Cher Lloyd’s Bizarre USA Makeover Ignites The War on Girls

There may be ye of the faith that Popdose is primarily a haven to discuss the mere existence of new Saga and Asia records or to have a spirited debate as to whether a Foreigner tour featuring 1/6 of the original members (and none named Lou Gramm) is neither Foreigner nor a tour. But I say NAY. This is Popdose. From time to time, we are going to devour a healthy dose of Pop music. For every Deerhoof and Yeasayer album that hipster critics choke down like hicks eating hot dogs, there must be some cool delicious ABBA, Gaga and Madonna to wash the gullet clean.

Which brings us to Cher Lloyd. I had originally marked her phenomenal debut album, Sticks and Stones, to debut contraBAND, a new Popdose column about great imports that for whatever inexplicable reason are not available in the US (even digitally). But now, almost a year after its UK release, this truly incredible CD is finally going to wash ashore on October 2, hot on the heels of its third single going platinum here.

Then I saw the US version of the video and album artwork, and I realized this was no cause for celebration. Something much more sinister was going on.

Remember the scene in The Truman Show when Jim Carrey sails into the horizon and smashes through the studio drywall, thus revealing that his entire universe has been orchestrated? Well, that’s what Cher Lloyd’s USA makeover reveals about our modern pop culture.

First, let’s meet Cher Lloyd: the latest instant pop star discovered on a televised TV puppy mill talent show — in this case, X Factor (UK Edition). Take a look at her audition and how Simon Cowell gets another Susan Boyle eyebrow boner realizing his latest contractual slave contestant just poured millions of pounds into his coffers.

Cher finished fourth in that week’s “most shocking elimination ever,” which was an ace career move (her mentor Cheryl Cole is from Girls Aloud, the biggest UK girl group of all time; themselves a reality show second placer). A few months later, Cher Lloyd delivered the goods in what just might be one of the greatest teen pop debuts ever:

Sure this Skrillex 4 Kidz mash-up of Lady Sovereign and a royalty-free “Oh My Darling (Clementine)” riff is not for everyone, but for me, it was a beacon of hope. Here’s a confident girl who dresses like a teenager instead of a prostitute or a cartoon character. The pop hook is massive and the lyrics are about standing up to your critics. What’s not to love?

An even more age-appropriate UK smash followed. And then came a third single; the best damn ode to seller’s remorse since Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What You Got, Til It’s Gone.” Needless to say, I was thrilled when Cher Lloyd headed to the States and did a good old fashioned radio and mall tour to connect with US fans. The crowds snowballed. Sales surged. But something was noticeably different. Compare the artwork and the videos and then we’ll discuss.




UK single artwork


USA single artwork

UK album artwork

USA album artwork

Cher Lloyd UK looks, acts and dresses like a teenager. In the video. her character made a mistake by dumping her boyfriend, only to see him happy with someone else. We’re sympathetic to her misery, but notice that neither her ex nor his new girlfriend are ever physically or emotionally harmed. Cher effortlessly showcases her natural beauty, singing, rapping skills and comedic talent.

Cher Lloyd US is a blue collar brat, a remorseless bully dressed like a street walker (open blouse, exposed bra, short shorts). Compare the ratio of skin shown to the UK clip. Cher US gangs up with three women who look like the felon offspring of Vanity 6. To the cheers of her fellow Americans, the girls wind up in jail for assaulting her exes’ new girlfriend while she’s trying to work — and on top of that, they resist arrest. Clearly this artistic homage to Lindsay Lohan and Snooki (among others) says less about the real Cher Lloyd and more about the puppet strings that manipulate what kids perceive as pop culture of their own design.

While modesty is a cornerstone of British culture, much of the USA wallows in its own ignorance and violence. Last week, thousands of drunk country fair attendees cheered as Randy Travis joked about the naked, violent DUI accident and arrest that could have cost him and some innocent people their lives. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a smash hit for TLC, born from a soul-crushing show that glorifies the sexualization of toddlers. MTV turned being fall down drunk, whorish and 16 & Pregnant into enviable teenage status symbols. Sears sells clothes to girls under the brand of a woman whose only contributions to society are a sex tape, a 72-day marriage and a plastic surgery-addicted stepfather. This week, Urban Outfitters launched a new line of clothes that glorifies binge drinking to teenage girls. God Bless America.

