Imagine that moment when you are a songwriter and you’re about to go into a session to write a song for Rihanna, but you wake up with a laryngitis, feeling absolutely terrible, and you can’t sing a thing. So you just grab your phone and call your super-talented friend, LP, to come to the session with you. She happily agrees, and you end up writing a hit song together, a single for Rihanna which will go to #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and which will appear on her fifth studio album. Not bad at all.
The artwork for Rihanna’s single “Cheers (Drink To That),” co-written by LP
Said songwriter, she who called LP that day, was Stacy Barthe. It was an unexpected and exciting invitation, and in fact, a moment which would become a milestone in LP’s career. The session was part of a writing camp set up by Rihanna’s label to write songs for Rihanna’s new album. LP and Stacy teamed up that day with Corey “Chorus” Gibson and with a duo called The Runners. The fruit of their writing was the song “Cheers (Drink To That)” and it was made ready in just a few hours. That session turned out to be really something else, starting as a low-profile and usual sit-down-to-write-a-song thing, but wrapped up as a 60-person party which was actually recorded and ended up on Rihanna’s album.
Sounds crazy? LP was surprised as well. A few years later, during her performance for Bing Lounge in 2012, she said that when they were writing “Cheers,” her songwriting partners kind of felt like they had just written a really good song. But she hadn’t realized it just yet, and so when her co-writers started inviting their friends down, she was thinking, “Why are you guys inviting people…?” The next thing she knew, they were all singing along in the studio and only then did it dawn on her that something big had probably just happened and that they might have written a hit song. Here are the memories of one of the writers, Chorus, as shared with The Sound Killers magazine:
We ended up working with The Runners, a young lady by the name of LP, Stacy Barthe, and myself. Stacy had been playing an Avril Lavigne song. LP said, “Yo, Imma do something to that.” Mayne, from The Runners, ended up making the beat on the spot. To be honest, it just really happened. If you listen to the beginning of the song, we’re just in the studio taking shots. We literally had 60 people in the booth. We just had a good time. People pulled out liquor and we were just going H.A.M. We had this guy names Scott Market, Karen Kwak’s assistant at the time [Karen Kwak was A&R Senior Vice President of Rihanna’s label, Island Def Jam – editor’s note]. He stopped by the session and said, “Oh my gosh, this is crazy. I wanna play this tomorrow.” He went to play it. So we said, take these red cups and Hennessey. LA Reid had a cabana at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We set up speakers because that’s how he listens to music. He gave all of the record executives a cup with some henney in it and told everyone to take a shot. They played it, and the rest of it is history.
And so, for “Cheers” they sampled Avril Lavigne’s vocal hook from “I’m With You,” written by Avril and The Matrix for her debut album. When they finished the writing process, LP sang the demo. She thought Rihanna would change it a lot for the album version, but much to her surprise, it was essentially the same song, with only a couple of Rihanna’s trademark vocal twists added.
But the writing camp for Rihanna was a significant moment for LP also due to one more reason – it was the very first time she brought her ukulele to a session. She started playing it shortly before, in the fall of 2009, and soon she and this tiny instrument became inseparable. There are subtleties to LP’s relationship with her ukulele, confusing to some, but important to her. And so, when the BBC headlined their 2017 article about LP with “I wrote a Rihanna single on a ukulele,” she clarified it soon in an interview for Eagle3, saying:
Contrary to an article that was published… I did not write a Rihanna song on the ukulele. I brought my ukulele to that session. That was a first time I ever brought it to a session… Sometimes I wander off and write lyrics without the track booming in my head. And it wasn’t… oh, I didn’t write the song on the ukulele. When I write songs on the ukulele, they’re for myself, so sometimes I come in with a few chords and a title or a melody or whatever, and then we embellish it.
Although “Cheers” is much more poppy than her other songs, it became one of Rihanna’s favorites off of Loud. When asked about it by MTV News, she warmly said: Really… I love that song! That is one of my favorite songs on the album, definitely! It just makes you feel like celebrating. It gives you a great feeling inside, like you wanna go out and have a drink. In another interview, given to Spin magazine, she repeated: It’s one of my favorites on the album. It’s really grungy and melodic and catchy. And the way the producers sampled Avril – it’s like she’s an instrument. It’s really cool how they combined [the song] with her vocals. Avril also commented on “Cheers” and said to MTV that it was really exciting to her, because she really likes Rihanna, and the song that was sampled, “I’m With You,” is one of her favorite songs which she has ever done.
Still frame from the video of LP and Darren Criss performing “Cheers” (2015)
It might seem like it’s just a fun, cool party song with no controversy to it whatsoever. And yeah, maybe – from a general perspective. It’s intriguing to observe how things are different in the US, where taking a shot in a bar is seen more like, “Well, well, someone wants to get drunk tonight!” When we were browsing through different websites looking for some comments on the song, we were surprised to discover that among the reviews praising the composition and its lyrics, there was some controversy to it, too. A bunch of American articles described “Cheers” as a song that is “a problem,” because it glorifies this horrible, horrible drinking thing… For example, Elle magazine asked Rihanna in an interview: “Songs like ‘Pour it Up’ and ‘Cheers (Drink to That)’… are they warnings about the way men can behave?” Seriously, it sounds so odd to us, to be asked such a question about such a song. And actually, you don’t need to look far for more examples: quoting even freaking Wikipedia: “Lyrically, ‘Cheers (Drink to That)’ is a party-drinking song, with multiple references to drinking alcohol, including Jameson Irish Whiskey.” No shit. Sure, we get the general idea, we wish no form of addiction on anybody, but it would be hard to impress the rest of the world with this line of discussion. (There are times when we really love it here, in our Europe – cheers to that!)
