Cyndi Lauper: Timeless, Tireless - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Thirty years after her infectious debut album, the vivacious, outspoken, multi-octave singer is still fighting for acceptance.

By Barbara Fletcher

Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” music video opens on the singer watching a scene from The Garden of Allah, a 1936 flick starring Marlene Dietrich. As Boris says good-bye to Dietrich’s character, he speaks of heading into the desert to find peace, and tells her: “You gave me hope.”

And so did she. Lauper’s video delivered a message then as did the other hit tracks from her award-winning 1983 debut, She’s So Unusual. Like Lady Gaga, but 30 years earlier, Lauper’s mantra was that it’s OK to be different, to be unusual. Not just OK, in fact, but fun.

Lauper’s mantra was that it’s OK to be different, to be unusual. Not just OK, in fact, but fun.

The very first of these poptastic tunes was “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Thinking it didn’t sound like a “woman’s song” at first, Lauper switched up the lyrics, changing the subject from being about a woman pleasing a man to an anthem for women. ”I wanted to define a different kind of sexuality where a woman could be who she was, and be revolutionary,” Lauper says. “That really was against the grain, and that it caught on was a miracle.”

The song was an inspired call for women in the ’80s to embrace and express their differences — from sex to rebellion to fashion. The mere mention of the name Cyndi Lauper still conjures visions of an eclectic wardrobe and wild, colorful hair (that sassy shade of red and intricate buzzwork was the envy of teenage girls everywhere). Her unique sense of style, first cultivated via vintage clothing shop Screaming Mimi’s in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood, has continued throughout her career and into her sixth decade.

I wanted to define a different kind of sexuality where a woman could be who she was, and be revolutionary.

It’s no exaggeration to say She’s So Unusual was a pop explosion, from “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “She Bop” to “All Through the Night.” It ignited a devoted following and brought Lauper instant commercial success. It snagged two Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Best Recording Package, and was one of the best-selling albums of the 1980s. It was also the first debut album by a female solo artist to land four Top 5 singles.

Flash forward to 2013

Thirty years after “Time after Time” was recorded, Lauper is a 60-year-old activist, singer-songwriter and, astonishingly, a Best Score Tony Award winner for Kinky Boots, a musical about a drag queen who saves the day at a struggling shoe factory. In January and February she participated — along with her husband and 15-year-old son — in a reality TV seriesCyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual. She’s just finished a global, six-month 30th anniversary tour in which she played all of the songs from She’s So Unusual in order. And her talents are currently featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Women Who Rock traveling exhibit (which she also helped curate).

Man with high red boots in center with others looking around him

Scene from the Broadway play, Kinky Boots in New York, NY.

Over the past three decades, the unusual Lauper has reinvented herself in music and TV (even landing an Emmy for Mad About You) in addition to making it big on Broadway. And if you haven’t seen the musical, the new Gap holiday campaign, “Make Love,” features Lauper and Kinky star Billy Porter echoing the same message from the play: ”Acceptance is one of the best kinds of love.” 

About her early career, Lauper recently reflected, ”I never fit in with normal anyway … The best I can do is to find my own authenticity.”

She found an early connection to activism — and music. Born in New York in 1953 as Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper, she grew up in the ’60s in a house with “shingles that looked almost like the color of Good & Plenty candy,” according to her 2012 memoir. As a child she recalls feeling like an outcast and not doing particularly well in school, but she took inspiration from the civil rights movement. She also remembers feeling surrounded by music — even hearing melodies in the clothelines in her neighborhood — and found her niche there, starting to write song by the time she was 12. 

I never fit in with normal anyway … The best I can do is to find my own authenticity.

And under all of her true style-icon colors is an outspoken soul, willing to take people to task (like taking on Donald Trump over his opposition to gay unions and anti-Obama antics) and to give people a voice — especially the LGBT community. In 2008 she co-founded the True Colors Fund, an organization that “works to inspire everyone to get involved in advancing equality for all.” Her current project, the third annual Home for the Holidays concert, brings together the talents of Pink, Susan Sarandon and others in New York’s Beacon Park to raise money to eliminate homelessness for LGBT youth.

Since the first bright success of She’s So Unusual 30 years ago, Lauper has continued to create music. While none of her solo albums reached the popularity of that first record, she has delved into a variety of styles, including the Blues, and received critical acclaim along the way. With that multi-octave range, vivacious spirit and unmistakable Queens accent, Cyndi Lauper is still embracing difference and still bringing hope — and having lots of fun along the way. 

Watch ”Time After Time” and remember where it all started.

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