Our journey swings full circle once again to Cher Lloyd USA. Look at the album art. In the UK, she’s a stylish teen. In the US, she wears a bright blue bra and handcuffs. A naughty girl thrown into a cage. What is going on here? The record company would argue that they are only selling what the kids are buying, but in reality, this is more of a “wag the dog” scenario.

Years ago, PBS aired a fascinating documentary that you can still watch online called The Merchants of Cool. In it, we follow MTV’s research machine as they undertake a “ethnography study” into the the teenage mind. This was long before they sailed to the Jersey Shore, but now you can see how they got there:

“The MTV machine does listen very carefully to children. …When corporate revenues depend on being ahead of the curve, you have to listen, you have to know exactly what they want and exactly what they’re thinking so that you can give them what you want them to have. Now that’s an important distinction. The MTV machine doesn’t listen to the young so that it can make the young happier. It doesn’t listen to the young so it can come up with startling new kinds of music, for example. The MTV machine tunes in so it can figure out how to pitch what Viacom [MTV’s owner] has to sell to those kids….”

Mark Crispin Miller, Media Critic, on  “The Merchants of Cool” (PBS Frontline).

Toddlers & Tiaras from TLC (a bastard child of The Learning Channel), “The Real Housewives of ANY County” from Bravo (a shameful shell of the original fine arts channel) and just about every other conglomerate-owned print, online and broadcast media outlet are a united front with an agenda to speed up the downward spiral of our girls’ self worth and self confidence.

Why does America glorify girls and women who are drunk, lusty, rowdy and uneducated? Because they are easier to manipulate and control. For corporate America, girls without education will eat poorly, gain weight, get diabetes and have unwanted pregnancies. They’ll drown their sorrows with alcohol and prescription drugs. Women without self confidence will buy an endless stream of beauty products, fitness DVDs and trendy clothes that go out of fashion the moment they clip the tags off. Tuesday morning (August 28, 2012), the Today show aired a segment encouraging moms to shop for school clothes after their daughters see what the popular girls are wearing.

These girls will grow up to serve political America well (no matter which way they swing). An overworked, underpaid, sick and terrified populace won’t rock the boat. Abortion will never be outlawed, gay marriage will never be legalized, but the threat of either happening gives the masses a sense they’re participating in a democracy (voting one party in or out every other cycle) while both political parties raid the treasury on behalf of the very corporations who are creating pop culture to sell you the aforementioned products and/or services.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. The folk rock of Woodstock and the punk rock of CBGB’s glorified education, awareness and rebellion. Songs of anarchy and world peace both had an agenda — power to the people. But then some of those people got stinking rich in the Eighties and realized the revolution shouldn’t be televised, the repression should be.

Thanks to MTV and YouTube, female pop stars are more popular then ever — but are they moving society forward, or back? Madonna claimed being a sex kitten was an empowerment move. Britney Spears’ biggest hits were “Hit Me Baby (One More Time)” and “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Since the dawn of music video, sex appeal has become a greater selling point than vocal prowess, with everyone from Xtina, Beyonce, Gaga, Rihanna, Mariah and the Pussycat Dolls selling their bodies to sell their records. Even those who don’t strip and gyrate for the cameras are no champions for empowerment. Adele and the late Amy Winehouse’s biggest hits were about the sadness that comes when men leave them.

One of the biggest offenders is Orianthi’s “According to You.” While the song itself rocks, just listen to these empowering lyrics:

According to YOU: I’m stupid, worthless, can’t do anything right; I’m a mess in a dress, boring, moody, can’t get anywhere on time…

According to HIM: I’m beautiful, incredible, funny, irresistible….

