24
Jul 14

CHER – “Believe”

Popular39 comments • 4,743 views

#806, 31st October 1998

cher believe In an age of one-week wonders, “Believe” was a phenomenon – a massive global hit, bossing the charts for close to two months. It has a formidable legacy: as well as a triumphant capstone for Cher’s career, it sets the tone for a surge of dance-pop successes over the next couple of years, and opens the pop career of writer/producer Brian Higgins and his Xenomania team, whose idiosyncratic approach to pop will illuminate the early 00s.

Except none of that matters. “Believe”’s place in history and conversation has been all filled up by that unnatural bend in Cher’s voice in the verses, the moment the public discovered Autotune. So “Believe” stops being a rather good pop song about rubbing your ex’s face in their folly, and instead is treated as Patient Zero in an epidemic that defines or ruins modern pop. All the debate and the disdain over Autotune starts here, and all of it since lands back here. Cher, what have you done?

Before I talk about what “Believe” does specifically it’s worth recapping a couple of very obvious points. First, Autotune is not a standardised technique or a magic wand: it’s a brand – a software package designed for pitch correction. It’s something like Hoover or Google – not the first of its kind, not the last, but the one whose fame struck at the right time to define an unfamiliar category.

And second, “Believe” is not the first number one record to use it. I don’t know what is, either. The point about Autotune (and its ilk) is that when you hear it used like “Believe” uses it, you’re meant to hear it. Ordinarily, it should be invisible to the average ear. “Believe” is the sound of technology being abused, pushed to places it wasn’t designed to go. The standard debate around pitch correction – are singers deceiving the public by disguising their mistakes? – is completely irrelevant to “Believe”. It’s like criticising the bullet time sequences in The Matrix on the grounds that the actors didn’t do their own stunts.

Technology taken beyond its limits just to see what happens – that’s a pretty big part of pop history. From amplification came distortion. From drum machines came the distressed squelch of acid house. And from the discreet touch ups of pitch correction comes Cher’s wonderful cyborg bravura. Once those limits were breached – to the delight of Cher herself and the reported distress of her label, at least until the money came in – anyone could and did jump beyond them.

Let’s go back to 1998 though, and remember what “Believe” sounded like at the time. Not a revolution. For a start, I’d guess most people imagined the pitch-bending effects were Cher using a vocoder, and vocoders were a known quantity. Vocal distortion wasn’t exactly uncommon in 90s dance music, either – The Tamperer’s “Feel It” has plenty of slowing down and snapping back. At the same time, the way Cher was using vocal tricks – suddenly dropping them in to mutate words – was startling and effective. But if you’ve somehow found yourself unfamiliar with “Believe” over the last fifteen years, you might be surprised at how little there is of the Autotune extremity effect – occasional verse words, but its presence on the chorus is far more discreet: the belt-it-out defiance there is barely adulterated Cher, and just what even a technophobe fan of hers might want. Would the song have been a smash without Autotune? Maybe not, but separating the two is foolish: if the technical trickery helped make “Believe” a success, the strength of the song and sentiment is what sustained it.

Even so, it’s worth a final thought about what the pitchbending does for this singer, and this song, specifically. The distorting effect really suits Cher, whose strength as a performer is those deep, showy vowels – she’s already the kind of singer who puts thick comic-book emphasis on words, so going over the top on that is perfect for her. But it also really fits the song. “Believe” is a record in the “I Will Survive” mode of embattled romantic defiance – a song to make people who’ve lost out in love feel like they’re the winners. It’s remarkable that it took someone until 1998 to come up with “do you believe in life after love?”, and perhaps even more remarkable that it wasn’t Jim Steinman, but the genius of the song is how aggressive and righteous Cher makes it sound. There are records sung by divas, and there are records that need divas to sing them: this is the latter – without Cher’s weight of performance and life experience behind it, the dread admonition of “I really don’t think you’re strong enough” might fall flat.

So in this context – using your strength to turn a position of weakness into one of complete victory – what does the Autotune actually do? In a 90s context, without its familiar name and use cases, the vocal effect on “Believe” seems more like a kind of CGI for the voice – something obviously artificial but exciting, a kind of liquefying and reforming of Cher’s singing in the space of a single word. It feels like morphing – that classic 90s CGI trick, used on all manner of distorting alien beasts, failed clones, supernatural possessions and most germanely the gorgeous liquid silver of the T2 robot in Terminator. And that’s how it works here: Cher isn’t only bouncing back from a romantic disappointment, she’s becoming something more than human to do it. No wonder everyone else wanted an upgrade.

