Monday, December 15, 2008
Believe by Cher
Why are people afraid of technology in music? Audiophiles continue to argue whether the record or the compact disc creates the best sound. People wonder if live music will become less pervasive in our culture as the majority of music that people listen is recorded and produced in a studio and people morn the loss of live musicians in studios that producers replace with synthesizers.
Yes, music is changing, but not it’s all bad. New media like compact discs and digital formats have made music more accessible then ever before. Live music is still alive and disc jockeys have created a new musical language manipulating recording music to create unique live musical experiences. In addition, synthesized sounds have not only made music more accessible to musicians but also created tools that have widened the expressive palettes of artists. Yes, people have created some awful music by utilizing synthesizers, but people have also created horrible music using acoustic instruments. Great artist have created incredible works of art before the use of synthesizers and there have been many great pieces of art that have utilized technology to create interesting, expressing and meaningful music like Cher’s 1999 hit “Believe.”
Yes, Cher I fully acknowledge that there is something just not right about listening to Cher and well . . . analyzing her music. This was brilliantly demonstrated in the television show Buffy The Vampire Slayer, season 4, episode 2 titled “Living Conditions.” When Buffy goes to college, she has a stereotypical annoying passive aggressive roommate and one of her first signs that something is wrong with her is that she is listening to “Believe” over and over while ironing (the roommate does end up being a soul-sucking demon, but that’s beside the point). Cher is a strange and sometimes mystifying popular icon, but she has made a lasting impact on our culture. Like “Since U Been Gone,” “Believe” is just one of those songs that almost everyone seems to like, regardless of the feelings we have about the Diva named Cher.
One of the reasons this song is well known is because for the electronic effect heard in the verses and in the end of the song. This effect is first appears in the song on the word "can't" in the first verse. Artists have used similar effects before but it was heard in main-stream popular music. The producer Mark Taylor used the computer program called auto tune to create this effect. This program can adjust the pitch of a recorded sound so that it is in tune. For example, if someone sings a flat note, it will raise the pitch without any distortion to the sound. Producer Mark Taylor put the settings of auto-tune to an extreme forcing the note Cher was singing to beyond correcting pitch to a different note, which created the ornaments that are heard. Auto-tune usually will compensate for the tone but because the settings were so extreme, Cher's voice comes across as distorted and robotic. Producers continue to use auto-tune continues to be used to help raise the quality of recordings as well as to create interesting vocal effects like in Kanye West's newest album 808s & Heartbreak.
The electronic processing of Cher's voice creates two different Cher's in the song.: a reflective Cher in the verse and an in your face “I Believe” Cher in the choruses.
The first Cher during the verses that is thinner and features the auto-tune ornaments. In the first verse she concludes that he’s going to be the lonely one when he leaves and in the second verse, she concludes that she is in fact too good for him. Cher is singing to someone who wants to leave her and she concludes that she is in control and does not need him.
The second Cher is during the chorus when she is singing with a full and bright sound. This creates contrast between the verses and chorus and a sense of release when the chorus come. She is figuring out how she feels in the verses and in the chorus she comes to a conclusion
Do you believe in life after love?
I can feel something inside me say
I really don't think you're strong enough now.
Cher is stating that she knows that there is love left inside of her and she doesn't believe that he is strong enough to truly have much of a life after he leaves her. The bridge continues this sentiment with the second Cher
Well, I know that I'll get through this
'Cause I know that I am strong
And I don't need you anymore.
Cher repeats "I don't need you anymore" each time with more conviction and more heart.
The next section builds to the last time we hear the chorus in which we here the chorus for the first time in the first Cher voice utilizing the auto-tune ornaments. Like in the verses, there is a feeling that Cher is reflecting back and the auto-tune effect makes the chorus seem like it is in the distance, in the past. This is something she has come to terms with and now truly is moving on with her live.
Throughout the song there is world of electronic sounds that flow organically through out the song. Long tones ebb and flow like waves in the ocean over a variety of colors with kinetic and unrelenting energy. The emphasis on every beat makes this song easy to dance to because and the constant changes in the texture maintain the listeners interest throughout the song. If you listen carefully, every different section is marked with different sounds dropping out and being added without interrupting the flow of the song.
It doesn’t matter what tools the artists uses, what matters it the feeling we get from the music. This song is fun. It’s joyous. “Believe” captures a feeling of elation and wonder that only synthesized sounds can express.
If you only read the lyrics this song would seem vengeful. Cher is basically saying that everything bad that he thinks he is doing to her will only hurt himself. She is not saying that after the breakup he’ll land on his feet, but instead that he will fail to find love. However, after listening to this song with it’s upbeat and confident feeling it becomes clear that Cher is insulting this man but merely stating facts about what will happen.
There is a sense that this is a relationship that has lasted a long period of time and that tried to have power over her, but now she realizes that this has only corrupted his own heart and left him incapable of loving again. When she says "I really don't think you're strong enough" it's not about being insulting, but more about sympathy.
In working on this post, this song has been playing in my head for a couple days and yesterday I told this to my wife (who by the way thinks Cher sounds like a man). That may seem annoying to you but it was an awesome feeling. It’s not about the technology but the artists and meaning in the music. Even if there is something that is just not right about Cher, I got to admit that there’s something indescribably awesome about “Believe.”