Next to “Love Will Keep You Up All Night,” “Cheers” was one of the first really big cuts for LP, before her other songs were recorded by Christina Aguilera, Cher, Joe Walsh and other big artists. It was the moment in her career when she had only just parted ways with SoBe, the label that had signed her as a recording artist to release her third solo album, which never happened. Soon after, LP signed a publishing deal and was writing songs for other people, becoming “just” a songwriter. Although it was her everyday job, she felt lucky to be called for that Rihanna session. She said a couple of times that if somebody would have asked her a year or two before if she would ever have a song with someone like her, she would be like, “Pfff. No.” When talking about Rihanna, LP always says she loves her voice. She also said to Female First that there is a nobility to Rihanna that she really likes. Although they never had the chance to talk, for LP the “Cheers” session remains one of the most important moments within her songwriting career. And by the way, it is so for Stacy Barthe as well.
After the release of the Loud album, LP went to see one of Rihanna’s shows. It was really big for her to witness how this huge crowd reacted to a song she had written. She told this story in the interview she gave to Erin Lucas for Lotta Lolla Love in 2012:
I went to see Rihanna during Christmas, her last show of the Loud Tour, and I got to see her perform “Cheers,” which is awesome. I heard that every night she comes out she has a shot… you can always tell she’s going to do this song, she comes out with this one shot. And that was really cool. I don’t know how many thousands of people there, at least maybe 10,000 people, and it was just really amazing to hear 10,000 people singing a song, like words that I wrote. I’ve never heard that. I’ve never played for 10,000 people, so it was really, really cool. And it’s nice to see something just come all the way, it’s kinda rare, I guess.
(On a side note, five years later, in 2017, LP played her own shows for 10,000 in Kyiv and 14,500 in Riga, not to mention some huge festivals she played all around Europe for at least 30,000…)
“Cheers” was supposed to be the first single off of the album, but eventually it was the very last one. As a songwriter, LP obviously just couldn’t wait for it, but they kept them all waiting for a long time. Rihanna was a great supporter of the song too, she really wanted it to be a single. When “Cheers” was finally released, it got very little time out there. As it turned out, it was released less than two months before the premiere of yet another of Rihanna’s singles, “We Found Love,” which ultimately received all the attention. As LP said in an interview for the BUILD Series in 2017, it absolutely crushed “Cheers,” and almost no one knew that Rihanna was dropping a new record that fast. Nevertheless, the song did well and was a commercial success, especially in the US, where it was being played all the time and there was no way of escaping it. It was awarded with platinum in the US in December of 2011. The sales of the song didn’t stop there though, and in June of 2015 The Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA) awarded “Cheers” with 2x Multi-Platinum with 2,000,000 copies sold. Loud was well received by critics, and it was also nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
To our delight, there are two live performances of “Cheers” by LP. One recorded in Los Angeles for AOL’s Act Like A Musician show. (It’s the one played with Darren Criss, where she sounds insane and rocks THAT look.) She played the whole song there and it is a priceless acoustic performance that we absolutely love. The second performance of “Cheers” LP did was in France in 2016 for the Taratata program, where she sang the first verse and the chorus. (And this one… If you happened to miss the French performance, where LP simply dazes the host with her voice, and also wears a bow tied around her neck, just drop whatever you’re doing and click on the link below.)
Still frame from the video of LP performing “Cheers” for Taratata (2016)
Hearing “Cheers (Drink To That)” sung by Rihanna always makes us smile, and for a couple of reasons. It’s a really cool song, that’s one thing. Secondly, it always makes us want to play the version by LP off Act Like A Musician (those vocals, really). And finally, we always remember how LP materialized suddenly in front of us in Berlin in the fall of 2016, looking exactly the same as she did singing “Cheers” in that ALAM episode, and how we literally forgot our English (and probably our Polish, too.)
But never mind us. For her, as a songwriter, it surely was an important and memorable session. Let us just quote what she said in Zermatt in April of 2017 for One FM radio:
I feel, as I look at my career as a whole, more so. (…) I think of myself as a songwriter first and foremost, and that is what drives me to keep writing songs that I relate to and somebody else can relate to. That’s what really turns me on as far as being an artist. The singing is amazing too, but the songwriting is first for me.
And then, to Songwriter Universe:
Obviously, I approach the process differently when I’m writing songs for others than when I know I’m going to be recording them myself. I can be more personal. I would never write a song like ‘Cheers’ for myself but love the way Rihanna made a great hit out of it.
✶ “Cheers” by LP ft. Darren Criss – ALAM performance (2015) (the songs starts at 7:00)