Cher had a bad feeling about this. Out on the road for the U.S. dates of her Here We Go Again Tour in early March, the 73-year-old icon grew increasingly rattled by reports of the then-encroaching pandemic called COVID-19. “I knew this was coming,” she recalled to Billboard during a May 2 phone call from her Malibu, Calif. compound. “This disease is like a shark. It’s an eating machine. I knew more than most Americans because I had friends in Italy who were doing live shows when it was there, and everybody had to just get out. We were lucky we didn’t all come down with it because my dancers and I were literally two inches away from each other, breathing right into each other’s mouths onstage.”
After her March 12 date in Oklahoma City was canceled when a Utah Jazz basketball player tested positive for the virus pre-game, Cher raced home to begin self-isolating. But Cher being Cher, the indefatigable entertainer barely finished unpacking her suitcases before she was in her studio recording the first Spanish-language song in her 55-year career. “I knew I wanted to do something,” she says. “I actually started learning and rehearsing the song when I was in England last year but didn’t record it then. It was difficult!”
The results of her labor, a cover of the Spanish version of the 1979 ABBA smash “Chiquitita,” will make its debut May 8. The following day, the video for the single will premiere on UNICEF’s COVID-19 Virtual Special, streaming at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on unicefwontstop.org and youtube.com/uincefusa. “UNICEF called and I told them I would donate my proceeds from the song like ABBA did with their Spanish version,” she recalls. “I shot my part of the video at home and they later sent me the final cut with children from around the world in it. It’s such a beautiful, optimistic experience. It’s great when you can see anything positive now because all of the turmoil we are in.”
Check out an exclusive preview of Cher’s Spanish-language “Chiquitita” below.
Cher didn’t stop there. The Grammy winner also created a charity called CherCares Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative (CCPRRI) with Dr. Irwin Redlener, the head of Columbia University’s Pandemic Resource and Response Center and co-founder of Children’s Health Fund. The initial plan is to distribute $1 million to “chronically neglected and forgotten people” during the pandemic through the Entertainment Industry Foundation. “There are rural areas where people of color and Latinos and Native Americans were getting no services,” explains the California native, who has also donated funds to Live Nation’s Crew Nation and MGM Grand Resorts’ Employee Emergency Fund. “It’s not a lot of money — $1 million goes in the blink of an eyelash! — so now I’m trying to get my friends to make it a lot more so we can do something that will really meet people’s needs. A friend once told me, ‘When people walk in your path, then you know what you have to do.'”
With future dates of her world tour and MGM/Park Theater Residency still on sale, Cher opened up exclusively to Billboard about putting her limited Spanish to the test, losing a personal friend to the pandemic and why she’s supporting her old friend Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
How has sheltering in place at home been for you?
For me, it’s not a hardship. It’s incredibly easy and I don’t feel like I’m suffering in any kind of way. My friends come over and look in the window so I can see them. One of my kids [son Elijah, 43] lives here with his wife, and I talk to my mom on the phone or go see her through her back window. I actually just got her a really cool Portal so she will be able to see us better. I also got one for my sister and one for my best friend.
Was it hard recording “Chiquitita” in Spanish?
It was difficult to sing something in Spanish that you have sung in English because I’m a perfectionist. Singing in another language, trying to make it emotional and getting the words right… they have letters that make a completely different sound than I’m used to or than is done in English. We don’t roll any of our R’s. We recorded it four times while my engineer and the woman who taught me the song were both in England over Skype. I kept going back and back over certain lines. I don’t speak Spanish, but forty years ago I knew a teeny bit of it. Still, my pronunciation is pretty good.
What was the thinking behind setting up CherCares?
I started to learn that we get all of our medication from China and it’s soon going to be a nightmare over here. I tried to get in touch with people I know in different countries until I finally realized I was just going to spend money and not have done anything. My friend Peter Hotez, who I had worked with in Africa, made me realize I could not do this without someone connected to an organization who could steer me in the right way. Another friend introduced me to Irwin. He explains to me what is happening in each place and what each amount of money can do. That makes it easy. I’ve seen terrible disasters but the federal government is always the one who comes in and helps everybody. I’ve never seen this before. The government is not helping, so it’s like everybody is on their own.
Orlando Puerta, an executive you worked closely with on [1998’s] “Believe” and other classic hits at Warner Bros. Records, passed away from COVID-19 complications last month.
It was terrible. He was there when I was trying to push the rock up hill. Nobody else believed in me at that point. But we knew that the record was really good.
How else is our response to the virus lacking in this country?
I think that making people go back to a job that they are terrified of and that they may die from is wrong. If the meatpackers want people to go back to work, then create safe environments. There are certain places that are like a petri dish, like the cruise ships. We should also start making more things in America so we’re not so dependent on China. Without China, we hardly make anything. We are maybe more dependent on them now than we were before.
You’ve been more than vocal with your criticism of President Trump’s response.
Look, I detest this president and everyone in his administration. I think they mishandled this, they lied and they are still lying. The more I know and the more information I get from Irwin and other people I talk to who know more about this than I’m ever going to know, the more I see that my dislike for him has real reasons. If he had come into this presidency and brought everyone together, been a really good president, worked really hard and was honest…you know, I don’t just dislike him because I think he’s an idiot from back in the day. I dislike him because I don’t think he has a good or compassionate bone in his body. That may sound dramatic, but I never thought there was any chance I would fear for my life in my own country and see something handled that’s so deadly in such an insane way. Sure, shoot Clorox in your arm or put UV light into your stomach or take hydroxychloroquine, when everyone knows it can cause heart damage, stroke or whatever! It’s hard to actually know what the truth is and tell it against a man who doesn’t really care about the truth and can lie as well as he can tell the truth.