8

Comments

  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 24 Jul 2014 #

    appropriately enough for a song called ‘Believe’, there’s something hymn like about this. I’ve witnessed congregations of clubbers singing along to the chorus with hands raised and eyes closed as they embrace the sense of solidarity that the melody, beats and lyric creates – it’s a great piece of music and an awesome experience

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 24 Jul 2014 #

    If you are a fan of emojis I can recommend Cher’s twitter feed. To this day she does not muck about when it comes to embracing technology.

  3. 3
    JLucas on 24 Jul 2014 #

    With her deep, almost mannish voice and appreciation for the more outlandish side of high fashion, Cher has always reigned as perhaps the ultimate post-Garland gay icon. Unlike poor Judy, her narrative has never been tragedy but tenacity. The old joke about how when the apocalypse comes, all that will remain are cockroaches and Cher isn’t just a cheap shot at her plastic surgery, but a testament to her seemingly inexhaustible ability to endure in an ever changing pop landscape.

    Her status as a gay icon was already secure by 1998, but Believe gave her an anthem worthy of the title. When the chips are down, we’ve always looked to the dancefloor for solace. In the classic ABBA tradition, Believe marries a heartbroken lyric to an irresistible pop hook. Unlike ABBA, Cher refuses to play the victim. The verses hint at sadness and regret, but the chorus is defiant, and by that glorious, bellowing middle eight (“I don’t NEED you any more!”) she’s positively triumphant. She’ll probably have a good cry about it later, but right now her favourite song is playing and she’ll be damned if she’s going to let you or anybody else ruin her night. She’s Cher, bitches.

    10

  4. 4
    JLucas on 24 Jul 2014 #

    This song is often seen as a big comeback for Cher after a time in the wilderness – and in America it’s true that it was her first top ten hit since 1990 (Just Like Jesse James) and her first number one since 1974 (Dark Lady).

    The UK was always kinder to her though, and she scored a sizeable hit two years previously to this with the glorious ‘One By One’ – which really deserves to be better remembered.

    Believe’s parent album was also a big success and spawned another 3 UK hits – most notably Strong Enough which has endured almost as well as Believe in gay clubs (though perhaps less so elsewhere). I also enjoyed the curiously low-key melancholia of her last major UK hit ‘The Music’s No Good Without You’, which pushed the autotune sound to even more inhuman extremes.

    Finally, after a barren couple of months for the UK charts, the top 5 this week consisted entirely of new entries – all of them big hits in their own right. George Michael entered at #2 with Outside, ahead of The Sweetest Thing by U2 (#3) I Just Wanna Be Loved by a revived Culture Club (#4) and Thank U by Alanis Morrissette (#5). I suspect any of those could have been number one hits in their own right if released a couple of weeks earlier.

  5. 5
    mapman132 on 25 Jul 2014 #

    First thing for me to say here is that I hated “Believe” initially. Not just disliked, but actually hated. When I visited London that December, it was impossible to avoid in the background, either as a 30-second video snippet on TV, or coming through the radio in the taxi back to the airport. The ridiculous electronic voice of its “has-been” singer and the knowledge of its 7(!) week run at #1 seemed to represent another low for the chart I once loved to follow from afar. But first impressions can often be deceiving, especially through the prism of a poor quality car radio while stuck on the M4 worrying about first catching and then surviving an 8-hour flight back home in time for Christmas. Perhaps a reason to take many of my first-time-listen scores on this forum with a grain of salt (except they usually don’t involve traffic/flying stress and related context too complex to digress into here).

    Anyhow, back home a couple months later, “Believe” showed up on VH-1. And hearing it this time I realized it was not bad. In fact it was actually pretty good. The autotune/vocoder/whatever thing actually enhanced Cher’s voice. The synth-beat was great and welcome in a US pop world that hadn’t had much synth-pop in the charts for a while (except for recent Madonna). The lyrics were interesting too – I know Cher didn’t write it, but I thought the line “do you believe in life after love” was especially haunting so soon after the death of Sonny Bono. I found myself liking the song more and more with every listen.

