Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of one of America’s original trailblazing feminist pop stars of the 1980s, Ms.Cyndi Lauper. Honouring her True Colors, as usual, the fashionista rang in her 63rd birthday with pink hair and a concert in Birmingham, England.
Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper was born and raised in Astoria, Queens and started making music with her first guitar at age twelve. She was always a punky little rebel dying her hair brightly and changing the spelling of her name from Cindy to Cyndi.
She left home at 17, fleeing her abusive stepdad, and lived in the woods of Canada alone with her dog, Sparkle, for 2 weeks. After that she started a new life in Vermont, studying art at college and working odd jobs. She started her
musical career in the early 70s as a singer in cover bands. In 1978 she damaged her vocal chords and had to take a year off singing to recover- this early damage could have led to the signature Cyndi rasp that we know today.
Her first original band was the retro-rockabilly “Blue Angel” which released a self title album in 1980. The album was a flop, they fired their manager, he sued them, the band broke up, and Cyndi ended up bankrupt and band-less at the age of 27. To make matters worse she got a cyst in her vocal chords and temporarily lost her voice, again.
Not long after these unfortunate events, Cyndi was discovered singing in a New York bar in 1981 and signed a new record contract as a solo artist. She released “She’s So Unusual” in 1983 and became an instant star. The album was nominated for six Grammy Awards and won two, one of which was Best New Artist.
The most memorable mega-hit off the album was, of course, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, a 1980s anthem for women everywhere. With lyrics that celebrate how girls are able to work and have fun, Cyndi has called the song “blatantly feminist”. In 1984, the short film-like music video was nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards and won one for Best Female Video. Another exciting and slightly controversial song on the album was “She-Bop”, an ode to female masturbation, with not so subtle lyrics like “I’m picking up a good vibration” and “They say I better stop or I’ll go blind”. The song was included on the Parents Music Resource Center’s “Filthy Fifteen” list of naughty songs that also included songs by artists such as Prince, Madonna and AC/DC. The music video was filled with double entendres and sexual imagery and, to add fuel to the conservative fire, Lauper claims to have recorded the vocal tracks while in the nude.
In a career that spans more than 3 decades, Cyndi’s debut album is still her best selling, but this star did not burn out like many famous 1980s pop sensations so easily did. Since 1983 Cyndi has been consistently releasing albums, acting on stage and screen (winning an Emmy for her appearance on Mad About You) and more recently producing and writing for Broadway. She wrote the score for the hit musical Kinky Boots and in 2013 was the first solo woman to earn a Tony award in the category. In 2010 Cyndi was immortalized as a doll by having a “Ladies of the 80’s” Barbie modelled after her.
An outspoken LGBTQ advocate from day one, Cyndi has performed at various Pride celebrations and in 2008 she founded the True Colors Fund to raise money for and awareness of the issues of LGBTQ youth homelessness.
She remains one of only 20 artists to have won a Grammy, Tony and Emmy, achieving “GET” status in the award circuit. The good news is that this pink-haired trailblazer shows no sign of slowing down. Last month she kicked off an international tour promoting her latest album, Detour. No matter how old she is, she is still proving that “when the working day is done, oh girls, they wanna have fun.”