Cheryl Cole shocked everyone by going straight to #1 in the UK Singles charts with her debut solo single Fight for This Love. She sold a staggering 292,845 records in her first week. This beats first week sales by her band Girls Aloud by miles. For hard core fans, here's how Girls Aloud did with their singles in the first week after release (stats from the UKMix forums):
213,140 - Sound Of The Underground
77,110 - The Promise
59,820 - Jump
57,597 - I'll Stand By You
51,500 - Walk This Way
42,762 - No Good Advice
42,114 - Something Kinda Ooooh
35,800 - Love Machine
31,963 - Life Got Cold
31,457 - Call The Shots
28,600 - The Show
25,917 - Biology
21,708 - Untouchable
21,612 - Sexy! No No No
20,857 - I Think We're Alone Now
20,000 - See The Day
19,655 - The Loving Kind
19,556 - Can't Speak French
18,451 - Long Hot Summer
16,351 - Wake Me Up
11,720 - Whole Lotta History
So Cheryl has outperformed seven years of her own band's hits. How has she done it?
A bit part is down to the fact that she is a judge on X-Factor, which gives her a visibility on national TV that other members of Girls Aloud just don't have. She's also very popular - people relate to the straightforward Geordie style of speaking, and she resembles Princess Diana in her ability to empathise with people. Then there is the Beauty Factor. She's incredibly pretty and often gets voted the most beautiful woman in Britain (and occassionally the world) by the various magazines devoted to compiling these lists. People just like looking at her.
And then there is the Fashion Factor. Ever since she became a judge on X-Factor in 2008, part of the reason the female part of the audience tuned in was to see what she was wearing. The designer Matthew Wiliamson credits her with putting him on the map after she wore one of his short strapless orange dresses to the live shows last year.
In 2009, this went to another level. The Cheryl Cole Dress and Style show has gone into overdrive. She's been lent clothes by Versace, Alexander McQueen and Matthew Williamson, knowing that whatever she wears will be written about. And right on cue, all the major fashion magazines, including Vogue, have been writing features on Cheryl's X-Factor outfits.
But how does all of this translate to record sales? Simple, people are predisposed to like everything she does. So hard core fans will have listened to her music determined to like it, and as long as it was not bad, they bought it.
When I first listened to Fight for This Love on YouTube, I was struck by how different she sounded without the other members of Girls Aloud and with anyone else, that would have been that. But being a Cheryl fan, I re-listened to the track, and it grew on me. There's a whole category of songs that are "growers" but they only get discovered if fans are patient enough to listen to them more than once. Most artists arn't that lucky. They usually have to catch the record buyer on the first play of the song, and if they don't, their music gets buried.
How long will the Cheryl phenomenon last? As long as she remains popular. The tabloid press have already started to try to knock her down, but haven't yet suceeded because they haven't any material to use negatively against her. Most of their stories thus far have been false suppositions, which have outraged her fans. If they ever get hold of a real negative story, then all bets are off. However, Cheryl may survive even that because the fan base she's building are loyal, and the longer she continues to be on the right side of things, the more loyal they become. I think this phenomenon has a few more years to run yet.