Forget everything you think you know about Cher Lloyd, the pint-sized starlet from Malvern, Worcestershire, who, out of nowhere, introduced Soulja Boy and swagger to The X Factor last year. Forget the ripped jeans and asymmetric haircuts; forget the Cheryl Cole comparisons; forget the tabloid sniping and gipsy jibes on Twitter. Because despite all the bullshit – and believe us, there’s been a lot – Cher seems to be turning into a world-class pop star, of the sort that seldom comes from TV talent shows.

Though she’s currently in the UK to take part in The X Factor tour, (“I love doing it. I’d do it all day if I could”), she’s spent much of her time in LA recently, getting to know some of the industry’s big boys. Her producer, RedOne (Lady Gaga’s best studio buddy), is so convinced of her talent that he’s asked to join her on tour in order to continue working with her. Savan Kotecha, the songwriter responsible for a string of hits by Britney, JLS and Usher, who’s also co-writing with Cher, says she’s “impressed the biggest writers and producers in the world”. In the run up to her interview with Wonderland, we of course had a look through Cher’s Twitter feed and noted that not only was she being courted by pop tastemaker Perez Hilton, but she’s also been hanging out with in the studio with Lil’ Wayne. This kind of thing never happened to Leon Jackson. It was obvious that Cher was special from her first audition, where she decided to perform a remix of Soulja Boy’s “Turn My Swag On”. (The following week the obscure track leapt up the UK charts – more than 14 million people have now watched the audition on YouTube.) She calls her music “Swag Pop,” but that doesn’t even come close to describing the furious energy of what she’s been working on. Yes, she’s still rapping, faster and more aggressively, and she’s fed in a lot of urban influences but it’s all got a kind of ingenious, princessy pop edge. “I like to show every single side of me,” she says, huddled in her manager’s jacket as she smokes outside the studios. “It’s complicated, but The X Factor was the best time of my life,” she says.

Are you happy with life at the moment?

Well, when I was about 15, I begged my mum to pay for a photoshoot. She never had the funding to take me to go and get a portfolio done, so I never got it done. And today I’ve done a photoshoot, just like that, because I’ve been asked to do it.

The red hair suits you – why did you decide to get it?

I wanted something that would sort of represent me, that’s fiery and outgoing. So I thought a bit of a red would do me good. I want to get my nose pierced too. I might try a fake one and see how it goes.

You seem to be having fun playing with your image.

I want to go for something completely different. I’d just like people to see me as me. What’s the point in comparing?

There’s lots of different moods on the album, but is it an R’n’B sound generally? How would you define “Swag Pop” to us?

It will work in the clubs. It’s feel-good music, I think. It just signifies everything I’m about.

Who has been your favourite collaborator so far?
I love RedOne. He made me feel like I was part of a family. And I have so much respect for him. He just wanted to make good music, and that’s it.

Where do you want to be in a year’s time?
I want to be able to say that I made No 1. No matter how hard it’s gonna be for me, as long as I get my number one I’ll be the happiest person alive.

What’s one rumour about you that’s really pissed you off?
Just crappy stuff about relationships, boys. But I’ve never been deeply in love with someone.

You’re 18 in a couple of months – what are you doing?
I’m cooking up a really nice party. Here. I may have a birthday week. So I’ll have a party and take a few friends to some deserted place where nobody can find us. What’s one thing that you think people don’t know about you? Well, I’m just a normal 17-year-old girl and I do have major feelings. Sometimes things that people say do really affect me, whether it’s about the way I look, or the way that I’m acting. It can get me really stressed out. And it’s like, give me a little break. A week of somebody being nice to me would be lovely. That’s the thing that I want to get across. And it’s about my music, and I can’t wait for people to hear it.

Photography: Aitken Jolly
Fashion: Julia Sarr-Jamois
Words: Adam Welch

This article first appeared in Wonderland Issue 26, April/May 2011