The last time I interviewed Cher was at her Malibu mega-mansion, and before the photo shoot, I committed a cardinal sin: I accidentally knocked over the wig she planned to wear. It toppled over and hit the kitchen floor with a thud as Cher’s glam squad looked on, horrified. Fortunately, I was assured that Cher could not possibly hear the mass squealing because her upstairs bedroom was about as far away as a football field.
Wigs once again factored into my latest rendezvous with Cher. “She was blonde yesterday; today she’s a brunette,” her European publicist whispered in my ear before we entered Cher’s suite. We met in a palatial room at the Sunset Marquis, which was illuminated only by candlelight, not unlike one of those “VH1 Behind the Music” specials from the nineties. Cher’s look could best be described as goth grandma: All black attire to match her faux locks, pale makeup, four fingers adorned with chunky silver Loree Rodkin rings and sharp nails. “My hands are really cold,” Cher said apologetically.
Cold hands, warm heart, as they say. And at 72, Cher plans to continue heating up dance floors at gay clubs all around the world — a neo-disco inferno, if you will — with her forthcoming Abba covers album, “Dancing Queen,” due out on Sept. 28. The still-sexy septuagenarian also plans to take Broadway by storm with “The Cher Show,” a musical inspired by her life that may help the Emmy, Grammy and Oscar winner to join an elite club of E.G.O.T. recipients. One thing’s for certain: She’ll take home a Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2 — the night before her debut on the Great White Way.
Abba meets Cher. Is this the gayest thing you’ve ever done?
No! Can I tell you something? The gay community and I are like one. And I don’t think of gay guys as different from me. We just made some sort of pact long ago that we were going to be together. I’m finding out that people in the gay community are really excited. But Abba does not scream Cher. Would you ever have thought: “Oh, that’s a marriage made in heaven?”
The thing about Abba is that while their melodies are upbeat, the lyrics tend to be on the sad side.
Some of them are, like, poppy-sadness, like “Waterloo.” They’re not hurting. And then there are others like “One of Us” and “Winner Takes It All” where they’re just in tatters. I had time to really interpret the lyrics. And if you listen to “One of Us,” I had more freedom to interpret the song. I would have never thought to do it had I not done the musical [“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”] and sang “Fernando” and “Super Trouper.” There’s nothing that screams Cher and Abba. The girls sing high, Benny [Andersson] has no end riffs and Björn [Ulvaeus] writes music inside out. Which is one of things that I find really interesting: Because he doesn’t write in English, because he doesn’t think in English, he gets to the story line kind of in a weird way. But it makes the story line seem more interesting. When I was learning “Fernando,” I was thinking: “This doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t remember putting words together like this.” And then I thought: “Of course you can’t. Because the songs you’ve been doing your whole life have been thought out in English.” So actually I found a great respect for his lyrics.
You’ve said that you were surprised the songs were harder to sing than you initially thought they would be.
Because I thought that they were, like, poppy songs. And I did not realize. It wasn’t harder, but I had to think more and I had to not just toss it off. I had to sing “Fernando” twice because the first time I did it, it was awful. I thought: “I’ll go in and ace it.” Well, I went in and got my ass kicked.
Why did you dedicate the album to your mother?
Everybody asks me that but I’m so curious to know why people think it’s a strange thing. A couple reasons: My mom was my first fan. My mom and I had like mom and daughter issues, but my mom was supportive when my career was in the toilet. My mom was like: “Never give up, just keep going, you’re so talented, people are just wrong and silly, and you kick ass.” My mom is a really kick-ass woman.
The single “SOS” was recently released and I couldn’t help reading into it. It’s like a state of emergency for the state of our country.
Oh, don’t read into it. If you go on Twitter, you know I’m not sly. You can read it that way if you want, and of course it’s applicable, but I wasn’t even thinking about that at the time. Except I think it permeates my world: Trump’s insanity. To any thinking person it has to be a constant: “How the f— is this happening?”
Do you think he will finally be impeached?
I don’t think so. I really don’t. I think he will fire Jeff Sessions and he will put in this guy who is a criminal and they will close the Mueller investigation. I think that the Mueller investigation will have doubles of every piece of information that they have, and I do not doubt that Trump is guilty of everything and more. But I think that this won’t happen now — it will be saved and, at some point, it will come out.
