“Just a momentary delay while she puts on her eyelashes. Even though it’s a phone interview, she wants to look good for you. She’ll be perfect in a couple of minutes. Hold on.”
That’s Cher’s veteran publicist, Liz Rosenberg, speaking. It’s a Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles, and Cher is winding down a press tour that began with July’s “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” and will conclude only once “Dancing Queen,” her collection of ABBA covers, arrives Sept. 28. Except by then, Cher will have embarked on an actual tour, playing 13 gigs in Australia and New Zealand and then returning to Las Vegas for another nine. (She’ll perform the show across North America in early 2019.)
It was, to say the least, an eventful summer for Cher, who hadn’t made a live-action movie since 2010’s “Burlesque” and hadn’t released an album since 2013’s “Closer to the Truth.” Once her eyelashes were applied, I talked to the 72-year-old luminary about this ongoing whirlwind, including her history with ABBA, her feelings on today’s pop music, the potential for Donald Trump’s impeachment, her relationship with Madonna, her batty Twitter account, and what she still has in store for us.
You’ve had quite the summer. How are you feeling at this point?
I’m tired! I’m absolutely tired, but I still have a little bit left in me.
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Are you getting enough sleep?
Well, I guess. That’s a question my mom would ask me. Not necessarily, but I’m almost getting enough sleep.
Almost will work. When did it first dawn on you to do an entire album of ABBA covers?
Do you know, I don’t really remember. I could say I do, but I don’t. [Addressing her longtime assistant:] Jen, when do you remember me having the idea to do this? Like, what did I say? Because I don’t remember. [They converse inaudibly.]
OK, yeah, I remember saying it. I was walking around in my bedroom and I said, “You know, Jen, it might be fun if I did a whole bunch of ABBA songs.” And that’s how it started. I’d done “Fernando” already and I’d done the movie and I did “Super Trouper.” And then I don’t know why I said it, to tell you the truth. You don’t just go, “Oh, Cher, ABBA — that will work.”
Had you been thinking of doing an album of original music?
No, I’d actually been thinking of doing an album I’d been thinking about for a million years, but I wasn’t even thinking hard about that because I was busy and wasn’t really thinking about music that much. I’ve been working on a lot. The ABBA thing just kind of came out of the air.
What was the album you’d been thinking about for a million years?
Well, I’m not going to tell you, am I?
But it’s something other than a regular Cher album of new songs?
Yeah. Yes, it is. Something completely different.
Interesting. So what is your earliest memory of ABBA? Surely you crossed paths with them in the ’70s or ’80s, yes?
No! Except I did a really weird thing. I appeared in a video that they did. But I don’t think I saw them. I was just behind a blue screen, and they then cut to me dancing to their music. It was great. That video was with the little puppets, and I loved that one.
How’d you wind up in the video?
I have no idea, OK? When you’ve had a career this long, you don’t remember certain things because there’s too many things to remember. Why I ended up with ABBA, I don’t even know. I just think, “How did that ever happen? Who asked me to do that?” And then the first time I really loved them, I remember “Waterloo,” “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen.” That was my first realization of ABBA. But then I saw “Muriel’s Wedding.”
Oh, that’s right. Toni Collette does “Waterloo” in it.
Right, and somehow that just kind of got me. And then I went to the musical three times because it was so much fun. But I never anticipated actually being in a “Mamma Mia” movie, and I never thought about singing “Fernando” or any other ABBA song.
What makes you more nervous: putting out an album of original stuff, or putting out an album that covers a very famous band?
Well, I’ve never put out covers of a famous band. Look, who knows what’s going to happen? You have to let it go. You have to do it and then let it go. You’re happy if it’s successful, and you’re sad if it’s not, and then you just have to keep going.
How many songs did you consider that didn’t make the cut?
About three, but I’m sorry that I didn’t do them because people also told me not to do “Mamma Mia” and “Waterloo,” but I’m so glad I did them. One was “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” and another was “The Day Before You Came.”
Why do you think people were telling you not to do “Waterloo” and “Mamma Mia”?
