Breaking onto the scene at age 16 on one of the most celebrated seasons of the British X Factor series (One Direction, Rebecca Ferguson), Cher Lloyd proved she was already a fully-realized pop star who just needed the muscle of reality TV to push her to the top. After impressing Simon Cowell and fellow judges with a rendition of Keri Hilson‘s “Turn My Swag On” cover in 2010, Lloyd captivated viewers at home with a one-of-a-kind image that mixed edgy street style and powerful diva vocals. This ability to blur the line between R&B, hip-hop and pop brought Lloyd all the way to finals, placing her in fourth overall.
What followed was one of the most prosperous post-X Factor careers in the history of the series. After signing with Simon Cowell‘s record label, Syco Music, Lloyd released her debut single “Swagger Jagger” in 2011 to much success. The single debuted at #1 in the UK and #2 in Ireland, helping to lay the groundwork for when she later crossed over into the U.S. with the #12-peaking hit “Want U Back” off of her debut album, ‘Sticks & Stones.’
Lloyd followed where her fans called her, relocating to L.A. under a new deal with Epic Records for the next stage of her career. The move brought more fame in the states with her Top 20 Demi Lovato collaboration, “Really Don’t Care” followed by the release of her second studio album, ‘Sorry I’m Late.’ Much to the disappointment of her fanbase, Lloyd has been notably absent in the five year period since her second LP. Aside from the release of a few one-off singles, including the well-received “None of My Business” in 2018, fans have made it very much their business as to why Lloyd hasn’t delivered a proper third studio album.
Look in the comment section of any Cher Lloyd music video, social media post or online fan forum and you’ll see more or less the same comment from her passionate legion of fans: “Where is the new album?” Lloyd is very much aware of this hunger for new music, giving a subtle nod to her absence from the public eye with the appropriately titled new single, “M.I.A.” The dance-pop track sees Lloyd returning to the urban-leaning, brat-pop style that brought her success both in the UK and America. In just a week, the official music video crossed 1 million views with positive reactions from the fandom.
Pop Crave caught up with Lloyd last week over the phone to chat about her new era of music. To kick off the interview, I ask Lloyd what she can tell fans about her life since her 2014 album, ‘Sorry I’m Late.’ She’s quick to mention her departure from Epic Records, the label under which she produced her first and only two albums to date. While she didn’t specify a date as to when she left, Lloyd notes she spent an interim period hustling as an independent artist before signing with Universal Music Group.
Lloyd is currently based back home in the UK where she says she’s enjoying a newfound “artistic freedom” in her songwriting. She praises her new management team, noting she’s been getting great feedback on tracks that feel “more authentic” to her new phase of life. The comment suggests that her time at Epic Records, despite her success, wasn’t the right fit for her.
Our conversation takes a turn to the “politics” of the music industry, which she continuously refers to as a “big machine.” She mentions the endless hurdles she was faced with in bringing her vision to the fans, specifically the pushback from “men in suits” who felt the need to control her public image: “I’m more urban-leaning. I like to wear streetwear. But there were times on stage I’d be dressed in a tutu, and that’s not me…There were people telling me I had to look younger. They wanted that ‘Pop Princess’ look.”
While Lloyd notes she’s enjoying more creative freedom since leaving Epic Records, she still expresses frustration with the music industry at large. I ask why her single, “M.I.A.” was pushed back, and she forgets for a brief moment that she had announced it was coming out in the summer earlier this year: “You know what, you probably did hear me say that,” she says. “The fans don’t get to see what goes on behind the scenes – the process of putting out a song…I totally understand the frustration from the fans.”
Lloyd shares a deep connection with her fans, and it’s clear from our conversation that she’s acutely aware of online conversations around her stalled album release. She shares their same concerns, admitting she’s just as eager as they are to deliver new and authentic music, live performances, a proper promo rollout and everything else you’d expect from someone with her industry success – if only she’d be given the green light.
