"Not Everything Is Going to Be Rainbows and Fairies": My First Date with Cher Lloyd

"Not Everything Is Going to Be Rainbows and Fairies": My First Date with Cher Lloyd

Over fish and chips with the English pop star, we talk love, plastic surgery, and losing yourself to start again.
November 1, 2016, 2:06pm

If you're American you'll probably know Cher Lloyd from 2012's monster summer smash "Want U Back," a flinty synth-pop number punctuated by a refrain of powerful grunts. To date it's had nearly 200 million views on YouTube. But if you lived in the UK you'll remember that moment in 2010 when the then tiny teen tottered onto the X Factor stage, in slashed jeans and a military jacket, busting into Keri Hilson's rework of Soulja Boy's "Turn My Swag." From the second the tinny backing track hit the auditorium speakers she was transformed: her pink lip curled, her strut all sass, a look up and down, a flick of the wrist. It was a real moment. Post X Factor (she came fourth) she signed to Simon Cowell's label Syco and released her debut LP, Sticks + Stones. It went top five in the UK and with her 2014 follow-up, Sorry I'm Late, she surprised everyone by teaming up with Tove Lo and Beth Ditto, and duetting with Mike Posner and T.I. But it turns out that during this period Cher felt incredibly conflicted, pulled in too many directions to the point where she lost sight of herself and her vision.

For the past two years, Cher's been living in West Hollywood, having left behind the rolling green hills that surround Malvern in the West Midlands. Cher says she jumped ship, not with any grand designs to break America, but rather she was over here on promo and it was going so well that she decided to stay. All she had with her were three suitcases and her husband, hair stylist Craig Monk (married for three, together for five). Since then they've added two British bulldogs, Sharon and Buddy, to their family.

These days Cher is 100 percent solo, and without the backing or control of a major label she dropped her most recent single, "Activated," back in July. An insidious little number which has the title of an energy drink, but goes down smoother than a vodka Red Bull and won't leave you with gaping black holes in your memory the next day. (Just me? Oh…) In any case, Cher is 23 and going her own way and taking her sweet time too, finding the right producers and songwriters to collaborate with because for the first time she's writing her own schedule.

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On a sunny day in LA (when is it not?), Cher and I agree to meet for a first date. She chooses an English pub—Ye Olde King's Head, est. 1974—set off the polished main drag in Santa Monica. It pretty much hits the nail on head: the décor's a little dark and dingy and the laminated menu offers fish and chips and meat pies. There's a dartboard and framed photos of British bull dogs on the wall. As I slide into the bright green vinyl booth I wonder how many thighs, flushed from the LA heat have found themselves stickily cemented to this particular seat. Luckily we're both wearing pants. Adjacent to the pub is a Brit-themed souvenir shop, selling Heinz Baked Beans, Cadburys, and The Daily Mail. I'm curious meet Cher, firstly, because I was living the UK and I was one of those people who were still tuning into X Factor at the time she auditioned. More than any other contestant before her I was fascinated, at least somewhat invested in her story, I casually followed her ascent, the way the British tabloids fawned over her story, and then subsequently tried to pit her against her former mentor, X Factor judge (ex-member of Girls Aloud), and national treasure Cheryl (insert whatever last name she's going by these days). I was curious to find out what she was like IRL, with the talent show that made her so far in her rearview mirror. The other reason I'm excited? I seriously miss fish and chips. (The battered fish, for the record, looked like a rectangle, and the chips were nowhere near as primo as chip shop chips, but hey, I ate it all anyway.)

We sat down and got straight to the nitty gritty: relationships, what it was like being outspoken and 16-years-old in the spotlight, losing her way, and leaving everything to start again. Oh and some boobs and botox talk too.

Noisey: Was there ever a period of culture shock for you when you moved out here? 
Cher: Massively. I'm still picking up things now. It's really weird. One thing I had to get used to was that everyone tells you everything about themselves here. I know that this one chick in my building just got divorced. I don't know her, but she felt the need to share that with me. If I was back home, this would never happen. It's weird. I'm also getting used to how sarcasm isn't as effective here. I'll be really sarcastic and people will take it seriously. I have to tell people, "Oh no! I didn't mean that, I was just joking!"

So apart from sarcasm, what else do you miss about the UK?
I miss food.

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I lived in the UK for 20 years even though I'm American. Whenever I go back, I always have a list of things I need to eat: pie and mash, Turkish food from East London, fish and chips…I want a kebab! I know that sounds gross but I want a night out and I want it to end on a kebab!

And chips. I get it. 
I miss those things, and I miss going to a pub—a proper pub—and ordering mashed potatoes, sausages, baked beans… and getting drunk. I miss all of that.