Because it was so associated, and they felt that because of the play and the movie, those were the songs that everybody just associated with ABBA, so don’t do it. But I did it anyway.
If you could select any artist to make an album of Cher covers, who would it be?
I wouldn’t do an album of Cher covers.
You would not allow it?
No. I mean, I wouldn’t want anybody to do an album of Cher covers, OK? I just think there’s other things that people can do with their time.
OK. If you had to pick an artist other than ABBA to record an album of covers yourself, who would it be?
Oh, interesting. Why Pink?
Because I love her as a writer. I just think she’s amazing.
I love that answer. I expected you to say someone a little more vintage, but you picked a younger contemporary of yours.
Well, I love her.
Do you like the pop music that’s being made right now?
Well, you know, I like some of it. I like some music. I like some artists. Look, you can’t not like Adele or Bruno Mars or Rihanna. There are so, so many, and it’s hard to think of all of them because, first of all, there are more artists now that ever before. I love Christina Aguilera, too. But also you love certain songs. You just go, “Oh, my God, that’s a great song.” And you might not listen to the whole CD or whatever, but you get attached to a certain song.
Of course. Do you have one in particular right now that you’re into?
Well, not off the top of my head. That’s always hard, like when someone says, “What’s your favorite movie?” or “What’s your favorite song?” And you can’t think of it.
Would you consider performing a mashup of “Hung Up” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” with Madonna, who sampled that ABBA song?
I don’t know. Because we don’t really — I don’t know. I admire her, but we’re just not the same kind of girl.
Have you always felt that way?
No. I mean, there was a time when I thought it really might be fun, but our careers are so different. I always thought that Madonna’s gift was being so ahead of the curve. I mean, it was like she had her head to the ground and she felt things coming and saw things coming, and she brought things. She was just the person that was riding on top of the wave, and that’s what I think her biggest gift is.
Do you not see yourself in the same light? You’re the person who popularized autotune.
No, but it’s a different thing. Madonna just had a gift for doing it constantly.
What do you think of the pervasive use of autotune in pop music, having been the person who brought it to the mainstream?
I think it was Kanye who ― [addressing her assistant:] Jen, was it Kanye who talked about autotune? Yes. Kanye said, “Thank you for giving everybody more careers.”
Do you see that as a good thing?
Yeah! I mean, why not? Look, it was a fluke. We did it out of desperation.
What do you mean by desperation?
Because when I was singing “Believe,” there was this one part and I couldn’t get it. My producer [Mark Taylor] kept saying, “Do it better, do it better, do it better.” And finally I said, “If you want it done better, get somebody else,” and I walked out of the studio. And then I saw this boy on this English breakfast show. His name was Roachford, and he was singing to a vocoder. So I called Mark and said, “What about a vocoder?” He said, “No, it’s too late for that, but I’ve been playing with a pitch machine, and I think I’ve found something really interesting. Come to the studio later.” And I did, and he played it, and we just jumped up and high-fived another and said, “My god, this is it. This is perfect.”
That’s amazing. You’ve gotten so much wonderful praise and attention for “Mamma Mia.” Does it give you the bug to want to make more movies?
You know, I don’t know, to tell you the truth. It was so unexpected. I was not planning to be in “Mamma Mia 2.” My old agent, who’s my friend and who is now the head of Universal, just called me up and said, “Cher, this is good for your career. You’re going to do ‘Mamma Mia,’” and then he hung up. I wouldn’t have taken it from another person in the world, telling me what to do, but from him, I thought, “Yeah, I guess I’m doing it.”
And then I went over, and I was very nervous because this group was a group that had been together for a long time. I was actually the last actor to come on board, truthfully — I was the last one, because Andy [Garcia] had already been there for a while, so I was nervous. But they were so nice, and the set was so easy. I don’t think I’ve been on a set ever that felt so much like not working.
Now that the movie is out and you’ve realized how much people love you in it, do you agree that it was in fact helpful for your career?
Yeah, it was, but I have absolutely no idea why people loved it because it was such a small part.