    Apparently America agreed as it eventually spent four weeks at #1, making Cher the oldest woman to have a US #1 an amazing 34 years after “I Got You Babe” hit the top. It was in fact Billboard’s biggest hit for 1999, mirroring its 1998 UK success. At its peak it was so ubiquitous even The Onion took notice. In fact, its possible overexposure, or perhaps my ability to eat only so much crow over my initial assessment, may be why I’m hesitant to go full 10 here, but as it stands I’ll go with a very enthusiastic 9/10.

  6. 6
    Elmtree on 25 Jul 2014 #

    Thing I’ve never noticed before: that hushed vocal on the very end, from 3:52 onwards. It’s like a glimpse into how this song sounds in a parallel universe.

    Otherwise, this is the dancefloor as a cathedral: no wonder everybody copied it. Slightly weird that the people who copied it most were pop-rap artists.
    9/10, and only the slightly blah whooshing synths cost it another.

  7. 7

    […] Tom Ewing: Even so, it’s worth a final thought about what the pitchbending does for this singer, and this song, specifically. The distorting effect really suits Cher, whose strength as a performer is those deep, showy vowels – she’s already the kind of singer who puts thick comic-book emphasis on words, so going over the top on that is perfect for her. But it also really fits the song. “Believe” is a record in the “I Will Survive” mode of embattled romantic defiance – a song to make people who’ve lost out in love feel like they’re the winners. It’s remarkable that it took someone until 1998 to come up with “do you believe in life after love?”, and perhaps even more remarkable that it wasn’t Jim Steinman, but the genius of the song is how aggressive and righteous Cher makes it sound. There are records sung by divas, and there are records that need divas to sing them: this is the latter – without Cher’s weight of performance and life experience behind it, the dread admonition of “I really don’t think you’re strong enough” might fall flat. […]

  8. 8
    taDOW on 25 Jul 2014 #

    alluding, slightly, to things mentioned in 3 and 5, the first i recall of hearing about ‘believe’ was in a michael musto column where he mentioned that this was a huge hit in europe but her label was wary of releasing it in the us for fear that it was ‘too gay’. he kept at it for a few weeks and then finally her label told him they were going to release it stateside and i figured that was the last i’d hear of ‘believe’, bar glancing at billboard’s dance chart. i was wrong.

  9. 9
    JLucas on 25 Jul 2014 #

    I enjoyed the way, in the wake of Believe’s success, a host of ageing divas hopped on the dance-pop express to varying degrees of success.

    Most notable example was probably Tina Turner with When The Heartache Is Over, but Not Over You Yet by Diana Ross and All God’s Children by Belinda Carlisle also spring to mind.

  10. 10
    Alan on 25 Jul 2014 #

    EDIT: D’oh I see Mapman already linked the same article!

    An indicator of how ubiquitous and long lived this was, here’s the Onion in October the following year!

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/chers-believe-now-faintly-audible-everywhere-in-am,3971/

    ‘”My miners said they heard a throbbing synthesizer sound, accompanied by some sort of painful, piercing wail, coming through the granite walls at the bottom of the shaft,” said Wilson Mining Works foreman George Connerly.’

  11. 11
    punctum on 25 Jul 2014 #

    I first heard it distantly and it undoubtedly felt like a dream; one of the first “pop” voices I could remember from infancy (“I Got You Babe” wasn’t far behind “Strawberry Fields” for me back then), instantly recognisable but not quite recognisable; her voice sounding askew, uniquely distorted. I imagined that my brain waves weren’t quite taking her in on an even level. At the beginning her voice emerges from a distant fog, a whirring panoply of electrical whooshes and hisses – much like the scanners and equipment in an intensive care unit – and then in the chorus she sings what sounded to my fogged up ears at the time like “Do you believe in life after life?” In fact she turned out to be singing “Do you believe in life after love?” but the symbol was already indelible. For me this record represented a comeback from the precipice, a rescue from an eternity of nothingness.

    And what was going on with that vocoder? In truth it was this hitherto seldom announced technological device called Autotune; now routinely used to mask bad singers (and sometimes even good singers) and as a result, unless there are exceptional aesthetic reasons for doing so, I may well deduct five points from my mark for every subsequent number one which I take to be using Autotune without purpose or joy. But Cher seems to use it as a means of escaping herself, of reinventing another new phoenix. As a bookend for female popular song “Believe” can stand at the opposite end of the spectrum/shelf from Jane Froman’s “I Wonder” (top ten in 1954 and the first hit single to use extensive phasing). The Autotune input was not quite an innovation, however; the initial inspiration seems to have been “Fragments Of Life,” a now practically forgotten single released about a year ahead of “Believe” by the Italian electropop duo Roy Vedas in which Autotune is applied to the vocals with the equivalent maximalism that Duane Eddy applied to his tremolo arm.

