34. Cher – ‘Believe’ (1998)

“Do you believe in life after love?”

Written by Brian Higgins/Stuart McLennen/Paul Barry/Steven Torch/Matthew Gray/Timothy Powell

Produced by Mark Taylor/Brian Rawling

Taken from the album Believe

Also released on The Greatest Hits, Live: The Farewell Tour, The Very Best Of Cher and Gold

US #1, UK #1, AUS #1

In 1998, Cher hadn’t had a real, proper worldwide hit single since ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, almost a decade prior. She hadn’t had an American number one in 24 years. She was still successful, a legend, but it was accepted that her music career, especially as a singles artist, was all but over. Once in a lifetime, a song comes along that steamrollers all competition, transcends the word “hit” to become a phenomenon, and has the power to revitalise entire careers. Cher got that break with ‘Believe’.

The key to the success of ‘Believe’ was how different it sounded at the time. It was that awkward point in the teen pop resurgence where the Spice Girls had lost Geri but had given the world a multitude of second-rate followers, and the American pop explosion was still a few months away. Cher’s main rivals, Madonna, Janet Jackson and Kylie Minogue, had all returned in the past year or so with new images, more trance and electro inspired material, a pseudo-hippie vibe to all their recent work. ‘Believe’ took all these influences, catchy radio pop, house, electro. It packaged them together in a what would have been a guaranteed hit anyway, but it also had that extra kick which pushed ‘Believe’ over the edge: autotune, or “the Cher effect”.

It’s hard to imagine a time when autotune wasn’t everywhere, all the time, with some artists basing albums (hi Kanye) or even an entire career around it (hello T-Pain). But the space-age, alien tones of ‘Believe’ were amazing in 1998, and I remember watching the weekend video shows around that time and just being transfixed by that sound. Back then I would get maybe one CD single a month, and in late 1998 I desperately wanted ‘Goodbye’ by the Spice Girls. Half because she liked the song too and half because she knew how much I loved it, my mother surprised me by buying both ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Believe’. It was the best day of my whole life.

Apart from the obvious impact of the Cher effect, ‘Believe’ was simply a great song. That chorus was endlessly catchy, and the tagline “do you believe in life after love?” became the slogan of brokenhearted ravers worldwide. Whether they remember it because it was great or just because it was such a big hit, I’ve never met a person my age or older who couldn’t at least sing that title line. The video positioned Cher as some sort of magical Mother Of All Dance Music, the camp value pushed her from gay icon to Mother Of All Homosexuals, and she became the oldest woman to ever hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. ‘Believe’ is one of the highest selling singles in music history.

Music video:

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