Music 9 November 2018 | 9:04

Cheryl Cole and the heartbroken comeback strategy

09 November 2018 09:04

It’s 2010 and Cheryl Cole is all over the TV. People are calling her ‘Britain’s sweetheart’ and she’s everyone’s favourite X Factor judge, appearing on talk shows and the cover of Vogue – she’s even the new campaign girl for L’Oréal. She’s reached the optimum level of fame, a figurehead of marketability and, well, ‘she’s worth it’.

Fast forward to now and, while she’s still a household name, her TV appearances have dried up and her print coverage expands on nothing more than the details of her high-profile marriage breakdown. ‘Marriage breakdown?’ Executives from record labels around the world are screaming with delight. Today she releases her first single after a four-year hiatus, Love Made Me Do It’. You might hate her music, think she’s talentless and tasteless, with dated dance moves, but there’s one thing you can’t deny about Cheryl: she knows a thing or two about timing – or at least her label does. Her breakup with Liam Payne has been in the newspapers pretty much every week since it was announced back in July. And here we are, a mere four months later, eagerly anticipating the release of her new album, which the press are claiming reveals all about their relationship woes. But surely she’s been far too busy Insta-stalking and shit talking her ex to even think about creating 12 tracks, 5 dance routines and a marketing strategy, right?

Cheryl isn’t the only one guilty of utilising her highly-publicised personal problems to maximise her bank balance — the list is endless. It’s totally valid for creatives to call upon their experiences to create art, but this feels like something completely different. The exploitation of personal lives seems to be pretty much exclusive to pop princesses, who are effectively puppets at the hands of a major record labels. When you really sit back and think about it, behind every well-publicised split, there’s an army of belt-busting music execs just waiting to rinse every last penny out of the headlines and heartache.

Naturally, every label wants their artists to make money, but to make money you need someone to be marketable. For all of the biggest labels, this means someone who does as they’re told, looks the part, and makes sure any skeletons are kept well and truly in the closet (unless those skeletons have a 6-figure price tag – then they can sell them on to the highest bidder). But in achieving the optimum marketability, they’re almost making their talent rosters seem completely robotic and lacking in any real personality. The desire to create such a squeaky-clean personality strips away any form of humanity and relatability a person once had.

And the dehumanisation of female pop stars doesn’t just stop at their love lives, it’s a political affair too. Taylor Swift is a prime example. For years her fans, foes and in-betweeners have been yearning for her to speak openly about her political preferences. Of course, she has them – she dips her toe in the political pond (very) occasionally, but beyond that it’s been radio silence on the matter. She abruptly changed her mind at the start of October, opting to throw her support behind the Democrats and apparently ‘ending her career’, as many men in white suits have since said. Her political post sparked at least some resonance amongst people and, for the first time in her career, it made her seem a little bit human. Has she finally turned her back on the pop-robot machine her label has crafted her into over the course of her career?

The truth is, our mainstream music acts have reached a strange cross-road; the ‘woke’ mentality has meant that political correctness is now more important than ever. Because of this, labels are so scared of their artists doing something that might offend (ultimately rendering them unmarketable), that they’ve instead chosen to turn them into blank canvases. If their personal lives should happen to enter the press, then it’s totally fair game for an album or ‘Greatest Hits’ re-release – and they’ll be made to strike while the iron is hot, picked up from their pit of self-loathing, and thus thrown into the recording studio to blast out a string of top 10 hits. The criteria for being a pop princess is stricter than ever, and if you have even a slight slip, you’re really not worth it.