Prior to her 2010 audition for U.K. series “The X Factor,” Cher Lloyd seemed like an average, if highly ambitious, British teenager who loved to sing. That all changed when the then-16-year-old stood before the talent show’s judging panel, headed by Simon Cowell, and delivered an attention-grabbing cover of Soulja Boy’s “Turn My Swag On.”
“The next morning, I was catapulted into a brand-new life,” the 19-year-old Lloyd recalls. “At that time, it was difficult for me to get my head around that and realize how I’m not going to be able to live the life that I did before.”
Lloyd came in fourth on “The X Factor,” finishing behind One Direction, Rebecca Ferguson and series winner Matt Cardle. But she was on top of the U.K. singles chart less than a year later with the edgy dubstep-flavored single “Swagger Jagger.” Her debut album, Sticks + Stones, made its U.K. bow last November, debuting at No. 4 on the British chart.
Cher Lloyd Performs ‘I Want U Back’ for Billboard
Even greater highs were just around the corner, however, when Lloyd met Antonio “L.A.” Reid during filming for the first series of the U.S. version of “The X Factor.” Impressed by the brash teenager’s charisma, vocal ability and outspoken attitude, the Epic Records chairman/CEO-who had never heard her sing before-told Lloyd she was a star in waiting.
“I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life,” says Lloyd, who signed to Epic (in partnership with Syco) for the United States soon after meeting Reid. “He took a big chance on me,” she says. “He understands exactly what I want to do with my career and he’s backing me all the way.”
That gamble and high-end label support is now paying off. Having gone to top 40 radio on May 7, Lloyd’s debut single, the feisty, catchy “Want U Back,” has spent the past 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 12. (This week it’s No. 27.) It has sold 1.4 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, with its diner-set video attracting more than 20 million views on YouTube. Meanwhile, a fast-growing army of dedicated fans-playfully termed “Brats”-have been amassing in ever-increasing numbers. More than 3,000 Brats turned up for Lloyd’s performance on NBC’s “Today” on Aug. 30 and more than 1,000 attended a CD signing session the same day at a New York Best Buy, according to Epic.
Epic senior VP of marketing Scott Seviour says, “She is a girl experiencing the same issues and challenges in life [as her audience], and that comes across in how authentic she is when she talks to fans.” Seviour credits Lloyd’s U.S. break to top 40 radio embracing “Want U Back” and a strong marketing message built around online engagement with the artist’s fan base.
The next stage of the campaign commences Oct. 2 with the domestic release of “Sticks + Stones,” which features two new tracks not available on the U.K. version (“Behind the Music,” “Oath”). “Oath,” which features Becky G and was produced by Dr. Luke, will be serviced to top 40 stations as the follow-up to “Want U Back.”
“People will be surprised,” Lloyd says of the stylistically diverse album, which also features collaborations with RedOne, Shellback, Savan Kotecha and Kevin Rudolph, as well as guest spots from Busta Rhymes and Chad Wolf of rock band Carolina Liar on “Beautiful People,” an emotive, rock-tinged ballad. “There are going to be a few tracks people are thrown back by,” says Lloyd, who describes herself as a pop artist, but thinks she’ll be credited for much more once her album is heard in its entirety. “It might change people’s views on me as an artist. I love to experiment and do different things, and still be pop as well.”
To accompany Sticks + Stones’ U.S. release, Lloyd will make street-week appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “Live! With Kelly” and a return to “Today.” She’ll get a further boost this fall when “Swagger Jagger” is featured in a national TV ad for milk. U.S. tour dates will begin early next year, booked by William Morris Endeavor music head Marc Geiger.
“‘Want U Back’ was my way of saying ‘hello’ to America, so I’m interested in taking it to the next level,” says Lloyd, who also promises to “push boundaries with my outfits.” Reflecting on how she has grown during the past two years, Lloyd says she has “changed a lot,” but still retains a “strong vision” for her career going forward.
“There’s a big field for me to play in over here,” she says, referring to the U.S. market. “It’s very tough, but I love a challenge.” Epic’s hopes are no less grand. “If One Direction is the new ‘N Sync,” Seviour says, “then Cher Lloyd is the new Britney Spears.”