Yeah, but don’t you think they love it because you’re bringing yourself to the part? Ruby shares some of Cher’s diva theatrics, and she makes the sort of grand entrance that Cher would be likely to make.
But young kids don’t even know who I am. I’ve been meeting kids that are, like, 11, and I think, “Well, they have no idea who I am. What’s going on here?”
If Trump gets impeached, what song on “Dancing Queen” should we listen to to celebrate?
Oh, God! Oh, my God! I’m trying to think of all of them. Oh, any one of them, OK? Any one! Just play it all night and all day if that happens. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to happen, but you can play the whole album as far as I’m concerned.
Of course. The album cover is interesting. Do you think there is a difference in blond Cher and dark-haired Cher?
Oh, I don’t think so, but when I was blond I noticed that people were much nicer to me.
Like, people give you directions much slower, you know? They kind of treat blondes a little bit more gently than they’d treat people with dark hair, or girls with dark hair. But, look, that was just strictly to pay homage to the girls in ABBA. That’s what that was about.
This is more of a thought than a question: You should headline the Super Bowl.
What do you mean?
The Super Bowl halftime show.
Oh, well, look. I can’t handle any more work right now, OK? I can’t handle one more bit of work right now. For all intents and purposes, I shouldn’t even be working. Maybe at my age I shouldn’t be working.
What do you think you have left in you after this? Do you have another “Moonstruck” in you?
Well, it depends on if someone writes another “Moonstruck.” I don’t know what I have, but I wasn’t planning on doing “Mamma Mia” either, so things are a surprise. Things just come out of the blue. Honestly, I wasn’t planning to do the album, but it just seemed like it would be fun. And then I did one song and the record label went, “Oh, this is a good idea.”
Which song did you have the most fun figuring out a new arrangement for?
I did not have to worry about the arrangements. This is what happened: Mark made a fancy quick track, but truthfully just kind of a quick track of some instruments, but not really music. So I had a chance to work my way through the spaces. If you listen to ABBA songs, there’s not a lot of space for the girls because Benny [Andersson] kind of used the girls as another instrument. They have great voices, so he could use them. They were kind of locked in, like instruments are locked in, but he could use them as another color. They were another added dimension to the music, whereas because I wasn’t singing against music, I had a chance, except for maybe “Mamma Mia” and “Waterloo,” because those are done pretty much exactly like the girls did them. I had a chance to stretch out a tiny bit. I wasn’t inhibited by the track.
Is there a song on the album that means the most to you personally?
I would say “Chiquitita” or “One of Us.”
When you were teasing the album, you left the 10th track unannounced for a while. Is that because you were still figuring out what it would be?
No, that’s just the way my producer, Mark, works. He gives you something to sing to just enough so you can hear the melodic changes, and that’s kind of the way we’d do it. I don’t know how that happened, but we’ve been working together since “Believe,” and it seems to be working well.
When you promote and tease this album on Twitter, what do you make of the responses you’re receiving?
Oh, I don’t know. I’ve long given up figuring out Twitter. I do what I do, and the people who are on there who know me well understand it. And the people who come on either go, “She’s crazy” or “This is interesting.”
So what prompted you to decide not to say hi anymore?
Because I got tired of everyone just using “hi there” as something they would do! I just thought, we’re not even being able to interact anymore because everyone is just saying to each other, “Hi there” — and like, “When the guy that I like goes away and then comes back,” they have, “Hi there.” So anyway, I’m not ever doing this again because I’m being left out of the loop.
What do you mean left out of the loop?
Because they were just talking to one another. Or actually they weren’t even talking to anybody. Everyone was just putting out their thing, and I thought, “OK, this has gone on long enough, so we all have to get back together.” And they still do it, so it was just me. Also, I’ll just say strange things on Twitter. I’m not very frivolous. Once in a while, I think something’s really funny and share it, and sometimes people get it and really like it, and sometimes they have no idea what I’m talking about. But look, it’s my account and I do it the way I want to. People who like it seem to stay, and people who don’t seem to go.