OK, fine, you say, the girl is better off with HIM than YOU. But no. Like Rihanna and Chris Brown or Cher Lloyd and that Pete Wentz clone in her USA video, Orianthi doesn’t want HIM, she wants YOU back.

Why can’t YOU see me through HIS eyes? Why are you making me decide?

Girlfriend, WHAT’S to decide? What a great message for girls in potentially abusive relationships. Never once does Orianthi sing:

According to ME, I’m smart, funny, beautiful and overall just fucking awesome!

Hell – even this year’s biggest pop hit is “Call Me Maybe.” Have some confidence, Carly Rae — why not sing:

“Don’t call me maybe — either stand up or step off.”

Hip-hop is just as bad as pop; a genre that was born with a fierce message from the streets is now almost entirely dedicated to violence and wealth celebration — seriously, how many rap videos simply show raging parties in massive mansions with women reduced to gyrating poolside sex objects?

As we’ve seen in the streets of Egypt and the London Riots, what Michael Moore pointed out in Sicko is true: in most countries, the government is afraid of the people; in the USA, the people are afraid of the government.

Nothing scares power-hungry men in congressional chairs, corporate C-suites or tax-exempt places of worship more than confident, educated, aware women. And hence, they use pop culture to tell girls that if they want to be liked, they have look pretty and act dumb. If you encourage your man to beat the crap out of you, cry to Oprah about how badly you want him back.

Which loops us back again to Cher Lloyd’s US version of “Want U Back” and her good girl gone bad (to borrow an album title from RiRi) new stateside image. The move will make Cher Lloyd wealthy and famous beyond her wildest dreams at the expense of her tweenage fans as they follow her every move to churn the cycle of poverty and domestic violence.

Do you know who I want back? The real Cher Lloyd and better role models for our nation’s girls.

Girls in the US have in a lot in common with UK girls and girls everywhere else. They want to be loved and accepted. Sadly, our pop culture is teaching girls to bully or get bullied; to hand over their power to the boys and men around them (case in point, the “daddy” tattoo on Cher Lloyd’s arm on the USA album cover). The girls lined up to see Cher Lloyd at the mall today will soon be lined up outside nightclubs in every city, freezing in high heels, tube dresses and caked-on make-up to gain free entry beyond the velvet rope. They think their power is in their sexuality, paid nightly in free drinks and free gifts from boyfriends and strange men. Little do they know, true power comes from buying their own drinks and blazing their own trails in life.

I’m not advocating for the repression of femininity, either. Femininity is an essential, exquisite and virtually unlimited form of self-expression for those who choose to embrace it. Yet, the pop culture powers that be go out of their way to keep feminine expression in a cage — like Cher Lloyd on the cover of her new album. Femininity is sold to us as a weakness. Dresses, scarves and lingerie are pitched to girls with the same traits men hope will keep those girls in line: soft, delicate, sexy, dainty, etc. On the flipside, when a girl chooses to wear masculine clothes, we describe her as athletic, tomboy or tough. If she displays courage, we say that “she has balls” even though the testes are among the human body’s most sensitive organs. Should a boy opt to express feminine traits, we call him weak, perverted and gender disordered. In most movies and TV shows, feminized men are the butt of the joke. Rock and roll is no exception. Look no further than Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady” or Amy Winehouse’s “Stronger Than Me.” The rare exception: Hole’s “Beautiful Son.”

The only misstep in one of my favorite movies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (written by Jason Segel) is when Segel is hesitant to jump off a cliff into the water. Mila Kunis screams, “Come on, I can see your vagina from here!” despite the fact that she bravely dove into the water without hesitation. How the hell can that scene justify the comparison of a vagina to weakness? It’s the Machine keeping girls in their place. Look at how pop culture steered the word pussy (as in afraid) away from the original root (pussy cat, scaredy cat, fraidy cat – since, let’s admit it, cats can be skittish) and made the word synonymous with vagina. Feline energy is aligned with feminine energy even though cats come in both sexes (in case you were unaware).

