Cyndi Lauper and Adam Lambert took turns paying tribute to Cher with covers of “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe” and “I Got You Babe” as part of the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington D.C. The event took place on December 2nd and aired Wednesday the 26th on CBS.
Lauper’s rendition of “If I Could Turn Back Time” stuck closely to the ringing Eighties rock of the original that was written by Diane Warren, which became a major hit for Cher in 1989. As the guitars vamped and Lauper strutted around the stage, the crowd — including Lin-Manuel Miranda and the creators of Hamilton, on hand for an award of their own — clapped, adding force to the song’s driving beat.
Lambert joined Lauper for a version of the Sonny & Cher oldie “I Got You Babe” that was similarly faithful to its source material — even the guitar tone closely approximated the retro sound of the original, which reached Number One in the summer of 1965. The two singers traded verses, and as Lauper sang, “when I’m sad, you’re a clown,” Lambert mugged happily for the camera. This time Reba McEntire was spotted singing along.
The most surprising Cher tribute was Lambert’s take on “Believe.” Perhaps concerned that the thumping, club-ready, autotune-smeared original would overwhelm an aging Kennedy Center crowd, Lambert re-worked the track as a sparse ballad. A piano sketched out the melody and strings swelled to fill in empty spaces in the track; Lambert added operatic quavers as he sang Cher’s lyrics about persistence in the face of romantic torment.
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In addition to celebrating Cher, this year’s Kennedy Center Honors also put a spotlight on the lifetime achievements of Philip Glass, Reba McEntire and Wayne Shorter.