I would love to be tall,” Cher says. “I would love to have a big pair of bangers and a bigger arse. I would love to have shitloads of money so I could shop every single day. I think a lot of girls struggle with body image or get pissed off because the prettier girl with everything gets the guy. And that’s not fair, and I think I should challenge that. That’s what I really want my fans to connect with. If you have to make all of these changes to impress someone, then they’re not liking you for you. It’s such a message for me, as well. I’ve always said, if you can’t take me as I am, don’t take me at all. Because I will not change for anyone. I’ve worked way too hard and stuck to my guns and I want each and every one of my fans to feel that, too. It’s okay to be a brat and stomp your feet and kick and scream when you truly believe in something. I say do it. I support it.”

Sonically, Cher says that Sorry For Being Late is more representative of her musical taste than ever before, due in part to imaginative production work by her executive producer Shellback (whom she describes a “a musical genius”), along with Rami Yacoub, Matt Squire, and others. “Dirty Love” is underpinned by skittering drum and bass, while “Bind Your Love” also experiments with edgy rhythms. Overall the album finds Cher growing up and out of her “bubblegum princess” image, as she puts it.

“I’m a lane switcher,” she says. “I know that this could all go tomorrow, so why not get the most out of it and try different things? That’s kind of what the album title is about. I’m now at that point where I can finally say that I’m where I want to be, musically, and my style has all come together. And I’m sorry I’m late. It took me a while, but I’m here now.”

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[September 2013]

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June 2012:

Singer, rapper, and songwriter Cher Lloyd is already a star in her native U.K. thanks to a string of buzzed-about performances on Britain’s version of The X Factor, a No. 1 debut single (“Swagger Jagger”), and a well-received album (Sticks & Stones) that shot to No. 4 on the UK chart. And with the February release of her first U.S. single “Want U Back” — a cheeky slice of alternative urban pop that the Huffington Post said “sounds like an instant summer radio hit” — it’s easy to see why. As the New York Times put it: “She’s the future.”

An outspoken, determined individualist who has talent to back up the confident attitude, Cher has that intangible quality that draws people in, as well as the rare ability to straddle the ever-shifting line between commercial and credible. The notoriously tough-to-please Simon Cowell saw it for himself when Cher was a contestant on The X Factor and signed her to his Syco Music label, which released Sticks & Stones in the UK in November. Cher was signed by Epic Records head L.A. Reid when the music executive noticed her at a sound check for The X Factor USA, beckoned her over to meet him, and told her she was a star. “He didn’t even know who I was or that I had appeared on British version of the show,” Cher says with amazement. The next day she found out that Reid had tapped her for Epic, which will release the U.S. version of Sticks & Stones with several brand-new tracks later this year.

Cher’s dynamic voice and songwriting talent have also enticed a host of heavy-hitters to want to work with her, including X Factor vocal coach Savan Kotecha (Britney Spears, Usher, One Direction), whom she credits with introducing her to other Sticks & Stones collaborators Max Martin (Britney Spears, Katy Perry), Red One (Lady Gaga, J-Lo), Shellback (Pink, Maroon 5,), and Kevin Rudolph (Lil Wayne). “Savan and I sat down and figured out what suited me best,” Cher says. “Then we took everything I’ve ever wanted to do musically but wasn’t sure about and tried it anyway. That’s why the album sounds a bit like a jukebox. Each track is different; there’s just a massive amount of variety.” Cher was involved in every creative decision, co-writing a number of songs during sessions in the U.S., Britain, and Sweden. Despite working with huge hitmakers, she made sure her ideas were put across. “Simon and L.A. trusted me,” she says. “They never set any rules or said, ‘You’re going to do this’ or ‘You’re going to sing that.’ They gave me freedom, so I just did what I wanted to do.”

The result is a collection of contemporary, street-wise pop gems that are both frank and playful, including “Want U Back,” second UK single “With Ur Love” (featuring Mike Posner), the dubstep-fueled “Dub on the Track,” and the RedOne-produced “Playa Boi,” which reworks the lyrics of the Neneh Cherry classic “Buffalo Stance” and samples its unmistakable hook. Cher also proves she can handle emotional ballads with “Beautiful People,” on which she teams up with Chad Wolf of South Carolina alt-rock band Carolina Liar. “I don’t believe that I have to stay completely pop or just sing ballads,” she says. “If you’ve got a recognizable voice, you can sing any style and people will know it’s you. I believe the song shouldn’t take over the artist. The artist should take over the song.”

Cher’s self-assuredness about her talent was hard-won. Growing up in the small town of Malvern, in England’s Worcestershire region, Cher knew she could sing from a young age, but didn’t perform for anyone until she was ten. “I was very shy about it,” she says. “I was a very quiet person. I struggled with being able to actually speak around people.” But eventually the need to be heard won out. “I come from a huge family and I always felt overshadowed,” she says. “People didn’t necessarily want to listen to what I had to say. I was always the girl in the background. So being onstage performing was my way of saying, ‘It’s my turn to be heard now.’”

Driven to become a performer, Cher began checking out blogs, digital radio stations, and YouTube, where she discovered other aspiring artists posting videos of themselves singing hit songs. “I didn’t have the technology to post my own, or I would have, but I watched people get their success and I wanted the same thing,” she says. Inspired by Nicki Minaj, Gwen Stefani, Fergie, and Lil Wayne, Cher wanted to rap as well as sing and began practicing for hours at home in her bedroom. She decided to try out for The X Factor when auditions were held in nearby Birmingham. “There were so many people there,” she recalls. “I looked around and thought, ‘This isn’t for me. I don’t want to be queuing up to be told no.’ Because I hate being told no. But in the end I went for it because I don’t give up.”

That determination sealed her fate. When the show ended, Cher joined the “The X Factor Live” Tour, performing for half a million people throughout the UK in 2011 and earning a legion of devoted fans who call themselves “Brats.” This past spring, she hit the road for the headlining UK Sticks & Stones Tour, which has clearly been one of her favorite endeavors so far. “When I get onstage, that’s it,” she says. “It’s the one moment I can have with the audience where I’m not thinking about anything else. That’s what I love. It’s the reason I do this and why I’ve made this my job, so I can sing live.”

Now Cher is looking forward to making her mark in America with “Want U Back” and the upcoming release of Sticks & Stones. “The U.S. is a big deal,” she says. “It’s a bigger field for me to play in and I like that. I love a challenge. I will never reach that level where I can completely say, ‘Oh, I’ve done it. I’m a star.’ It’s never going to happen. There will always be something bigger and better that I want to achieve.”

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