I once worked in an office of 300 people where only a small percentage were men. The women dressed in some of the most breathtaking fashions I have ever seen. The hallways were a non-stop Project Runway catwalk (see what the Machine is doing, fashion runway = catwalk). My male coworkers thought the women were dressing up to impress us, but the truth is, they were dressing up to feel confident and impress each other. Now there’s the real power.

I hope young girls will still buy Cher Lloyd’s spectacular album. Hell, why wait until October? The original UK version is readily available (read my top-ranked review here). It’s a great dance pop record. I just hope as many girls as possible will see past the cover art and reject the image projected.

Last week, Lloyd was performing in concert and was pelted with water bottles filled with urine. Now, unless some of the women in the audience have incredible urine stream aim, we can assume men filled and threw these bottles. She left the stage in tears. I sincerely hope this barbaric, senseless incident inspires her to sing louder and prouder, to blaze her own fashion trails and take her power back from those idiot US record label executives and every other man who tries to keep her down. May girls everywhere follow suit or help her lead the way.

  • Annie Zaleski

    Good piece–but a few things:

    *Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” isn’t actually mooning over the dude; it’s more of a, “You lose, dude.” (“You’re gonna wish you never had met me,” etc.)

    *Calling the women on MTV shows “whorish” undermines the main point of this piece. Using language like that simply reaffirms the stereotypes and pigeonholing it is railing against. Generally, if you are defending girls/women/females, keep away from the derogatory language/terms used to oppress–especially because the use of whorish isn’t talking about the behavior, but used as an adjective to talk about the person. It’s semantics, but makes a big difference: “MTV turned being fall down drunk, whorish and 16 & Pregnant into enviable teenage status symbols.”

  • Keith

    You make some good points Annie. With Adele I was talking about the album more than the single. I’ll fully admit I might be off on that one, but my overall feeling from 21 is that she milked the melodrama a bit too much (and I’m sure 22 million of her adoring fans will disagree with me, and that’s fine).

    I debated the word “whorish” for quite some time. The word is about selling your body, sexually, for money. Thinking about the lewd sexual acts the girls on Jersey Shore do to play for the cameras (real or implied), and the huge paydays that result, I feel the word fits the bill. If MTV and its cast admitted the whole show is semi-scripted and staged, then the term would not fit. Think about the impression that makes on girls who think, “If I go on Real World or Jersey Shore and do the same thing, I will become rich, famous and admired.”

  • MC

    Sadly true. Can you imagine how Debbie Gibson or Tiffany would have to adapt themselves if they started their careers in 2012 instead of the 80’s? Oh, wait. Didn’t they recently appear in a tragically low-brow TV movie that culminated in an over-the-top grudge match fist fight? I guess our cultural penchant for glorifying petty and violent behavior wasn’t an issue for either of them. How else are you going to keep up your profile? (sigh)

  • JonCummings

    This is a really interesting piece, and I’m glad you went as far with your train of thought as you did. It’s good to get your perspective, having seen the original version of “Want You Back” and her earlier UK stuff. I’d never heard Lloyd’s music until last night, when I caught the US clip on Fuse, so I don’t have your perspective. To me, though, the clip is rather genius as marketing goes. She’s being positioned almost exactly halfway between Carly Rae and Ke$ha, which suits the song pretty much perfectly.

    I get your points about the dumbing down of girls in the media and the increasing hyper-sexualization of “girl power.” Once you start putting the marketing of pop starlets into the same conversation as the whore-ifying world of Reality TV, I start to lose focus, because I like to pretend that reality TV doesn’t actually exist. But it’s a fascinating conversation nevertheless, and it is an important part of the broader discussion of the bizarre and distressing direction that Americans are allowing (even enthusiastically encouraging) not only our culture, but our self-image, to go.

  • Neil Mathews

    The great thing about the current craze with reality talent shows is it is a ‘green’, sustainable system that gives us ‘the next great’ cultural appropriator today and tomorrow’s train wreck on Celebrity Rehab.