    “Believe,” however, was a phenomenon, and justifiably so; the beats are particularly acute, the electro flow nicely channelled. Among the writers and producers I recognised the name of Brian Higgins, whom I remembered from the credits of some Saint Etienne records (notably 1995’s “He’s On The Phone,” another clear precedent); on the CD single he is responsible for something he called the “Xenomania Mix” (another surprising co-composer is Steve Torch, sometime Kevin Rowland/Dexy’s songwriting collaborator, who as half of White and Torch was responsible for 1982’s minor hit “Parade,” one of the best Walker Brothers ripoffs ever made). Well, “Believe” usurped Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You” as the all-time best selling single by a female vocalist, selling an estimated 20 million copies worldwide; even with only a sixth of the total composer royalties, Higgins quickly amassed enough money to set up his own Xenomania home studio compound and thereby help usher in the second wave of New Pop. So there you have it; 1998’s biggest hit, rightly performed by a woman in this year of the pop woman, seven weeks on top in the UK at a time when long runs at number one were an endangered species; and, most importantly, a song about how to live after life has seemingly ended. 8

  12. 12
    enitharmon on 25 Jul 2014 #

    (why can’t I log in any more?)

    By 1998 I can’t help feeling that any comments I make will come across as boorishness from the wrinkly generation. On the other hand, Cher to me is a 60s artist pure and simple and very much part of my music. She’s eight years older than me after all!

    Unfortunately her 60s work seems to be largely forgotten, this track from her later reincarnation is a staple of background music at Morrisons and the distortion gimmick sets my teeth on edge every time. As it does with every other track I hear which copies it and thus wrecks the idea that it was an interesting effect used in small doses; it became the distinctive sound of it’s period.

    I think it’s the physicist in me that rebels; The gimmick works by stripping out most of the overtones that make a sound interesting, and Cher has always has a very interesting, rich and fruity voice so why diminish it. Another part of my brain wants to know why use Autotune at all; if a singer is any good she can pitch the note anyway and along with the con of lip-synching in live performance seems merely a way for the sleazy PR man to promote his latest squeeze. And not being able sing in tune never did Frank Sinatra any harm!

  13. 13
    thefatgit on 25 Jul 2014 #

    I’d have to admit, that the 1998 version of me found the vocal distortion (I knew nothing of Autotune) an annoying gimmick, but I was so ignorant, regarding many things back then. Autotune “misuse” has become a technique so intertwined with 21st Century pop, who could possibly argue against it? But of course, so many have and so many continue to do so.

    “Believe” is a great pop song. A defiant post-breakup anthem, a cyber-I Will Survive if you like. With “Believe”, Cher has the record for the oldest solo female vocalist to get a UK #1 (note, fact fans: solo female vocalist, as we have a bunnyable candidate for the oldest female vocalist rapidly approaching. The oldest female to reach #1 is still Hilda Woodward of “Mouldy Old Dough” fame).

  14. 14
    lockedintheattic on 25 Jul 2014 #

    My favourite memory of this song was at Sydney Gay Mardi Gras in February 1999. I was at the massive after party in the Sydney Showgrounds, and by the time they played this the sun was already up and loads of people were lounging around on the grass outside the enormous main dance hall, after a long night of dancing. When the intro came on, people were literally running across the grass to make it inside the hall to be part of the communal experience of nearly 10,000 people singing along to the biggest record of the year. Definitely one of the most memorable clubbing moments I’ve ever had.

  15. 16
    What? on 25 Jul 2014 #

    Well, here we go. The first number one I actually remember from the time. But it’s my later shift towards music far removed from “Believe” that actually got me to appreciate it, oddly enough.

    The beard-stroking prog rock fan in me emerged around 2009, when my fifteen-year-old self started to become sick of what I was hearing on the charts, and I hit the teenage phase of delving into classic rock. And one of the primary targets for my derision was Autotune, which gave me a visceral reaction of “they have no talent, they’re just using it to fix bad singing” (sometimes true, sometimes not). 12 has a good point – the idea that a singer should never go out of key, or strain their vocals, is utterly wrong-headed. But that was the time when I rediscovered “Believe” – perhaps not “rediscovered”, as it had been a constant presence in my life, on and off, but it was the first time I really listened to it properly. I may even have closed my eyes. It had been held up to me as the song that ushered in the whole Autotune gimmick, truthfully or not, and I was fully prepared to hate it. It was a pleasant surprise that I didn’t.