I can’t believe it’s been 54 years since your first single, “Ringo, I Love You.” What is your first memory of that?
Phillip [Spector] didn’t want to do it. That’s my earliest memory. Because he just wasn’t that interested. And Sonny kind of just beat him down and beat him down. And then people wouldn’t play it because they said it sounds like a guy singing the song. It sounds like a ‘gay song.’
And what did you say to that?
I didn’t say anything. I was just like, “Oh, OK. Whatever.” I had no power or anything like that. I was a background singer.
You’ve won an Oscar, and Emmy and a Grammy. How interested are you in winning a Tony for “The Cher Show?”
That would be fabulous. But more importantly than winning awards, I want it to be a good show that people are impacted by. That they are taken out of this world by however long the musical lasts from the moment they’re in it. There are moments when you are acting where someone says “action” and then all of a sudden they say “cut” and you don’t remember any of it. Because you were so in the moment. And that’s what I think entertainment does. It can just take you out of your problems. When I go on stage, that’s my job.
How surreal is it to see your life on stage in a Broadway show?
It’s not that much fun. In the ways where you have told too much truth to the writer [Rick Elice].
Does it feel too revealing?
Would you want your life out there?
Nope. But you’ve always been authentic and that’s so rare for someone of your stature.
I haven’t always told the complete truth. When asked questions, I’ve tried to tell the truth that doesn’t infringe upon a part of me that I want to hold to myself. But usually it’s pretty easy to tell the truth to the questions that people ask. Because there’s a place that people don’t want to go past, you know?
Well, I want to go there with Cher! How do you feel about not being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite your upcoming Kennedy Center Honor. Does that mean anything to you?
It did for a while. Sonny and Cher made a huge impact. Those people are snobs and they don’t think of us as musicians — or don’t think of me as a musician. And the truth is I don’t give a flying f—.
How worried are you that LGBTQ rights might be threatened by the Supreme Court vacancy?
I am completely, completely terrified. If he gets to be the king he wants to be, I fear it could go to a place that none of us ever expected in our entire lives where you’d have to be really frightened. Whoever thought that someone would be able to separate children from their parents? And then have 500 left over and people are forgetting about them day by day. I mean, I lost Elijah once in a market for 40 minutes and I was hysterical. It doesn’t make any difference where they come from. But people are so traumatized by everything he says and everything he does. You know, I used to think that it was a big mistake for him to have so much tumultuous activity around him and now I think it’s brilliant. Because you just get tired and you’re waiting for the next shoe to drop. He’s like a f—ing millipede.
I want to go back to something you said when you were talking about your days as a backup singer: You had no power. Fortunately, because of the #MeToo movement, women who were victims of sexual harassment and abuse when they were young and powerless have finally come forward. Did you have any experiences like that at the time?
I had one, and I was already Cher. But I just thought really quickly on how to get out of it, and I did. I know women go through this all the time. We all go through: We’re not strong enough. We’re not stronger. And I knew I was going to get out of it. I walked in, I was going for a job. He was a famous producer. I sat down, and he just said the most off-color thing I’ve ever heard. And then reached out and put his hand on me. And my mind was, like, exploding. I said: “You know, I wasn’t really feeling well when I came over. I was really sick to my stomach, but I wanted this interview so bad that I thought when I get there everything will be fine. The truth is I am not feeling well, but this interview is so important to me that I want to come back another day.” And I just got the hell out. But women walking down the street don’t know what to do. It’s not paranoia. We’re constantly vigilant. Guys could walk down the same street and not even think about anything. But you walk down the street and you’re aware of your surroundings and who is walking towards you. You’re not doing it constantly. But sometimes the feeling happens and you have to check your list. Whatever your checklist is about what your innate responses should be, like: “Who do I think that guy is?” It just happens sometimes, but it happens. And I don’t think it happens to men. Ever.
Are you excited to tour the world once again?
I don’t know. I’m too old for this.
I went to your Farewell Tour!
Yeah? Well, so did I.