  • Gara St. James

    I’m especially glad you made the point with the Orianthi’s “According to You.” The very first time I heard the song, I thought to myself, “Why didn’t it occur to anyone to make the second part of the chorus, “According to ME” instead of “According to HIM”? How much more empowering that would have been! Instead, it was just another song about how girls should measure their worth by getting a man. Sad.

  • Apryl

    Great article and I totally agree on all points. As for the “Merchants of Cool”, what an incredible documentary series. I saw it several years ago and was amazed, but not at all surprised.

  • JonCummings

    The first dozen-or-so times I heard “According to You,” I got thrown off by the one line toward the end that says, “According to me, you’re stupid, you’re useless…” and thought that the line was a big twist, revealing that the singer had been addressing herself throughout the song — noting that the new guy has a higher opinion of her than she has of herself. While it wouldn’t have fit into the “empowerment” schematic, I wish the song actually was clever enough to be structured that way. It would probably even be more realistic, a self-image problem turned on its head. It would be a variation on one of my fave Marshall Crenshaw songs, “Better Back Off,” in which he demands his mate improve her opinion of herself, because “you’re talkin’ ’bout someone I love.”

  • Keith

    Jon – that would have and should have been a fantastic twist to the song — if only songwriters Andrew Frampton and Steve Diamond allowed her or any woman to contribute a perspective. In many ways, the song reminds me of any David E. Kelley-penned TV episode (Ally McBeal, The Practice, etc.). A-hole men are the champions, women are always helpless to their manlust.

    Your version would be just as satisfying as the Gotye smash where you think she’s the asshole until he reveals that he is.

    It’s a shame because Orianthi is a fierce (best of a generation) guitarist and a stellar vocalist. Hopefully her next album will break her out of the sidekick role (Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson, Carrie Underwood). Her latest EP, Fire (produced by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics) is very good, as is her out-of-print debut album Violet Journey.
    I would love to see Orianthi and Prince let loose on a blistering guitar duel record.

  • TiredOfSociety

    wow, i can totally agree with this. i wanna go out there and preach it to my schools and everyone around me. I’m tired of not dressing “whorish” enough. Little yet do the girls know they probably wont have a good future if they continue to act and believe that they will have a life like jersey shore and be rich and famous. they might have a life like jersey shore but they will probably end up being the girls outside the club broke and forgotten. It upsets me to see young girls, young as 6th grade to be walking around in a half t shirt with no undershirt, and really short shorts on that are shorter than the pockets. I don’t understand why girls want to dress that way just to get a guys attention that they’ll probably forget in years to come. Girls need to realize that not everything is about popularity. I’m 15 years old and still a virgin. So? I’m proud of that and not dressing like a whore to get a guys attention. if you dress like a whore just to get someones attention, someone else could come along, dress like a whore too and he’ll probably take her over you. Find a guy that actually cares about you and just doesn’t want a piece of ass. I’ve been depressed since the 7th grade because I’ve never been able to succeed in society’s image of perfect, which is – dressing like a slutty whore, half shirt and short shorts, and an over excessive amount of makeup. I’m sorry that i can’t live up to that but right now i am perfectly happy on how i am. There shouldn’t be a contest on who can get the shortest shorts, or how much your but hangs out? At my age you should be focusing on getting good grades and trying to have fun. FUN as in participating in school activities and clubs. Not standing around getting wasted and having a smoke. I definitively agree with how much sluttier the US version looks to the UK. Half of the girls i know make me embarrassed to be around and hangout with because they look like some hooker that just got done their job. I hate how society has that image of being a slut. Like no, its not a good thing. Yeah girls got married and pregnant at 13, but it was probably very easier for them back then. No society, you’re not beautiful. And stop telling girls that wearing less clothes and more makeup is a good thing. Keep it classy but never trashy!

  • Keith

    I just caught this message — but I wanted to say that I’m really glad you posted it. I really appreciate the perspective of someone in the thick of the teenage experience. Stay true to your beliefs! Standing up to peer pressure isn’t easy, but you appear to be on a great path. That type of power, confidence and conviction will serve you well in life.