‘Believe’ turns 25: How Cher’s biggest hit made Auto-Tune cool — and controversial

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‘Believe’ turns 25: How Cher’s biggest hit made Auto-Tune cool — and controversial

Cher was itching for a hit. The year was 1998, nearly a decade since her last Top 10 single, “Just Like Jesse James.”

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Cher was itching for a hit.

The year was 1998, nearly a decade since her last Top 10 single, “Just Like Jesse James.”

The Goddess of Pop was no stranger to comebacks, though — she famously made them in 1971 (with “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves”), 1979 (“Take Me Home”) and 1987 (“I Found Someone”) — so fans knew she had another in her.

They were right.

“Believe,” the lead single off Cher’s 22nd album of the same name, not only became a global smash when it was released 25 years ago but also the biggest song of the superstar’s decades-long career.

The Grammy-winning Eurodance track also popularized the use of Auto-Tune, the computer software created to correct off-key vocals but used by Cher’s pioneering producer Mark Taylor to add a vocoder-like effect.

The Eurodance track popularized the use of Auto-Tune.
WEA/Warner Bros
Nigel Dick directed its music video.
WEA/Warner Bros

Much to Taylor’s surprise, Cher loved the way he had digitally altered her signature contralto voice in the studio.

The president of her record label, Rob Dickins, however, demanded they tone down the Auto-Tuning.

”He said, ‘Everyone [at Warner Bros.] loves that song but wants to change that part of it,”’ Cher recalled to the New York Times in 1999.

“Believe” was the lead single off the Goddess of Pop’s 22nd album of the same name.
WEA/Warner Bros

”I said, ‘You can change that part of it over my dead body!’ And that was the end of the discussion,” she continued. “I said to Mark before I left, ‘Don’t let anyone touch this track, or I’m going to rip your throat out.’”

Cher, Taylor and his co-producer, Brian Rawling, ultimately won the battle, and “Believe” was sent to radio as is on Oct. 19, 1998.

The empowering breakup anthem first took off in the UK, where it became the bestselling song of the year and remains the most successful single by a solo female artist to this day.

“Believe” had a slower start in the US, but when it finally topped the Billboard Hot 100 on March 13, 1999, Cher became the oldest woman, at the age of 52, to achieve a No. 1 in the chart’s four-decade history.

It remains one of the bestselling songs of all time.
WireImage

The so-called “Cher effect” had an even longer-lasting impact, though.

By the new millennium, everyone from Radiohead to Lil Wayne had begun toying with Auto-Tune.


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T-Pain had the most success with it — behind Cher, of course — via a string of heavily manipulated hits including 2007’s “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” and “Bartender.”

“When I came out in the game, I was using Auto-Tune in order to make myself sound different,” the rapper explained on “Sway in the Morning” in 2013. “And then when everybody else started using it, it kind of made me sound the same again.”

The song won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording.
WireImage

But not everyone was on board with the sudden rise of Auto-Tune.

In 2009 alone, Jay-Z released a scathing song called “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” the rock band Death Cab for Cutie declared war on the software’s “abuse” while attending the Grammys and Christina Aguilera wore an “Auto-Tune Is for P–sies” T-shirt during a paparazzi-documented night out.

“Singers learn about how it works, and they kind of like it, but they have a love-hate relationship with it,” Auto-Tune creator Dr. Andy Hildebrand, who won a Technical Grammy Award this year for his cutting-edge invention, told CNN in 2015. “They don’t want to let others know that they need it.”

Cher took “Believe” on tour from 1999 to 2000.
Getty Images

And yet, Beyoncé, Post Malone, Travis Scott and more artists continue to use the polarizing tool, which Pitchfork once called the “most important pop innovation” of the past 20 years.

Even Cher has found herself going back to Auto-Tune from time to time, namely on her 2013 anthem “Woman’s World” and her just-released holiday song “DJ Play a Christmas Song.”

To those who’ve complained she sounds unrecognizable, the music icon told the Hollywood Reporter this summer, “Yes, I know, that’s the beauty of the whole thing!”

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