Did you know Donald Trump before he was president?
I had only heard about him when I lived in New York. I had a place in Aspen and we used go skiing there. I met him a couple of times at a restaurant called Mezzaluna. He was always so starved for attention. Everyone in there was rich or famous, but he kept getting up to get salt or tomato sauce or to go to the bathroom. So basically, he made a tour around that restaurant three or four times. And I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, do you see yourself or have any awareness about what everyone in this room is thinking?’ It’s like when he used to call up magazines pretending to be his own press agent. He’s a con artist that had a TV show.
What about the work Dr. Anthony Fauci is doing?
I think Dr. Fauci is a very honest man in a really tough place. Trump wants to be the organ grinder and for everyone else to be monkeys. You have to either fall into that place or walk a tightrope that’s like a hair to try to tell the truth and not get fired. Dr. Fauci is doing a really great job but now they say they are in a new phase and he won’t be seen as much. That’s crazy. I know people admire and trust Dr. Fauci and they don’t admire and trust Trump.
What do you plan on doing to encourage people to vote this year?
I think we have to vote by mail this time. I’ve voted by mail for such a long time because so much of the time I haven’t been here. Sometimes when I’ve been here, though, I’ve gone to my polling place. It’s kind of funny. They’re like, ‘Oh, was that? Is that her?’ and then it’s ‘Oh, she’s gone.’ It takes a lot of people a minute to realize it’s me. Then there are those who come up to me and we have to start talking. I usually get involved talking to people, that’s who I am. I meet a lot of interesting people, unbelievable people. When I talk to regular people that I meet one-on-one — and I’ve met quite a lot of them over all my years, whenever I’ve gone out — I’ve never had a bad experience. Also: people like to hug me!
You campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016…
I have to tell you something that will stay in my mind until the day that I die. So, I had two different events scheduled with Hillary. They were far away from each other, and I thought I’d get a hotel room in the middle so I could go to both of them and it wouldn’t be such a hard trip. So, I’m sitting in this little hotel and I’m putting my makeup on with the TV on. Then, all of the sudden, the reporter for the local station is talking and they pan over to this huge empty lot. There were so many men in camouflage with semi-automatic weapons shooting at these targets. The reporter walked up to them and asked them what they were doing out there. One of them said, ‘We are preparing for when Hillary Comes to take our weapons.’ It stopped me in my tracks and I thought, ‘I guess I haven’t understood or been around wherever this is going on.’ I’ve known Hillary for quite a long time. She’s smart, inquisitive, always learning and tough as nails. She knows more about government than most presidents. But she’s also kind of a girly girl, too. I think she never showed that part of herself because she said to me one time, ‘If there’s an invasion or something horrible happens, people need to know that I’m tough and strong and a lot of times subtleties confuse things and cloud the issues.’
What do you think of the new wave of Democrats, especially Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
That kind of activism is what’s necessary. It can’t be just young people where this is their first time at the rodeo though. It has to be a combination of the wisdom and the youth for their energy. We’re not best friends, but I know Nancy Pelosi and I know that she is holding the reins to try and keep everybody together. But they need to ratchet it up a little bit. I don’t agree with everything, but I think that the baseline of AOC is a big part of this new movement. But she needs to work in concert with Nancy because Nancy has so much knowledge and Nancy is tough. Going left is fine, but it has to be in degrees so that the people who are centrist can think that sounds good or it isn’t so radical. We have to bring everybody along and not drag or pull them along. You have to understand and guide them so they can say, ‘I get that. I’m not afraid of that.’ I think Joe Biden can do that. He will need a whole new administration though. Trump has gutted everything, so it’s going to take a lot of knowledgeable people to even get everything staffed up. It will take four years to even do that.
Do you think Joe Biden will be a good president?
Absolutely. I like Joe. I’ve known Joe for a long, long, long time. I had a meeting once with him and I thought, ‘You know what? This is an honest man.’ It was way before he was with Barack Obama. We had a conversation and he was so painfully honest. At the end of it, I said, ‘You know, Joe? You can trust me, I’m taking things to my grave, but if I ask you a question and you answer it so honestly, you’re safe with me.’ Then I saw the pictures in his office and I said, ‘Oh my God, such beautiful children and your wife is so pretty’ — and it was his wife and daughter who had died. I was like, ‘O.K. Cher. Insert foot in mouth.’ But he was just so great about it. You know, everybody’s got faults, but at least he has a soul and he understands pain. He’s also been a politician for a gazillion years. I think he still has got it or I wouldn’t vote. I’m actually registered as an independent. It means I don’t agree with everybody, but in the final analysis, you have to vote for the one side you hate the least.
Do you think things will turn out for the better?
I hope they do. As much as I dislike Trump — and dislike doesn’t even come anywhere near to what I feel about him — if I thought that he was really interested in people and came up with something to help, I would give him some props, even though I think he would have nothing to do with it. If his administration would start saving lives, I’d back off for awhile.
Malibu has been through a lot in the last few years. First the fires, and then more recently, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.
The last two fires were almost beyond bearing. The side of my house was burned up but otherwise I was lucky. The Kobe Bryant tragedy hit everybody really hard here. It sticks with you like you’re part of his family. It’s like a death in your own family. It’s important for his wife and daughters to know that people are really affected by it in that way.
So, it seems any plans for a new album or movies are on hold for now?
This cut everything off right now. I can still work on music here, but I was going to do two movies and I don’t know when that will happen now. There is a backlog of films too, so things that were about to go in production will happen first when it starts back up. But honestly, I don’t know when our lives will come back together in a way where we would feel safe going into a studio or going to work again. I can’t imagine that’s going to happen for a long, long time.