Monday, June 25, 2012

Cheryl Cole: This Summer's Guiltiest Pleasure

I can distinctly remember the last fight I had over a woman. It was two and a half years ago, and a shopkeeper in London and I practically came to blows -- jokingly, of course -- over Cheryl Cole. Her debut solo single, "Fight for This Love," which, at the time, was the biggest thing since God saved the queen, came on the radio, and I made the mistake of telling my friend Andrew that I thought it was a piece of junk.

"Get out of my store right this second!" the guy behind the counter, who'd overheard, demanded. He was smiling, but I knew I'd stepped over the line to a place where the wrong opinion can be dangerous. Back in the U.S.A., nobody had a clue who Cole was, but I was on UK turf now. It was the Yankees vs. the Redcoats all over again! For the next five minutes, we debated why Cole was the best/worst thing ever before declaring it a draw and brokering a peace treaty.

Looking back on the exchange, I realize that maybe I was feeling just a tad bitter. I loved Girls Aloud, the all-female vocal group with which Cole, who turns 29 on Friday, got her start, but I couldn't understand why her. Why was Cole and not one of the other four members the breakout star? It's not like she was the best singer, or the fairest of them all. So how did she manage to score the biggest UK single in forever with such a mediocre song?

And if we had to lose Girls Aloud, who are officially "on hiatus," couldn't it have been for something better? I prayed that like the various solo Spice Girls a decade or so earlier, Cole's run at the top would be mercifully brief. Or that my beloved Rachel Stevens, formerly the breakout solo pop star from S Club 7 before disappearing from the charts completely, would return with a slamming single and make everyone forget all about Cole.

Although she would redeem herself musically two singles later with "Parachute," Cole never quite won me over. When she was hired and fired by Simon Cowell as a judge on the U.S. version of The X Factor before the show's TV debut, I secretly cheered inside. The last thing I needed was U.S. shopkeepers making a big fuss over her, too.

So imagine my surprise to suddenly find myself singing her praises louder than anyone else whenever the DJ plays her latest hit, the Calvin Harris-produced "Call My Name," the first single from her third album, A Million Lights, which was released on June 18. It's certainly no "We Found Love," the Rihanna/Calvin Harris collaboration that's become the biggest hit of both of their careers, but it doesn't need to be.

The thing about "We Found Love" is that for a song about something so joyous -- finding love in a hopeless place -- the music sounds anything but. Throw in a video about drug addiction and you've got the feel bad anthem of the year with a kick-ass beat. "Call My Name," in comparison, is 100 percent pure love and happiness -- if you consider being enamored to the point of near-obsessive desperation a cause for celebration. Musically, Cole's third No. 1 UK single (and the fastest-selling chart-topper of 2012 so far) is a bit color by numbers, but her euphoria as she extols the romantic prowess of a lover over a frenetic, melodramatic techno beat, is so contagious that it makes me forget I'm not in love.

Every time I listen, I feel like grabbing my iPod and going for a run. Uh oh, here I go again!

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