Our conversation continues to circle back to this idea of a “proper” album rollout, one in which an album is essentially subjected to focus groups with a string of singles that can completely morph and ultimately stall an artist’s output. She mentions several times that she wishes the fans could see what goes on behind the scenes, saying many aren’t aware just how many decisions are ultimately out of her hands. I propose that some of her passionate fans may be more keen to the inner-workings of the industry, to which she agrees. She notes, however, that it can still be difficult to go online and interact knowing she can’t give the fans everything they want:
“I’m just as in the dark as they are sometimes,” she tells me.
The music industry has proven that no one is immune to the politics at play behind closed doors. We’ve seen it with music titans like Lil Wayne, arguably one of the most influential and profitable rappers of his generation who claimed his label Cash Money Records stalled the release of ‘Tha Carter V.’ It’s happened more recently when Taylor Swift felt the need to go public after the sale of her master recordings from Big Machine to Scooter Braun, or when electro-pop sensation Grimes told a fan that her album is delayed because the factories producing her physical copies wouldn’t prioritize her “indie label.”
“Some days I’m so frustrated that I can’t get anything done,” Lloyd says on the phone. Later, she adds: “I’ve probably told you more than I should.”
Between now and her last project, Lloyd says she has about “three albums” worth of material with additional songs that are just waiting to find a home. If it were up to her, she’d give the fans what they wants and drop them as the timing felt right. She says she hopes the industry moves in a direction where dropping music can be this simple, one in which the unlimited access to fans that was promised by such social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud can be fully realized.
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It’s this uncertainty as to when she’ll be able to deliver new music that makes Lloyd hesitant to tease details about her third album. She’s unable to dish on possible collaborators, telling me she wouldn’t want name any big artists in the article just for the sake of publicity. “It has to fit,” she explains. Lloyd is incredibly sensitive to her fans in this way, and understandably doesn’t want to make a promise she can’t keep. What she can tell us, though, is that she’s moving in a direction that’s most authentic to her experiences. She names electro-pop/dancehall producer duo Banx and Ranx (Dua Lipa, David Guetta, Sean Paul) as a source of inspiration for the new project.
She adds that she just wrote a new song only two weeks ago that will hopefully (emphasis on hope) be the next single following “M.I.A.” Lloyd describes the track as more personal and slower than “M.I.A.”, suggesting the track will catch fans up on her life over the past couple years: “I’ve never been as straight to the point as I have on this song,” she says. “We got on the phone with my team the other day, and we’re looking to make it the next single…I’m nervous to say my next song will be more introspective, though, because what if I say that in the article, and then I come back out with a dance-pop song and the fans are like, what the heck???”
Regardless of what song is chosen, Lloyd says she tends to dream up visuals for each song in hopes of producing a music video. “I always like to have a look.”
In addition to her new music, Lloyd‘s fans have been very curious as to whether or not she’ll return to X Factor as a judge or perhaps even a contestant. Lloyd plays things close to the vest when I ask if she’s been offered a spot on “X-Factor: All Stars,” which sees successful past contestants making a victory lap on the stage that started it all. She admits it’s an opportunity she’s definitely considered, but as with every decision, she wants to make the most authentic choice reflective of her new life. “I’m not sure, honestly.”
Lloyd is also juggling another career endeavor with her new streetwear brand, “GLO,” which she rocks alongside her backup dancers in the “M.I.A.” music video. “It’s another way to express my creativity,” she tells Pop Crave.
Cher Lloyd rocks her new unisex streetwear collection, “GLO” (credit: Post Kulture)
In a press release, Lloyd describes the origin of her collection: “I’ve always wanted to create my own fashion brand since I was a little girl. While dancing in the mirror with a hairbrush I’d envision what I’d be wearing in the music video. The chance to create GLO has been a dream come true. GLO was created with a strong vision of power, strength and confidence. Every time you wear GLO I hope that it makes you feel feel exactly that – strong and powerful.”
If there’s one takeaway from our chat with Lloyd, it’s that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to deliver her vision free of compromise to the fans. Here’s to hoping we see more from the talented singer in the near future following the excellent “M.I.A.”
What do you think of Cher Lloyd’s new single, “M.I.A.”? Would you like to see her return to the “X-Factor”? Share your thoughts with us over on Twitter at @PopCrave!