    Beneath the polished sheen of the Autotune, Cher is still there, and she won’t let you forget it. I don’t think it diminishes her voice – it’s surprisingly light by today’s standards, and her voice is unique and strong enough to push through, the technology working with her rather than her fighting against it. “I really don’t think you’re strong enough”, for me, is a sentiment that might as well have been said about her new vocal-processing friend. But still, it always gave me a sense that she blended too much into the relentless pulse of the backing track, that her humanity was subjugated somehow. Of course, this may well be the point. I do enjoy the work of Gary Numan, one of the most overtly robotic and inhuman artists in music history, but I never got the sense, until recently, that that might have been Cher’s intent too.

    7 for now, but if I ever get to have an experience like the one in 14 it will get pushed to a 10.

  16. 17
    Andrew Farrell on 25 Jul 2014 #

    I’m curious about the actual delay between Autotune become a technique and becoming an instrument – my impression (possibly misinformed by youthful reading of The Manual) was that there’s always going to be a smooth swift path from “this can make an interesting sound” -> Engineer: “Hey, I was playing around with this and it made an interesting sound” -> “Well, Mr hitmaker, if you’re looking for an interesting hook for this track, Bob the engineer found this interesting sound the other day”.

  17. 18

    Auto-tune per se debuted in 1997, so the delay betwen the invisible studio mending as intended in the instructions, and an instrumentality equivalent to guitar-distortion is roughly a year. (Guitar distortion as instrumentality didn’t get onto record before Link Wray in the mid-50s, though I imagine it emerged as a fact in electric guitar play abt 30 mins after the first steel guitarist plugged into the first speaker amp some decades before) (the first electric guitar was the Rickenbacker “Frying Pan” lap steel in the very late 20s). Feedback had also surely been an issue since the first microphone was turned on and tapped (the carbon button mike was devised for the first telephones, c.1877); but the standard answer to “what’s the first feedback on record” is the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” in 1964.

    Update and shorter: “The Manual” is not a reliable critical history of technology! One such is on its way, but NOT THAT QUICKLY! :(

  18. 19
    Steve Williams on 25 Jul 2014 #

    First I heard of this was when, I think, Jo Whiley on Radio 1 played it and she expressed her surprise that she was about to play the new single by Cher. Think she might have asked us to guess the artist.

    I got really sick of this really quickly but I think one factor was the Top of the Pops only bothered recording one performance of this which was then repeated for the next six weeks, to the extent I could virtually direct it by the end.

  19. 20
    iconoclast on 25 Jul 2014 #

    As others have pointed out, there’s actually much less of the notorious (and entirely gimmicky) autotuning here than you may remember. Unfortunately it’s the only part of the song which actually stands out in any way; the rest is entirely run-of-the-mill happy dance-pop in an entirely predictable structure through which the listener merely needs to sleepwalk, and the breakdown in the middle and fade over the last chorus are the exact opposite of pleasantly surprising. None of it sounds inspired, and the overall effect is not so much effortlessness as the will-this-do? path of least effort.

    On the dancefloor, of course, none of this matters; and the combination of Big Diva Name and being not as bad as most of the competition earned it the longest stay at the top in a span of seven years. What does that tell you? FIVE.

  20. 21
    will on 25 Jul 2014 #

    What’s interesting about Autotune is how long it took for its ‘misuse’ to become omnipresent in pop. You would have thought the huge success of Believe would have led to others down the same route quickly, but it didn’t really become standard until 2010-12.

  21. 22
    will on 25 Jul 2014 #

    What’s interesting about Autotune is how long it took for its ‘misuse’ to become omnipresent in pop. You would have thought the huge success of Believe would have led others down the same route quickly, but it didn’t really become standard until 2010-12.

  22. 23
    tm on 25 Jul 2014 #

    I remember Cher on Saturday morning kids’ TV around this time: a little girl rang in and asked how she got the vocal sounds on Believe so she explained what a vocoder was and sang an a cappella version of the chorus to demonstrate the tremolo used to trigger the effects. Which was a pretty cool thing to do, it’s not every day you get a masterclass in hit making.

