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« 1903, or Jumping on Terry | Main | Histories of Music »

March 04, 2004

The Cher Mystery

Dear Friedrich --

Can you explain the popularity of Cher? I marvel at it. She's a phenomenon, one of those performers with amazingly long-lasting careers. Yet I can't explain it. She's got a fabulous look, and although I can't listen to her singing, I thought she was pretty good in some of her movies -- "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean," "Silkwood," "Moonstruck" and "Mermaids."

Hmm, so she's pretty enough; she can act; and she has a distinctive if lousy pop voice ...

But that's far from enough to explain the persistence of her popularity, or how broad-based it is. I've often been struck by how many women really like Cher. I've also often been struck by how many different kinds of women like her: older and younger, earthy and flighty, office workers and production people. They smile when you mention her name. They don't mind thinking about her, and on a regular basis. They seem to feel like they know her.

"She's a survivor," is the answer I usually get when I ask a gal friend why so many women love Cher, and no doubt that explains some of the mystery. But there must be more to it, don't you think? I think she must really connect with many women.

On what basis, do you suppose? Do gals relate to the way Cher's both glamorous and a little ridiculous too? Do they like the way she's sexy, yet funny and frank? Maybe they relate to the way that Cher has done a lot of living out in public, to the way she has made more than her share of mistakes, and has even been a public joke -- and yet she never denies any of this, and has learned to laugh ruefully about herself, and then soldiers on enthusiastically anyway. I guess my theory boils down to: maybe women look at Cher and see an embodiment of their own you-take-your-knocks-but- keep-smiling-and-looking-good spirit.

Hmm: maybe all of this (and more) is what my gal friends mean when they look at me like I don't get it and say, "She's a survivor."

What's your theory about Cher? Ahem: of course, it's not as if red-blooded, alpha-male studs like you and I would ever confer any of our manly thought-energy on a topic like Cher. Hell no. But if we were to, what might you come up with?



posted by Michael at March 4, 2004


Cher is one of those rare performers who seem to speak intimately to the audience - be it a live performance or an acting role. I think Dolly Parton seems to have a similar quality.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on March 4, 2004 9:47 PM

Her career has spanned 37 years, since 1966. 38 years prior to 1965 was 1928. Can you imagine an entertainer who broke in to music in 1928 being popular among fairly young people in 1965? Pretty amazing. It's a reminder that the rate of change in popular tastes in entertainment has slowed down over the last few decades. Last month I saw a girl, senior in college, with a Doors T-shirt. It's been 35 years since the Doors peaked in 1969. Were there any 22 year olds in 1969 still grooving to the music of acts that were popular in 1934?

Posted by: Bill on March 4, 2004 10:32 PM

To me, there's something about Cher that radiates sincerity, even when she's dressed in some ridiculous get-up and singing an absurd song. "The secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made." -- George Burns. The same would apply to singing, I suppose. I don't necessarily think that she fakes it, though. Cher has je ne sais quoi.

Posted by: MG on March 5, 2004 12:02 AM

An entire post on Cher, and you've mentioned the homosexual conspiracy not once. Remarkable self-control, Michael. :^)

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on March 5, 2004 12:57 AM

There's a homosexual conspiracy?

Posted by: average joe on March 5, 2004 1:40 AM

Shhhh! Don't want word of it getting around!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 5, 2004 2:07 AM


Posted by: average joe on March 5, 2004 2:13 AM

Hmmm...I find it interesting that it has been mostly men commenting on Cher. Apparently, there has been some thought.

I con't begin to answer for all women...she might not really mean as much to me. Mostly, if I find her facscinating, it's in the creature-from-Mars category. The wild clothes, the twenty-years-younger boyfriends, the endless plastic surgery, the extravagant life. I never can really picture her doing anything "normal"---playing a board game, being anyone's mother, actually getting her feelings hurt, for Goodness sake, rinsing out a glass at the sink. She doesn't even really seem to be a sexual being to me (although men may differ). She seems like someone who lives at a spa and is constantly changing her nail and hair color.

Posted by: annette on March 5, 2004 9:42 AM

Although, I generally do think she's a good actress, which just adds to the creature-from-Mars category. You mean she's observed human behavior closely enough to actually know how a "real person" would act?

Posted by: annette on March 5, 2004 9:44 AM

I caught a bit of her farewell concert on tv and was baffled by her as usual. Can't sing, grotesque appearance - is she some sort of icon among gay men? I can't really see why, though the survivor thing seems to go a long way with the gay demographic. The wife watched raptly and shushed me when I asked what the appeal was.

I do remember thinking she was quite hot in the early 70s when I was going through puberty.

Posted by: Robert on March 5, 2004 10:11 AM

Self-control, Mr. Hulsey - what an enviable quality! Remarkable, isn't it?

Posted by: Tatyana on March 5, 2004 10:38 AM

I think it is the sincerety, combined with the fact that she appears to take great pleasure in everything she does. As Cowtown said above, I think Dolly Parton has this too. I've never been into either Cher or Parton, but any time you see them interviewed, they come across as ordinary, genuine folks who just loved performing so much that they were just destined to succeed. And who wouldn't want to live a life doing what they loved so much? People seem to identify with that.

Posted by: Nate on March 5, 2004 11:13 AM

What a bunch of smart culture critics. "Genuine" seems to hit it on the nose, at least so it seems to me. I was yakking with The Wife a few minutes ago about Charlize Theron, who I like and The Wife doesn't. I asked why, and as far as I can tell it's because Charlize doesn't strike The Wife as genuine.

Now for the matter of what "genuine" means, exactly. Or maybe even not so exactly. What goes into it? How do we pick it up? "She is who she is" -- why do we like that? How can we tell? Why does it matter?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 5, 2004 11:56 AM

Cher, like Madonna, is a perfect example of the new paradigm for artists ageing in the 21c. They continually reinvent themselves (oh well, like PICASSO--) instead of repeating. Thus, instead of trying to preserve their youth, they undergo "serial adolescences"...

Posted by: graywyvern on March 5, 2004 12:46 PM

Self-control, Mr. Hulsey - what an enviable quality! Remarkable, isn't it?

Almost as remarkable as sarcasm, I should think.

But we've certainly come a long way since Michael's "gay, do you hear? Gay gay GAY" remark a few weeks ago.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on March 5, 2004 1:26 PM

Shucks. I'm happy to let it be implicit from time to time.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 5, 2004 2:10 PM

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