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 May 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,” 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 considerable songwriting talent have also enticed a host of heavy-hitters to want to work with her, including songwriter and friend Savan Kotecha 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, 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. After finishing third runner up, 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.”