  23. 24
    hectorthebat on 25 Jul 2014 #

    Sample watch:

    The drums are from “Revolution 909” by Daft Bunny.

  24. 25
    Ed on 26 Jul 2014 #

    Potentially bunny- baiting I know, but I wonder if we have now reached the death of Autotune proclaimed by Jay-Z. As Will says @22, 2010-12 felt like the heyday of audible Autotune, and it feels like it has been a dwindling presence in the charts since then.

    History suggests these kinds of technological innovations do die eventually. Feedback hasn’t really featured in the charts since ‘Definitely Maybe’. Distortion has lasted a bit longer, but modern bands that use guitars – eg Foals – generally seem to avoid it and go for a cleaner sound, to avoid sounding like hoary old rock bores.

  25. 26
    anto on 26 Jul 2014 #

    The UK premiere of this track was on the BBC lottery programme – that was in August/September and I remember a few glances being exchanged around the room at what appeared to a fiftysomething superstar cluelessly attempting to get hip. On first listen it didn’t sound futuristic, if anything it sounded rather dated and 1978-ish – part ‘I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper’ and part ‘Sparky and his Magic Piano’ – It seemed to be bad camp with a pathetic gimmick.
    Admittedly by Christmas ‘Believe’ sounded pretty majestic, it’s not quite a classic but it was an uplifting pop moment. I think it’s real virtues are the production overall and Cher’s commanding alto really grabbing hold of the song – I’m firmly in the anti camp over autotune abuse and it’s probably my least favourite feature of this track (even though it wouldn’t be the same song without it).

  26. 27
    chelovek na lune on 26 Jul 2014 #

    This is capable, confident, convincing, and reasonably strong. What it isn’t (and, to be fair, few record are) is magical, outstanding or breathtaking. The beat propels the song forward aggressively, the production, and of course Cher’s charismatic performance all give it substance and appeal. And yes, the robotic autotune does add a certain something. But….it gets tiring on repeated listening. It doesn’t touch deeply like “I Found Someone” did – to single out another of her big hits from an earlier welcome return to public presence. This is agreeable enough, but not incredibly special. 7

  27. 28
    PurpleKylie on 26 Jul 2014 #

    I remember this song dominating the charts at the time , this and “My Heart Will Go On” were one of the first “megahits” I have memory of where I was like “wow, this song has gotten huge!”. Bear in mind I only started paying attention to what was #1 around 97/98.

    I think this was my first exposure to autotune as well, I can’t recall hearing voice effects like it before then. I think even with the vocoder effects the song has stood the test of time very well, which a real solid pop song should do no matter what current trends or innovations it tries to hop on.

    In regards to the autotune debate I’m quite conflicted about my stance towards it. On one hand I recognise that it’s just another development in music production, I mean the “double tracking” method used by The Beatles was essentially the early form of autotune. But on the other hand it annoys the musical purist in me as I believe it allows certain Bunnies who sound like strangled cats live have a viable music career when they don’t deserve it.

  28. 29
    Mark M on 27 Jul 2014 #

    Re: 28 etc Yes, there’s an odd play between the ‘it does something new!’ and the ‘it does something better!’ lines when we’re talking about new technology, and often people lean towards the former when the latter is the case. The ‘you can communicate with anyone anywhere in the world instantly’ thing about the internet. Yes, but we could before, too. Or it always puzzled me that Sky marketed Sky Plus with the idea that you could now watch your favourite TV anytime you wanted to, which had clearly been the case since the arrival of VHS, rather than it was recording TV programmes with all the hassle taken out.

    So, Autotune was absolutely not the start of making (possibly) ropey singers sound better on recordings, which had been done for years in various ways, including splicing together very short segments of different takes, strategic use of backing vocalists, and from the 1980s on (as my shakey grasp of these things understands it) using equipment that could basically doing what Autotune does (adjusting the pitch), but in a very slow and painful way. Autotune was better, faster and much more powerful in its possibilities, creating at least three types of Autotuned recording: the supposedly invisible type, the fully distorted type on believe, and the in-between one used by various rappers, who know that you know that they can’t sing and it sounds admittedly fake but not fully robotic.

  29. 30
    Rory on 31 Jul 2014 #

    Cher’s late-career high isn’t my favourite example of this use of Auto-Tune (that would be Bon Iver’s “The Wolves”), but deserves credit for bringing it to everyone’s attention. One person’s gimmick is another’s hook. A 7 for me.

