PBS Digital’s new Blank on Blank flash-animated cartoon remembers it was “Hip to be Cher” in ’99

By on May 10, 2016

In 1999, Entertainment Weekly writer Benjamin Svetkey interviewed the one and only Cher at a rented Malibu beachhouse (her own house just up the beach was being renovated at the time), during which she talked about the “diva” label, being a “cookie-decorating” mom, and riding out the ups and downs of her career. Check out this new Blank on Blank/PBS Digital Studios flash-animated cartoon using the actual audio from that interview.

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In this online excerpt we found about Svetkey’s cover story, “Hip to Be Cher” (EW, April 23, 1999, Issue 482, pg. 16-21), Svetkey sums up her career to that point:

The litany of Cher’s career reversals goes back decades: In the mid-’60s, when she first started singing duets with that funny little guy in the furry vest, she was the world’s coolest counterculture wife, the hippest hippie chick in Amerika; by the end of the decade, she had become half of a joke act, a burlesque beatnik shticking it up in Vegas nightclubs. In the ’70s she came back with a hit TV variety show, then split with her partner in an ugly breakup that scuttled the series at the height of its popularity. She returned in the ’80s as a serious film actress (winning critical snaps for her work in Silkwood and Mask, and an Oscar for her performance in 1987’s Moonstruck), but by the early ’90s she was battling Epstein-Barr virus and — worse — peddling hair cream on TV.

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During the interview, which took place in Cher’s bedroom (where she was dressed in leopard print and resting on a leopard print bedspread), Svetkey also asks Cher about the origin of her singular name: she was born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946, in El Centro, California, which means she’s coming up on her 70th birthday later this month.

He apparently found her to be pretty candid about much of what had happened in her life up to that point, even talking about the fact that meeting her future husband Sonny Bono was “destiny.”

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“You know what, we were walking towards that coffee shop since the day we were both born,” she says.

At the time, as Svetkey points out, Cher was still enjoying the biggest song of her career, the neo-disco smash “Believe,” which had climbed to #1 in 23 countries around the world as well as hovering near the top of Billboard’s charts for three months by that point.

Svetkey pointed out in the EW story that the hit song had “provided her stalled career with a powerful jump start but driven her to an entirely new generation of fans. (That would be the generation that hadn’t yet been born when ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ ruled the charts in 1965.)”

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She’d also just finished making her first film in three years, Tea With Mussolini, based on the autobiography of its Italian director, the legendary Franco Zeffirelli. The critically-acclaimed World War II drama was released into U.S. theaters on May 14, 1999, just a few weeks after the EW cover story hit the stands, and had paired her up with Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Judi Dench, three of cinema’s most celebrated leading ladies.

At the time of this interview, she’d also recently taped a VH1 special concert called “Divas Live ’99,” which also featured Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Brandy, and Elton John, and earlier that same year she had lip-synched the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXXIII.

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Svetkey has been writing about movies, TV, books and music since the EW’s launch in 1990. His articles have also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Time International, among other publications.

Be sure to check out our other posts from PBS Digital Studios’s wonderful Blank on Blank series, including our previous animated shorts on Martin Scorsese, Nina Simone, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Bill Murray, Tom Waits, and Hunter S. Thompson.

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.