With a career spanning nearly 40 years, Cyndi Lauper achieved many great successes. She released over 11 studio albums, with countless top 100 Billboard hits, a Tony Award, two Grammys, and an Emmy. She is an innovative entertainer and a fashion icon who has inspired many musicians over the years.
Cyndi Lauper and Blue Angel
In 1978, Cyndi Lauper and John Turi, a saxophonist, formed the band Blue Angel. With her impressive vocals, she caught the attention of the Allman Brothers Band’s manager, Steve Marassky.
Though his success with the Allman Brothers Band is impressive, Blue Angel didn’t experience the same luck. Though their first self-titled album received critical acclaim, it performed poorly on the charts. Marassky and the band unfortunately had a falling out and the band eventually dissolved.
Lauper struggled for a few years, waiting tables at IHOP. She unfortunately endured a vocal injury as well, but she kept putting her best foot forward. Eventually, this hard work and self-belief paid off, and she signed with Polydor Records, an Epic Records subsidiary
Better Luck Awaits
In October of 1984, Lauper released her first solo album, She’s So Unusual. The album was an immediate hit, reaching number 4 on the U.S. charts. It featured songs like “Time After Time” and “She Bop,” which are still hits to this day. Living up to her punk image, daring to defy the norm, she changed the lyrics to her mega hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” She was not the original songwriter, and she felt the song was misogynistic. Risking her early reputation, she still wanted to make the song into an anthem for women, and her risk clearly paid off.
The video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” earned the first Best Female Video Award at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. This video solidified her space in pop culture.
She began to see unprecedented success. She won the Best New Artist Grammy in 1985, while She’s So Unusual received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Additionally, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” received a nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and “Time After Time” received one for Song of the Year.
1985 also saw Lauper’s contribution to “We Are The World.” The single sold over 20 million copies, in aid of famine relief.
Lauper’s True Colors
Between 1986 and 1987, Lauper accumulated 3 more Grammy nominations. Two for Best Female Rock Performance for the singles “What a Thrill” and “911” respectively. Her film Cyndi Lauper in Paris received a nomination for Best Long Form Music Video.
Lauper released her album, True Colors, in 1986. It peaked at number four on the Billboard charts in the United States. The title track continues to be an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community, for whom Lauper continues to advocate.
In 1990, Lauper released her third album, A Night To Remember. This album featured a cover of Roy Obison’s “I Drove All Night,” which earned Lauper yet another Grammy nomination. However, A Night To Remember’s sales numbers were underwhelming in comparison to her previous massive hits.
Still, Lauper found herself among great personal company. Her friendship with Yoko Ono led to a live performance at the 1990 John Lennon tribute concert, where she sang “Hey Bulldog” and “Working Class Hero.” She also took part in Sean Ono’s project, called “The Peace Choir” and performed a new version of Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”
Later, in 1991, she married actor David Thornton.
While women face social pressure to “settle down” and focus on their family, Lauper struck a nice balance between her home life and her career. Her fourth album, Night Full Of Stars, received critical acclaim but sold poorly due to the lack of support from her label. The album tackled more pertinent issues in society, like homophobia, intimate partner violence, racism, and abortion.
Lauper continued to work and create more critical acclaim for herself. In 1993, she starred alongside Michael J. Fox in Life With Mikey. This role earned her an Emmy award.
Though the label had a difficult time marketing a Night Full Of Stars, she continued to release deeper, more impactful music. Lauper released her fifth album, Sisters Of Avalon, in 1997, again without much support from her label. This time, the album touched on stories about drag queens and the AIDS crisis. While it didn’t do well commercially, critics loved it. In fact, People Magazine stated, “[it’s] 90s nourishment for body and soul. Lauper sets a scene, makes us care, gives us hope.”
Between 1999 and 2000, Lauper appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, opened for fellow rock royalty, Cher, and wrote and sang a song for the animated film Rugrats in Paris: The Movie. She performed “I Want a Mom That Will Last Forever” for the film, about a child dealing with grief over the loss of his mother.
In 2000, Lauper joined fellow female rockers, like Ann Wilson, and pop supergroup, Destiny’s Child, on the television show Women Who Rock, Girls With Guitars. This performance was recorded and sold on CDs exclusive to Sears as a fundraiser for breast cancer.
In 2003, Lauper released a cover album, At Last, which earned her another Grammy nomination. The album did extremely well, selling over 4.5 million records.
LGBTQ+ and Fashion Icon
Lauper made an appearance on Queer As Folk. She solidified her place in the community as an ally, after continuously making music that represented LGBTQ+ stories and doing several charitable events to benefit the community.
In 2008, Lauper released her sixth album, Bring Ya To The Brink.
In 2010, Mattel released a Cyndi Lauper Barbie doll as a part of their “Ladies of the 80s” collection.
Her Memphis Blues album, also released in 2010, charted at number one on the Billboard blues charts and at number 26 on the top 200. It received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2011.
Lauper later performed at Betsey Johnson’s 40 Year Retrospective Fashion Show and released a memoir detailing her difficult childhood and struggle with depression.
Cyndi Lauper and her Kinky Boots
Lauper wrote the music and lyrics for the massive Broadway success, Kinky Boots, which premiered in 2013. The musical received 13 Tony nominations and 6 Tony wins. Lauper was the first woman to win a Best Score Tony for her solo musical effort.
Kinky Boots closed in 2019, making it Broadway’s 25th longest running show.
Over the past decade, Cyndi Lauper embarked on international tours as a headliner, performed as a guest on Cher’s Dressed To Kill tour, and hosted the Pre-Grammy telecast, where she also received a Grammy for Kinky Boots. She also remastered She’s So Unusual. She later recorded a mash-up of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Sara Bareilles’s “Brave” to raise money for breast cancer. She raised over $300,000.
She received a nomination for the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in October 2014. The West End production of Kinky Boots earned her an Olivier nomination. Additionally, she and Stephen Oremus, the musical’s orchestrator, received another Grammy nomination for best musical theater album in 2017 for the new production.
In 2018, Lauper announced that she was working on another musical, Working Girl. Though the production was slated for a 2021/2022 opening, the coronavirus pandemic delayed it. Later that year, Lauper received a Billboard Icon Award at the Women in Music event. Billboard’s Editorial Director, Jason Lipshutz, stated, “The entire world recognizes the power of Cyndi Lauper’s pop music, and just as crucially, she has used her undeniable talent to soar beyond music, create positive change in modern society and become a true icon.”
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Lauper was the headlining act in New York City’s 2019 Pride celebration. Her LGBTQ+ influence led to her performance at the White House, three years later, when President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law.
Cyndi Lauper is a singular talent with a remarkable penchant for advocacy. Her ability to stay true to her morals and artistry is a beautiful testament to how music can serve the greater good.