Solo stage names have become compulsory in today’s era of high-volume, short-attention-span entertainment. Names like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Zendaya quickly come to mind. But you were really one of the first female performers to make her mononym stick.
“And I’m probably the first to do it legally! [In 1978] I went to the court to change my name. On my passport, on my driver’s license, on all my paperwork, I only have one name—Cher.”
Is there a certain power or spell to the singular distinction?
“The courts don’t want you to not have a last name; it’s confusing, and they rarely grant the petition. You have to be able to be recognized by only that one word. But I never really thought of it as a power thing. For so long I was ‘Cher from Sonny and Cher.’ And then I had two children, and each had a different father with a last name that I’d taken on. One day I just realized, ‘I’m Cher, I don’t need anything else.’”
You’ve lived so many lives that it’s become a sort of cultural proverb that only roaches and Cher will survive the apocalypse. The world has seen you as Cherilyn by birth, Bonnie Jo Mason and Cleo—two early stage names—Sonny and Cher, and, for the last five-plus decades, Cher. Who is Cher today?
“I have to say, I’m not so much into being famous anymore. I like to do my work, but the other parts [of the job] are hard. The reason I still work is because someday I know I won’t be able to, and I know that day is not very far from now. I don’t believe in having diminishing returns. I can still put on my show. It might not be as great as it was five years ago, but it’s still pretty damn good. I mean, I’m not disappointing anyone.”
You don’t delight in fame anymore, but when you were younger, all you wanted to be was famous.
“And then I was.”
For almost the entirety of your life!
“Excuse me. Fifty-four years.”
It must be interesting to be famous for so long that you don’t need to be famous anymore.
“It’s not that I don’t want to be famous anymore; I just don’t want to ever have to compete with myself. And the thing is, I don’t like going out anymore. I hate the paparazzi. I just hate them, really. I mean, they’ve ruined so many of my relationships and so much of my life. Hiding in my garbage cans, you know, just doing horrible things. But somehow at this age, I’m still really famous. I never expected it, really. I think it was [the sequel to] Mamma Mia! and then the album [Dancing Queen] that really did it. I had like five minutes total in that movie, but it was in front of a whole different audience. Now when I go on stage, I see such different groupings: really old people beside really young children. That’s something really special. I know that I still make people happy, and that’s my gift.”
Lately it feels like every award show or cultural event has become a portal to a past moment in Cher history. Kim Kardashian West has repeatedly recreated your ’70s looks on the red carpet, Emily Ratajkowski paid tribute to your Met Ball “naked dress” for the gala this past year, and singer Normani was inspired by your Prisoner album art for her last Halloween costume. What do you make of this younger generation rediscovering your greatest hits?
“I like it, but to be honest I don’t see it that often. Sometimes someone will post [a photo] on Twitter, but I don’t really go looking for that kind of thing, and I’m not on Instagram—I have one, but I don’t use it. I don’t want to be taking pictures all the time. I’ve already taken a million in my life, and I don’t like that everyone’s got a camera with them at all times. It wasn’t like that before. You used to be able to go out looking like anything and everything—and I did. Today, it feels like we don’t have any protections.”
I imagine with your level of visibility it can be worrisome at times to not have any safeguards?
“It makes me feel like I have no choice. And I hate selfies. People ask me all the time for them, and I almost always say no—except for Naomi [Campbell] just now. I did one for her. I like Twitter, because I like to say what I think and I don’t have to worry about that kind of thing. Sometimes I get my ass kicked on Twitter, but I still speak my mind. Thank god there is a 200—or whatever—character limit.”
You’ve always been outspoken in your personal beliefs, but lately your Twitter voice seems more activated than ever before.
“I was born when Truman was president. I mean, I was a baby, but still—I’ve lived through 11 presidents, and I’ve never seen anything like today. [George W.] Bush started a war that was insane because he was so uneducated, and I was and still am unforgiving toward him. But now we have somebody in the White House that is a menace to the entire world. [Donald Trump] is already doing things that have changed America forever. I’ve seen things, you know, and I’m constantly reading about everything that he does. I have Russian friends. I know so many things that the public does not.”
I love the fantasy of Cher in some kind of espionage ensemble keeping tabs on all these underground political doings to protect the greater world.
“Well, I am keeping tabs. You know, they call me an elitist. But I mean, the president is an elitist. I have dyslexia badly, but I am at least educated.”
Do you believe in fighting fire with fire?
“Yeah, I’m kind of a if you fuck with me, be prepared kind of person. I’m not, like, a pacifist—I’m just not. Don’t fuck with me. But also, I’m very gentle and very loving and I have a really good moral compass. I mean, I don’t care what [Trump] says about me or anything, but he’s fucking with the country.”
But then again, you’ve never really cared about what people thought about you. Richard Avedon famously told you while taking your photo that you’d never be on the cover of a magazine, and look at you now! In 1973, you showed up to the Oscars in the ever-famous gold encrusted Bob Mackie look—
“’Cause I was pissed.”
Why were you pissed?
“[The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] said that I wasn’t a serious actress and that I dated younger men and they didn’t like the way I dressed. At all. But, you know, I showed up and said, ‘As you can see, I got my Academy book on how to look like a serious actress.’”
And you stole everyone’s attention. From that red carpet to the radically fantastic Bob Mackie creations you debuted on your variety series and in the decades since—an endless array of album covers, tour outfits, and off-duty sequin gowns—you’ve never been shy of showing skin.
“CBS had two sensors on me when I had my own show. When Son and I were together—because we were married—the network gave me a bit more allowance, but still they were always up in arms about what I would wear. They were happy, though. Each week our ratings were going up because people would tune in to see what I was wearing. People loved The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour because it was so ridiculous.”
Did Bob ever present you with something that you thought was too ridiculous to wear? “Never. And that made Bob so happy, because I didn’t care. Truly! I was like his canvas. I trusted him so much, and he made me look so good that I didn’t question anything. I think there were only two dresses that I ever said no to—not because I was worried or scared of how I would look in them—I just didn’t like them. Working with him was like a marriage made in heaven.”
Your new perfume, Cher Eau de Couture, takes inspiration from your longstanding fashion past.
“I wanted something fun, lasting, and that actually smelled like me. It took four years to create. I told them, ‘If I can’t wear it, I can’t sell it.’”
What’s your relationship with clothing like now?
“For me it comes down to a feeling of passion. It’s almost like a painting or an art piece—you look at [a particular piece of clothing] and you’re drawn to it. When I see something beautiful, it’s emotional. That doesn’t necessarily mean a fancy dress. I run around in jeans and leggings all the time. I mean, I’ve got a pair of jeans that I’ve had for I don’t know how long, and I wear them every time I sing ‘Believe.’ I did so much dressing up when I was young that at a certain point you just can’t keep it up. You can’t be who you were. I can come as close as I can, but even I cannot be who I was. Now, I’m just me.”
PHOTOGRAPHERS MERT ALAS & MARCUS PIGGOTT
FASHION CARINE ROITFELD
HAIR SHAY ASHUAL
MAKEUP ROKAEL LIZAMA
HAIR FOR CHER SERENA RADAELLI AT CLOUTIER REMIX
MAKEUP FOR CHER FRANCESCA TOLOT AT CLOUTIER REMIX
MANICURIST DIEM TRUONG
ENTERTAINMENT BOOKING SHELBY BEAMON
LOCAL PRODUCTION GE PROJECTS
PRODUCTION PALM PRODUCTIONS
SPECIAL THANKS MARJAN MALAKPOUR AT THE ONLY AGENCY
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