This Friday, October 19th, marks the 20th anniversary of Cher’s “Believe,” the hit song that ended up predicting our future of techno-bubblegum and robo-warble. A massive hit in 1998 and 1999 — it was Number One in America, the U.K., Australia, France, Germany and more — it helped introduced the world to Auto-Tune, the once-maligned, now-ubiquitous software that melts a singer’s voice into uncanny perfection.
With the software less than two years old, producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling used the pitch correction software not as a way to fix mistakes in Cher’s iconic voice, but as an aesthetic tool. From there, the next 20 years would slowly get more and more drenched in the stuff, fueling much of Daft Punk, T-Pain, Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, Future, Travis Scott and Lil Uzi Vert. Swaths of contemporary dance music in Africa — Algerian rai, Nigerian Afrobeats — are soaked in Auto-Tune’s signature gurgle.
“Basically, it was the destruction of her voice, so I was really nervous about playing it to her!” Taylor told Sound on Sound in a 1999 interview. However don’t take any of his quotes too seriously: He told the magazine it was actually vocoder pedal to preserve their secret formula. “She was fantastic — she just said ‘It sounds great!’ so the effect stayed.”
When Cher performed the song at her recent Las Vegas residency, it was an explosion of sequins and aerialists, but back in 1998, on this performance on Top of the Pops it was a more humble white-tee-and-puffy-clothes rave-chic diva affair.