So we're on a date…
This will be my first date actually, because I've never dated. I just met my husband and then got married. It'll be three years in November and I've been with him for five years, but it feels like I've been with him my whole life. Sometimes he gets sick of me and I get sick of him. We're like a very old couple. Like the ones that are like, "I don't feel like seeing you today, piss off," and then are like "I love you." It's that sort of relationship.

So you guys met when he was putting hair extensions in your hair?
He worked in a salon in Malvern and, at the time, I think I had dyed my own hair and made a massive mistake. I was going in to have them rectify my hair. I smoked at the time, which is a disgusting habit and and I don't smoke anymore. He was the only one who could take me out back for a cigarette, and that's when we got talking. He still says, to this day, that I never offered him a cigarette. And he thought, "You little cow!" We still joke about it to this day. Ever since then, we got together and we stayed together.

After he took you out back for a cigarette, did he not ask you for a drink? That would be a date!
It wasn't really like that. We were messaging each other and texting. I had a Blackberry phone at the time. I was BBMing him. I was like, "What's your BBM pin? We should chat." It was like that. We just got chatting and then we ended up staying together. It was like the relationship got started and then we didn't look back. Then we just packed our suitcases and moved to America.

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Nuts. Did you have any friends here?
No, we had none.

That must have solidified you as a team.
Although I'm 23, I don't feel like I'm 23. I've made those big steps that someone usually makes in their late 30s. Which is just scary! It doesn't leave me a lot of room does it? What do I do next?

Maybe you'll have a crisis at 30 where you regress.
Maybe this is the way Craig and I are now, but in our late 30s you'll see pictures of us in Ibiza, fuckin' havin' it!

What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Think before you speak. I was so outspoken, to a point where I was like, I can't believe I just said that! But by the time I'd said it, it was too late. But it was me, what can you do? I've never said once said that I am the best person to look up to, never once. I am here to make music and give people something to listen to. If people can learn from me, that's great. But I can't say that I'm going to be your perfect role model, because then that wouldn't be being me.

Were there any things that you said that you really regretted?
It's been personal stuff, like commenting on other people's work. Looking back, there was no need for it. If you can't be positive, and have something good to say, don't say it. That's something you learn as you get older. When you look back at some of the stuff you said when you were 16, you don't feel the same way?

Sure that's part of the process, but you had to do that in the public eye.
Exactly. And it still gets brought up to this day. I had an interview with someone from Singapore the other day, and she kept on bringing up stuff that I had said when I was 16. It's like, hey man! I have a song out and have done so much during my career! Imagine if I was like, I'm going to find out something about what you did when you were 16 and for the rest of your life, I'm going to bring it up. I don't have time for that crap.

Let's talk about "Activated" for a second. Is it the first single from a new record?
It was an introduction—it never was a single—I see it as an introduction to my fans. If it was a single, I'd be all over Good Morning America, traveling around, promoting the shit out of it. Fans can get a glimpse of what this next record's going to be like. Even down to the lyrics in the song, I mean what I say. It makes me giggle when I think about the lyrics because it's so like, "I don't give a fuck!"

It was an introduction—it never was a single—I see it as an introduction to my fans. If it was a single, I'd be all over Good Morning America, traveling around, promoting the shit out of it. Fans can get a glimpse of what this next record's going to be like. Even down to the lyrics in the song, I mean what I say. It makes me giggle when I think about the lyrics because it's so like, "I don't give a fuck!"

Is this a new state of mind for you?
No it's always been my state of mind. This is what I was like in the beginning and this is how I feel now. That fire is back. I lost it. A couple of years ago I lost it and I didn't know who I was. I think that I can get trapped into the nitty-gritty of being at a record label. You have a million people telling you what they feel is best for you, that there's no space for you to think about what's best for you. I think I lost the spark and the drive.

Was that around the time of the last record?
Definitely.

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How do you look back on your last record now? You wrote with a bunch of really cool producers and songwriters.
I was incredibly lucky to work with those people. But, how can you have a record that's 100 percent authentic, if you don't feel authentic yourself, and you're being dragged in so many different directions? I mean, you'll see pictures of me from a couple of years ago, and I'm wearing a pink tutu! But at that point I was so drained by having the creativity sucked out of me that other people were running my shit anyway. I had no choice then to let them put me in the pink fuckin' tutu! It's rough. Do you have a career in something you absolutely love and would kill for? Or do you bin it all off and have nothing? I had to say a lot of yes's to be able to say no. I'm at the point now where I can say no. I'd rather say no than put out something that's not me.

Do you feel like that last record wasn't really you?
I feel like everything around it wasn't me. Not necessarily the songs, because I love my songs and my music, but too many cooks in the kitchen

That's a lot of the problem with modern pop. There are so many people that need to be pleased.
Exactly. How is an older man going to tell an 18, 19-year-old what she should look like and what she should be doing? It's not going to work, and it didn't. I stepped away, and I was completely on my own. I had to start again.

