Sonny & Cher’s 1965 song “I Got You Babe” blares each morning from the clock radio of Bill Murray’s character in the 1993 comedy classic Groundhog Day. Asked why he chose that song, writer Danny Rubin said that after several replays, “it would drive you crazy!”
But wasn’t there always something also charming about the song? You couldn’t help but sing along — and then kept singing for days after you searched Discogs for the original vinyl.
That’s the Cher Cool Factor in effect.
The singer, actress, and outspoken anti-Trumper born Cherilyn Sarkisian has a style that seems dubious at first but suddenly, and surprisingly, becomes kinda cool. She plants this weird, awkward seed, and it grows into a nonironic and acceptable trend.
Consider her stylish and scandalous attire over the years, her use of the questionably acceptable Auto-Tune, her role as a rom-com star, and her rampant tweeting. Cher does some weird stuff that might seem embarrassing at first, as if she were your mom and you were 12. But then, all of a sudden, you’re 19 and you find yourself buying a fully Auto-Tuned T-Pain album. Turns out Mom was just ahead of her time. Cher is always doing first whatever it is we’re about to be doing.
At 72, Cher is still a relevant pop icon. She recently accepted a Kennedy Center Honors Award. She released an album of Abba covers, Dancing Queen. She starred in another movie, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and debuted a Broadway musical about herself, The Cher Show. You get the idea. Cher radiates a superhuman magnetism that somehow leaves room for vulnerability, even if you know deep down nothing can really hurt her.
That vulnerability was literalized in the “If I Could Turn Back Time” video. In it, she bared her bottom in a BDSM-style leather and fishnet getup while strutting in a sea of sailors. The video came out in 1989, and the backlash was immediate. A Washington Post story titled “Cher’s Dirty Dance Embarrasses Navy” begins with the line, “If battleships could blush, the USS Missouri would be bright red.”
Yet soon after, everyone was airing their buttocks for the camera. At the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, Prince wore a Cher-like catsuit with his lower cheeks exposed to perform “Gett Off.” Then, in 1992, Madonna followed the BDSM trend with her book Sex and similarly styled album Erotica. Her 1994 video for “Human Nature” looks like what “If I Could Turn Back Time” would have been if it were filmed in an East Berlin brothel. And to this day, Cher’s look in that video is the tropi-goth costume dark-garbed hipsters treasure.
Then there’s “Believe,” the song that introduced the sound of Antares Auto-Tune software to the mainstream. Much like the fashion mentioned above, the song was not what you would brand as cool in 1998. It was on the radio, for sure, but few music fans admitted they were into it. We had our doubts. Auto-Tune sounded so weird back then. And it seemed like a tool untalented singers might use to disguise their mediocre skills.
But Cher had a helluva set of pipes, perfectly peculiar-sounding in a delightfully masculine way. And T-Pain, who really brought Auto-Tune to the masses, has an angelic voice. Either way, her “Believe” turned this seemingly terrible production trick into a beloved plug-in.
Cher also helped set the template for the modern romantic comedy. Yes, rom-coms have been around since Shakespeare, and, yeah, we’ve heard of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But when you think of classic romantic comedies today, you think of When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle. Cher’s Moonstruck preceded them. A simple story about a woman falling for her fiancé’s brother, the movie is addictive and hilarious. It’s a genuine American masterpiece. Cher won an Oscar for her role, and the film gave Nicholas Cage a career. You might have laughed at ’80s and ’90s rom-coms when you were younger, but now you’ve grown up and laugh with them, thanks in part to dear Mother Cher.
Last, there’s Cher’s activism. She not only bashes the ever-loving shit out of Donald Trump and his cohorts from her social media accounts, but also hits the pavement for her progressive beliefs. Last year, a Vanity Fair article explained, “Since the 1960s, Cher has been vocal on issues close to her heart, even when deemed unfashionable by some.” The article points out she and Sonny Bono were antidrug activists in the substance-friendly ’60s because her father was a heroin addict. That might not have gone over well at the time, but amid the opioid epidemic of today, it’s hard not to sympathize.
Cher has also helped soldiers, veterans, and orphans in Kenya. She fights for animal rights and has given tons of bottled water to the residents of Flint, Michigan. In 2018, she spoke at the March for Our Lives and the Las Vegas Women’s March.
So you can call Cher a diva or a risk-taker. But never call her a thing of the past. If history is any indication, you’ll soon be following her lead.
Cher. 8 p.m. Saturday, July 19, at the BB&T Center, 1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise; thebbtcenter.com. Tickets cost $54.95 to $495.75.