Cheryl Cole, “Call My Name” - from the forthcoming album A Million Lights
Cheryl Cole should have been a name in the U.S. by now, if everything went her way: she was hired as a judge on the U.S. version of ‘X Factor’ after being the real breakout success of her tenure on ‘X Factor UK,’ which endeared her to people as an entity separate from Girls Aloud, the UK’s once and future reigning girlband. But then things fell apart: for reasons still unclear, Cheryl was booted from ‘X Factor US’ after a few days of filming auditions, replaced by Nicole Scherzinger. She tried to return to ‘X Factor UK,’ but it had already hired a brand-new judging panel, including Kelly Rowland and Tulisa (whose new single, her first record as a solo artist following her hiatus from N-Dubz, will be contrasted with Cheryl’s below.) Now, Cheryl’s back and hoping to actually make a name for herself on our shores, this time with music.
Let’s get it out of the way: the Marquis de Sade quote at the beginning of this video, accompanied by the weirdly (but oddly compellingly) remixed opening bars of the song, is a certifiably ridiculous opening. I’m not sure even Cheryl really understands what that quote has to do with the video or the song, but enough about a quote.
This is a competently constructed Calvin Harris song, doing its Calvin Harris thing. Cheryl and her label were smart to hire him in hopes that he’d create for her the next “We Found Love” — a song so massive that Harris can basically coast on its merits for the rest of his career if he wanted to. It’s showing in most of the other Harris-assisted songs on the radio right now, but in this song he comes closer to achieving the full-throttle brilliance of “We Found Love,” and even if he doesn’t quite get there, I hope this will be even a sleeper hit for Cheryl. It’s really a good track, one that gets catchier the more you listen. The trickling bit from the chorus into the verses is beguiling, and the verses go a bit darker than I initially expected, which pairs nicely with Cheryl’s reedy lower register. Even the bridge works well, building with ever-hastening drumbeats into the chorus. But the chorus feels like the emptiest part of the song, and I can’t tell if it’s the fault of Harris’ production or if Cheryl’s voice just isn’t powerful enough to fill all the space above the synths.
I don’t really know where to begin with the video itself, which really seems more like an aerobic workout video than a music video proper thanks to the lengthy bits with Cheryl in a neon sports bra and harem pants dancing with those street racers by the L.A. river. The strongest part of the video is the one we get the briefest glimpse of: Cheryl, hair slicked back and face made up beautifully, staring at us through a mirror, giving us 80s sex kitten realness. The blues and purples make perfect sense for the song as I hear it in my head. I get where she was going with the second-strongest look of the video, the jungle-print blazer with leopard panties and neon heels look in the tunnel, also because it’s strongly 80s, but a very different version of the 80s — the sweat-soaked Miami Vice version. I’m not even going to the pretend the cutout catsuit-sportscar bit makes any more sense than the workout video bit, but she looks good there, too.
Overall, I think this is a smart play for Cheryl Cole and her label. The song is definitely light enough and catchy enough to get summer airplay, and its Calvin Harris pedigree should help get it that airplay. A few spins and people should be engaged. Even if I’m pulling for former Cheryl protege Cher Lloyd to be the sleeper Song of the Summer candidate with “Want U Back,” this song could be a springboard for a solid Cheryl Cole push into the American market.
Now, contrast Cheryl’s single with the first release from Tulisa, who basically replaced her on ‘X Factor UK’: “Young”.
Where to begin?
Let’s start here: this song is so clearly not a Calvin Harris song, but it’s so clearly trying to be a Calvin Harris song that the strain has carried over to Tulisa’s voice as she belts out the inane chorus. That post-chorus breakdown apes “We Found Love” so hard that Rihanna should probably file a restraining order. The rest of the song is fine, and the dancey synths that play while Tulisa’s “young!” echoes softly throughout plays nicely. But everything else is just so overdone. Tulisa’s voice is a good one, but she has a tendency to not know how to use it to its fullest advantage. Translation: she often doesn’t know how to pull it back from the edge of shoutiness. Here, she is blaring every single line of the song, and it comes off as dumb, loud, and desperate, adding to the lyrics a sense that Tulisa is straining to be relevant on the pop charts with this song. It’s not a reading that she should be encouraging, really. I think that she can transcend the silliness of N-Dubz’s usual fare and deliver a competent pop record, but this one, desperately grasping at a zeitgeisty sound it can’t quite match, isn’t it.
Speaking of desperate: count the number of times Tulisa wears something that signifies youth or childishness in the video. Go ahead; I’ll wait around for you. The answer is: a whole hell of a lot! It’s too much. Just like the whole song.
The clear winner of this Cheryl vs. Tulisa comparison is Cheryl, not least because she was able to get the actual Calvin Harris instead of wannabe-Calvin Harris.