You left your label and your management?
Everything! I left everything and started again. I had to do it. It's frustrating fans are messaging me and saying, "Two years for an album? WTF?" Which is not that long but we're talking about kids who expect a single every week. I sat there thinking, "You guys have no idea what I've been through in the last couple of years." It's been tough, really tough. Imagine just going for it on your own when you've been with a record label your whole career. This song is completely independent. I self-funded this shit.

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You must have been so nervous when you put this out then.
Part of me was. Part of me was also like, bring it on! I'd much rather put this out on my own, and know that it's 100 percent me, than be a manufactured pop artist, have my five seconds of fame, and then disappear, because people don't believe it.

Is the LP done?
Still working. I feel like it will be until someone says, "Alright, you can stop now." I don't think you ever stop the writing process. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go. I'm my harshest critic. I'm always going to be like, "Is this good enough?" I think I was brought up like that—to always know that you can do better. Here's a clunky segue: Growing up, what kinds of ideas did you have about romantic love?
My mum and dad were always really funny. I don't know if it's a British thing, but you always do that thing where it's like, "I love ya, but you're a little shit." There were never displays of massive affection, because that's not what you do. I'm not like that either. Never in public would I ever…

Never full on making out in public? 
No! It's cringey when I see that! That stuff needs to be kept behind closed doors. You know when you see pap pictures of celebrities and they've got each other's tongues shoved down their throats? We don't need to see that! That would never be Craig and me. Or Craig would do it as a joke.

What would your ideal date be, if you went on dates?
Whenever we go out, it's all to do with food. There's one place I love going to. It's a place in the UK called Topgolf. It's a driving range, you get your own little area and you whack holes off of the side of this building. It's in Essex. You have a drink and you hit these golf balls wherever you want.

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How good are you?
Debatable. Especially when I stand there in 6-inch heels. It's fun! We do stuff like that. We spend an awful lot of time together. He always makes me laugh. Even when I think of him, when I'm not with him, I laugh like a little schoolgirl. I'm completely besotted with this boy.

That's amazing five years on to still feel like that
People tell me that. We can't be away from each other. We're like little school kids. I'm his best mate and he's mine.

You're lucky. What do you do when you're chilling at home?
We do that normal thing that couples do: find a show and binge watch it. That's us. We've recently got into UFC. Really? Surprising. UFC seems like such a bloke thing to be into. I appreciate the discipline. There's discipline in that sport. It can be viewed as massively aggressive, from an outside person who's not educated about it but the more I learn about it, you watch their submissions, and you're like I've got respect for this sport. It's grueling work. Also, we watch soccer. Craig's a massive Tottenham Hotspur fan. We'll watch matches which is always fun. What did you learn from earlier relationships you had?
I didn't have any. None that lasted more than a couple of weeks. I met Craig when I was 17. I was just out of high school. He's the first person I ever lived with. He is my first real relationship, and I married him. What did your parents think when you said you were going to get married?
It was hard for my dad, because he had to let go. But they love him because he looks after me. I live the life of the pop star. Craig is a guy from Essex who used to work on a building site and does hair. He looks after me.

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Does he do your hair now?
Yes and no. This is always a problem. I enjoy doing my own hair and makeup. Any opportunity, I'll do it myself. I'm like that with everything though. Any task I think I can do by myself I'll do it. For the most part, I think I do a better job! We've had some disputes over that. Do you see yourself having kids in the near future? Absolutely! I just think, what an amazing gift, if I'm lucky enough to. I couldn't wish for anything more.

Don't you have a bunch of stuff you want to do before you have babies?
Absolutely. But I think, in this day and age, us women can do everything at the same time. I've noticed a trend lately—with people that I know and people that I'm interviewing--having open relationships. Could you ever imagine doing that? No! He would never need to because he has everything he could ever want in a woman, and I have everything I ever wanted in a man. What did you want in a man? To be safe. I wanted to be safe. There's no one else on this planet that makes me feel as safe as he does. Give me 20 security men—they don't make me feel as safe as he does.

Where do you think that comes from?
That desire to be made to feel safe. My career is very uncertain. It's hard to make friends and to trust people. I feel like a lot of girls want that from a relationship—whether it be with a man or a woman—to feel that security. It's a mental thing. The other thing is, I'm very old fashioned. People my age think I'm absolutely nuts. Like, "How can this girl be married at 23?" When we first got married, a lot of people thought we wouldn't last. It's committing to something and not giving in when you have an argument. I feel like nowadays, people have a row and they want to get divorced. Nowadays, you can go on your phone and hook up with someone. What the fuck! There's an app for that! An app to hook up!

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I love how shocked you look.
Whatever floats your boat, but I couldn't imagine it. I'm old fashioned!

