Black Eyed Peas/Cheryl Cole | Pop review

The O2 Arena, London SE10

The ancients had their myths. Now, the big emotional narratives of our times are played out between celebrities and Cheryl Cole – Girl Aloud turned Wag turned solo artist – has become the nation's post-Diana May Queen. She is charged not merely with singing songs, but with far more potent meanings.

Cole has played to arenas before with Girls Aloud, but this is her first solo UK live performance. Emerging earlier than advertised, she glows not from the lights, but from the halo of collective goodwill that illuminates her every move.

The song is her debut single, "Fight for This Love", emphatically restating the poignancy of her position as a cheerful Geordie woman wronged by an adulterous footballer.

Like the rest of her set, it is a glassy performance, a video made flesh, staffed by dancers and punctuated by costume changes. Four in half an hour could be a record. There is a moment, too, when, entwined with a dancer, Cole's lips appear to stop moving while the vocal carries on without her. But, strangely, nothing can dent the aura of significance Cole's national sweetheart status lends to piffle like "Parachutes" (theme: mutual trust) and "Let it Rain" (dedicated to "all the strong ladies" in the audience).

Cole's solo album was executive produced by the Black Eyed Peas', not the first time that an urban American pop hitmaker has plucked a lass from a cold climate and warmed her up in the studio (Prince and Sheena Easton did it back in the 80s). But the are-they/aren't-they? nature of Cheryl'n''s relationship continues to fuel hourly outbursts from gossip websites. is, arguably, the most ubiquitous man in Anglophone pop, having written, guested on or produced a vast array of hits for multiple artists in the past few years, including Rihanna, Michael Jackson and Usher. He replaces Wyclef Jean, who performed this role in the 90s. The group formed with his childhood best friend, Apl.De.Ap (Allan Pineda) – Black Eyed Peas – are probably the world's biggest pop band right now, having sold around 35 million albums and spun off two successful solo artists ( and Fergie). They recently clinched the record for bestselling digital song ever with their "I Gotta Feeling" single. Rolling Stone put the Peas on their cover last month, calling them the best reason to get excited about music.

Music may be taking it a bit far. The Peas are nowadays more concerned with shock-and-awe entertainment than mere musicality. Their two-hour live performance is a dizzying feat, featuring the four members in shiny, robo-goth costumes, a flying motorbike ridden by rapper Taboo, busy hydraulics and an electricity bill the equal of a small European country. Not for nothing was their last album (and tour) called The E.N.D (The Energy Never Dies). The dancers are rather fab – dressed as transformers made from speaker cabinets for "Rock That Body", returning as Power Rangers for "Imma Be".

It is all a far cry from BEP's origins as a conscious hip-hop outfit named after a soul food staple (we call them black-eyed beans) plying their trade in the gangsta rap capital, LA, 15 years ago. For their third album, 2003's Elephunk, the Peas acquired Fergie, a big-lunged hottie who turned them into a de facto pop band. Tonight, she is a pneumatic cyborg, all triumphal arched eyebrows and windpower.

Elephunk's "Where Is the Love?" was, simultaneously, BEP's breakout hit and their last gasp as a wordy, thoughtful crew. It comes near the end of the Peas' set tonight and the contrast with the hits that have preceded it is marked. How can one band go from pleading for world peace to "My Humps", a Fergie-led celebration of her "lovely lady lumps"?

Black Eyed Peas songs are now about very little other than the old pop stand-bys – rocking bodies, girlie bits, having a good time – chanted efficiently, and bolted together at attention-deficit, fast-cut speeds. Mid-set, emerges as Robocop turned airborne DJ, mixing a selection of crowd-pleasers (Michael Jackson, "Jump Around", the Rolling Stones) – a genre-hopping tactic he now employs on his own hits. It all hits a strange sort of peak on "Boom Boom Pow". A hit hymning the sound of electronic rhythm, it is a self-referential marvel, music about music. Unlike's protege, the Peas now seem to actively repel meaning, content to let their shiny surfaces dazzle.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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