“Screw you…” comes the honey-coated punch, lingering with intent as it resonates from the speakers, filling the room with the attitude of a recording artist who’s definitely in control.
“I’ve grown as a person and an artist, you can hear that in my music. I feel brand new,” explains Cheryl, who’s become an entity in her own right since she unknowingly left Newcastle, over a decade ago, to supply some of pop cultures finest moments throughout the noughties. “I’m bullet proof…. I feel as hard as the times I’ve had but I think everything happens for a reason, even if you can’t always say what that reason is.”
On the eve of a new era, Cheryl’s looking forward to (booty) shaking off her 20’s with her third studio offering, A Million Lights, a body of work that indicates an advancement in both her confidence and maturity.
“On the first album I was shitting myself after seven years with Girls Aloud… I had to step forward on my own and prove myself. Now, with 3 Words and Messy Little Raindrops, I have had two number one albums so I feel I know what I’m doing.
I fit into my own shoes now and I’m simply not worried anymore.”
In fact, Cheryl’s sold over 10 million records, her debut single ‘Fight For This Love’ even going to number 1 in 10 countries. In a further nod of approval, Grammy award winner Adele also performed a live version of Cheryl’s chart-topping hit ‘Promise This’. Then there’s Cheryl’s two Brit Nominations, an accolade she’s hoping to build on with her latest release.
Sonically, A Million Lights draws heavily from Cheryl’s preferred R&B playlists – Beyonce, and Erykah Badu all on shuffle – whilst also taking off-road trips into the dance tent, as witnessed on offerings from Calvin Harris (‘Call My Name’) and the preferred dub-effects of newbies like Panther (‘Girl In The Mirror’).
“As soon as I heard the intro to the Calvin track I knew I had to have it. I love the energy of it and it’s the perfect introduction to summer,” she says of ‘Call My Name’.
Having picked from a slew of beats to pen to and songs that captured her imagination, Cheryl’s had nearly a year in the studio, working with a vast array of production talent, resulting in a powerful new chapter in her already impressive discography.
“A Million Lights just felt right as the title track because it’s about how I feel – light and nice.” A sweet ballad if ever you’ve heard one, it further showcases Cheryl’s ability to channel vulnerability into the mix. “I could have picked 30 tracks I loved enough to put on this album. Since I started working on it last summer, July time, I literally went on a mission.”
Sowing the synths in New York with Jim Beanz, ‘This is War’ was the first borne. Going on to work with the likes of Naughty Boy (Emeli Sande), Taio Cruz, Alex Da Kid (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj) and one’s to watch such as the US based Beema Boys and the UK’s own Hy-Grade. “‘Under The Sun’, which I did with Alex Da Kid, is a real ‘on the rise’ kind of track, more grown-up pop I guess. It definitely holds a special place in me.”
And we can’t be forgetting will.i.am, whose relationship with Cheryl spans mentor, friend, manager, producer and collaborator.
“Will is a crazy genius. He said to me three years ago the next popstars will be DJs… Enter David Guetta, Calvin Harris et al… Will’s got amazing foresight and he’s super smart, he looks at me with an outside perspective and has really encouraged me, especially as a writer. But I don’t care if people know I wrote six songs on the first album or not. It can take a lifetime to master your craft and for me that’s getting on stage and performing, entertaining the crowd with a song. I live for that. Sometimes for a songwriter that’s their worst nightmare. This album feels like a match made in heaven, and I’ve been able to work with some amazing talent.”
One of the album’s highlights can be found under the guise of the will.i.am produced ‘Craziest Things’. “Will and I did this song for anyone who’s been in a volatile relationship – one day you’re in love, then you hate each other but you just can’t be without one another… We basically had an argument and recorded it. I remember just singing, “you think the sun shines out of your arse…” Nobody in America knows the expression and thought I was a lyrical genius hahah. Making an album creates great memories too.”
Looking out of the box further Cheryl found herself picking beats to write to without even knowing the producers credentials. “It’s really important to work with fresh new talent and to help them get recognised, I embrace it. I was really passionate about that and also that I didn’t want to do 100 collaborations… I didn’t want anything to take over my sound as this is what I’ve been working towards for a long time.”
In fact the only guest you’ll find goes by the name of Wretch 32, who offers himself up on the powerful R&B club track, ‘Screw You’. Produced by Hy-Grade, you can bet your local DJ this will be getting reloaded.
As to her favourite track on the album it’s the dubstep excursion ‘Girl In The Mirror’ that gets the nod. “I kept singing it after I’d been sent it and I could really relate to the idea of arguing with yourself and ‘who are you’. It also goes back to my fans, the Soldiers, we’re always worrying about stuff and sometimes you need to stop stressing. Yes life expects you to be strong but sometimes you just need to chill…”
The song ‘Ghetto Baby’ was co-written by Lana Del Rey. It was a collaboration that came about last year. “I noticed Lana about a year ago and this was before Video Games came out. I was hearing these songs that were really fresh and amazing and I asked a friend who she was and he said, ‘Watch out for her, it’s a girl called Lana Del Rey’.”
It comes as little surprise that Cheryl has also become a leading style icon. She has graced the cover of British Vogue twice, the first time becoming the highest ever-selling February issue in the title’s history. She has also appeared on the covers of Harper’s Bazaar and ELLE. It’s one of the reasons Cheryl has landed a place alongside other A-listers such as Beyonce, Eva Longoria and Gwen Stefani as a L’Oreal spokesmodel.
Despite massive success as a singer, style icon and TV star, Cheryl is keen to give back. In February 2009, she joined an expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in order to raise money for Comic Relief. In February 2011, Cheryl announced the launch of her own charitable foundation with the Prince’s Trust. The Cheryl Cole Foundation will provide funding to work with disadvantaged young people from Cheryl’s hometown of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and surrounding areas of the north east of England.
“Too many young people grow up thinking no-one cares and don’t believe they can make anything of themselves,” says Cheryl, who did much of her growing up in public. “They have so much potential – but can go off the rails without the right care and support. I want my Foundation to help them realise their potential and get their lives on track. I have always been a great admirer of the work of The Prince’s Trust with disadvantaged young people across the UK. It’s the perfect charity for my Foundation to support.”