    I wonder if she was modelling herself in the video on Edvard Munch’s Madonna.

  30. 31
    davidsim on 31 Jul 2014 #

    Matrix bullet time and Jim Steinman? Perfect references.

  31. 32
    Tommy Mack on 1 Aug 2014 #

    Mark M @ 29: the music industry is built on that though, isn’t it: “THIS IS A NEW AND RADICAL THING!” standing for “this is the next step in a thing that we know you already like”. Or rather, that’s what the music industry was built on until about 10 years ago. There seems to be much less BRAND NEW THING-ism and more ‘if you like X, try Y’, even in the way performers present themselves. Even those who are innovative enough to get away with it don’t seem to present themselves as being at the vanguard of something new and unique. (Unless – sobering though – this is because I am 33 and simply don’t get to hear the music that’s sold on newness because I am no longer new myself hence not in the marketing demographic for NEW any more. Although I don’t think this is entirely the case – I am talking about stuff I’ve heard on 1xtra, Noisey etc, not just indie bands)

  32. 33
    Kinitawowi on 6 Aug 2014 #

    The roll call of runners up:

    George Michael – Outside
    E17 – Each Time
    5ive – Until The Time Is Through
    Boyzone – I Love The Way You Love Me
    Jay-Z – Hard Knock Life

    Three pretty good, two utterly forgettable, five better than Cher. Believe offended me as soon as I heard it; Autotune, vocoder, call it what you will, it’s ghastly and it kicks you in the face to make sure you notice it – I distinctly remember the video where it sort of fuzzes out her face in the Autotuned parts to emphasise it. Ugh. It pains me that I live in a world where utter arse like this can spend two fucking months at the top while Saint Etienne need Paul Van Dyk’s help to barely scrape a week in the top ten.

    1. Usually songs that I consider actively detrimental to the state of humanity score a zero (there’s only been one number one fitting the bill so far – the Teletubbies – although there’s a runner up much later that would have been a total nailed on zero); but while this song may have sparked the Autotune craze, I can’t hate it for that; Autotune eventually resulted in T-Pain, and Thug Story makes me laugh like a loon every time I hear it.

  33. 34
    Andrew Farrell on 6 Aug 2014 #

    #3 watch includes When You’re Gone, the best solo* Spice single.

    *in the sense that ‘I want you back’ is, anyway.

  34. 35
    Weej on 6 Aug 2014 #

    The autotune annoyed me at the time, of course, but while it sounds perfectly fine now I’m afraid I still can’t appreciate the song behind it – probably because I find it impossible to connect with “records that need divas to sing them”, especially with such an anodyne backing track. There’s just nothing for me here at all. Bit selfish, but that’s about as far as it gets.

  35. 36
    Billy Hicks on 11 Aug 2014 #

    I didn’t notice Cher’s voice *at all* at the time – for years I just saw this as a fairly standard pop track, it was only by the mid-2000s and reading internet articles mentioning it I had a re-listen and thought, oh yeah, bit weird innit. I noticed it much more on the stupidly unbunnied One More Time a couple years later.

  36. 37
    ciaran on 17 Aug 2014 #

    I think I despised this at the time.Something that just wouldnt go away. In the year of everything being modern and up to the minute popular wise to see this ancient mutton dressed as lamb diva taking over was maybe too much! There was even a stage when it got to Number 1 in Ireland for as long as the UK and just as it was announced on Irish Radio one week it had stayed at the top and was due to be played after a DJ just said no enough already and refused to play it.

    16 years on I can now fully acknowledge what a total berk I was here. I would even argue it’s brilliance now to doubters.Still wouldnt be a spotify/ipod staple by any means but I really have little objections to it.Aged much better than almost every chart topper from the time.

    At least a 9.A 10 wouldnt have been out of place.

  37. 38
    Peter on 11 Oct 2014 #

    I recall seeing Cher in concert in Sydney in the late 90s (?), and Believe me, the song works on stage, (with or without the autotune) which is ultimately the only thing that matters. The throngs of flamboyant young gentlemen at the front went apeshit. (Mind you, they had only just recovered their composure from the unbilled Village People who opened the show).

  38. 39
    wichitalineman on 23 Jul 2015 #

    The house that Believe built is up for sale. Xenomaniac bunny stops me from saying much more, but it’s the end of a golden ’00s era: http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-35272140.html

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