Cheryl is the all dominating Queen of Normal. No weird meat dresses or arch high camp nonsense for our chocolate button eyed lovely. She is from the school of pop that did road shows and silly interviews not political addresses and front row fashion. She’d rather have a nice sit down in front of the telly. She’s just one of us innit? Just one of the girls out for fun of a Thursday night, all dressed up, hair just the right side of ginormous, tan the glow of Marbella, a Malibu scent wafting through the air. An ordinary lass that changed the L’oreal bitch-purr of ‘I’m worth it’ to the all inclusive, cheery, ‘C’mon girls we’re worth it!’ which is why there is mass hysteria when ‘The Girls’ booms out from the stage, THE BOOTS SONG! I SHOP IN BOOTS! I LOVE BOOTS! CHERYL LOVES BOOTS! Our nice friend Cheryl is back to be thoroughly NICCCEEEE!
There is an atmosphere of a giant office Christmas party then a pop concert, here to see Cheryl from X Factor, the lovely, pretty one who cries and tries to say encouraging things to tuneless idiots, they’re not here to see pop artifice and dark magic at work which is lucky, because for all that Cheryl is; she is not a pop star. She may have the look of one, glossy hair, rock hard body, dewy skin, boobs crushed under her neck in a shiny cat suit, she may even sound like one, flipping around the stage to the nonsensical ‘Sexy Den A Mutha’ and the thrilling ‘Call My Name’ but Cheryl has all the presence and ego of a frightened sheep. As the jumbo screen catches her every move and facial expression, she fluctuates from scared grimace to unsure smile and back again looking more like one of her crumpled faced X Factor rejects than a pop star on their second high profile tour.
When she does break out the heart melting dimpled smile it’s to blandly ask ‘Do yiz all know this one? I hope yiz sing along’ which she says on repeat after every handful of songs like a haunted, broken dolly. Never has it been so achingly obvious that she belongs in a group, that she needs the support of her girls, than when she attempts a Girls Aloud medley beginning with ‘The Promise’ (cutting short of Sarah’s bellowing lines) and a verse of ‘Biology’ she looks lost on the empty stage as a giant picture of the girls in their prime is beamed onto the pyramid of steps of the set, we’re reminded of the inventiveness, the cheekiness and the fun of her band, the whole glittery shebang ultimately greater than the sad sum of its parts. Watching Cheryl prowl down the catwalk with her dancers to the brilliance of ‘Love Machine’ is like watching one of the Power Rangers eject itself into deep space without an emergency cord.
There are some flashes of pop goodness, the insanity of ‘Promise This’ with its demented Smurfs-like chant and body popping dance routine and the aforementioned perfection of ‘Call My Name’ both sadly dispensed with too early on leaving the yawnsome ballads to pile up for the second half. She does try to enliven the whole affair by being moved up and down on some kind of mechanical tiered wedding cake, looking like a ballerina trapped in a jewellery box or a very drunken Debs girl on a waltzer. Standing alone on her catwalk perilously close to the public Cheryl looks like she wants to get out, be anywhere but here especially when she hands over the microphone to an audience member to sing along to ‘Last One Standing’ and is greeted with a series of screams that sound like a dying dolphin. It takes the projection of WILL.I.AM for ‘3 Words’ to eventually calm everyone down but without the presence of a live band it sounds disappointingly tinny and airy.
True brilliance only arrives with the encore of ‘Fight For This Love’ as her dance troupe crowd around a sexy, sequence track-suited Chezza whipping out the military moves like Janet in her Rhythm Nation days of sass. This is what the whole show should have been, a street wise kick minus all the floaty dress ballads, Cheryl looks her happiest when she’s trying to urban it up…or maybe she’s just thrilled the whole thing is nearly over. Leaving us with a nod to the roadshow days of yore, she does a ‘remix’ version of her most latest hit ‘Call My Name’ and attempts another bit of audience banter to which she nervously replies to a shrill scream with a sheepish ‘Good stuff’. Good stuff, she may be full of but pop needs more than the good, it demands the great.