I've never done it, but pretty much all my friends have.
Which is fine. I suppose I watch my mom and dad and they're still together. That's very rare. I want to be that. Also, I feel like there is nothing that could happen that could be that detrimental for me not to be with him. Cheating is the big one, isn't it? Yeah it is, but that's a hurdle to cross. I do believe that people can move on from that. I do too. When I was younger, I was super black and white about it. But there are to many shades of gray in life. But it would be hard to move on from.
Yep. If you have enough communication, you can prevent that. You're not always going to. I think talking is always good. How much of your relationship ends up in your music? This time round, a lot. I feel like I've had a bit of a tough year, just in life. Whether it's like personal stuff or stuff to do with my career. Sometimes things are a little bit harder, and that's what this year has been. And I've literally written about it and that's weird for me, because you don't want to be too open but you also want to be authentic. Do you feel like your previous records were less personal?
They were younger. They were for a younger audience. This time around, it's for everyone to listen to. These are the experiences I've gone through. If people have gone through it, than that's brilliant. They're all real stories. Is it easier for you to be here because the British tabloids aren't here?
I like the tabloids. Do they give you press? Yes they do. Is it always good? No it's not, but what in life is? It just isn't. Not everything is going to be covered in rainbows and fairies. If someone wants to talk about how I look like this or I said that, go ahead. Is it always going to be true what they print about me? Probably not. They once printed that I was in a relationship with my sister! They didn't know it was my sister and I had my arm around her, because she's my sister! If it sounds like it's crazy and untrue, it's probably crazy and untrue. But sod it! No one's died. It must've taken you a while to get to that point.
Yeah as a 16-year-old you panic about what your mum and dad thinks. Do you know that my mum and dad caught me smoking from the newspaper? How funny is that! They opened the newspaper in the morning, and I'm there with a cigarette on the end of me lip. The press can be a pain in the ass, but you have got to love them. There is a certain vindictiveness about the British press though.
The only thing I wouldn't have is them taking a picture up my skirt. You can guarantee any time I'm wearing a skirt, there's going to be a photographer that gets his camera right up there. If you're smart, you wear shorts under your skirt. I've done this since the age of 16. I'll never wear a skirt without shorts underneath. You'll never get a picture of my hoo-ha. I don't fancy everyone seeing my noonie. It's not a good look, you know? It's not the same in the US.

What are your favorite things to do on your days off?

I don't do days off. If you have a day off, something's not right. There should be no days off.

I love days off.
Sometimes it's nice to chill, but while I'm young and I look like this, I'm going to make the bloomin' most of it. There's going to be a time when I'm old and I'm wrinkly, and my tits are sagging, and me face has gone south, then I can chill out. Are you concerned with aging?
Sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not. I feel like there's more to life then worrying about the way that you look. By the time I'm wrinkly and old, I'll have kids and grandkids that I'm watching grow up. I'll be proud of what I've achieved in my life and I'm not going to worry about my looks so much. I feel like there's too much pressure on the older woman. Don't you agree?

Totally. I also think there's the worry that when you get to a certain age you'll become invisible.
Yeah. Women would be less intimidated by growing old if society just chilled the fuck out and laid off it. My nan, she's beautiful, I love my nan. She's mentioned to me about her getting Botox a few times. People have told me to get it before. How funny! Since moving here? Wow. I don't have anything against plastic surgery. If you want it, get it done. But it's weird when people are so young and they're getting stuff done and then they wind up looking older!
Right. And what on my face needs freezing? Nothing, because I have no wrinkles yet! If there's something happening, then maybe I'll look into it. It gave me a bit of a complex People in the industry raving about botox. Getting your lips done is massive here. I don't know how lips are supposed to look anymore!  It's weird to see people who can't control their lips after they just had them done. I think you're good.  
Good. I'm not down with sticking a needle in them. I was like that when I had my veneers done. Did you see my teeth before? You know what has always really pissed me off? Americans are really harsh about British people's teeth. Lay off it! But I did get mine done. [Laughs.] Although I make the joke, I did have bad teeth and I fixed them. And afterward? It was hilarious. I felt like I had a huge mouth. The feeling of it was so weird. That was the only thing I have had surgically done. Everyone thinks I have my face done. Even from when I was a teenager I had a thing about my teeth. And my boobs actually.  Me too. But now I'm fine with having small boobs. I barely even bother with a bra.
I think I'm reaching that point. But you know when you have that thing in your head like, "Ooh it would be nice to have something?" I still feel like that now. I wish I didn't have to wear a padded bra. My husband has said, multiple times, "Go for it! Don't bother wearing a bra! You'll look great." But I'm like, "Yeah, but…" [Looks down at her chest.] I wouldn't be opposed to getting my boobs done.  They'd have to be small. We don't want you toppling over! 
I would never get melons! Never, ever. Could you imagine this tiny frame with ginormous boobs?!

All photos by Jennica Mae.

Kim Taylor Bennett is an editor at Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.