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Cyndi Lauper: She's So Unusual

Photo from front sleeve for European release of "Time After Time"

Photo of Cyndi Lauper from front sleeve for European release of "Time After Time" 12" single, Epic Records

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Album ReCue, a part of FUV's EQFM initiative, takes an on-air and online look back at influential releases by women that altered our perspective not only of the artist, but her invaluable impact on music history. Above, listen to a conversation with Alisa Ali and Russ Borris about Cyndi Lauper's 1983 solo debut, She's So Unusual, and below, Laura Fedele's's overview.

Pop queen Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper burst out of the gate with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and its lighthearted, goofy video about a pack of female friends. We first met “Cyndi” overdressed and abundantly accessorized in 1980s neon and bows, her orange hair half-chopped, dancing down the street in her bare feet.

We also met wrestler Captain Lou Albano (somehow, Lauper’s “personal advisor” on politeness, etiquette and grooming) portraying her father in the video, alongside her actual mom; you can also catch a young Steve Forbert in the crowd as her boyfriend at the end. It was like a circus with a catchy and percussive synth soundtrack, and it spread like wildfire.

We got to know Lauper a little better through a string of hits from She’s So Unusual, on her TV appearances and in MTV’s barrage of coverage. Her unfettered, rambling conversation, spoken with a startling Queens accent at helium-high range, revealed a smart cookie underneath that glitter (would there be a Cardi B without Cyndi?).

She explained that dancing barefoot “gives me a feeling of freedom,” as she told Dick Clark on “American Bandstand,” in an interview where she speaks eloquently about her careful vocal therapy and maintenance in a voice that sounds like a streetwise Minnie Mouse.

But this striking first impression turned out to be one of the strongest examples of bait-and-switch in modern culture, with the one-two punch of her second single, the beautiful (and tear-jerking) “Time After Time.”  As eternal as her first hit was momentary, the 100+ artists recording their own versions have included Willie Nelson, Everything But the Girl, Sugar Ray, Paul Anka, Boyz II Men, Barry Manilow, P!nk, the cast of "Glee," and Miles Davis.

With an arsenal of material on her debut, many of them co-written or rewritten by Lauper, the hits kept coming from both ends of her wide stylistic range: The bouncy, naughty “She Bop” followed by the lovely “All Through the Night,” melodic and heartfelt, and then the poppy “Money Changes Everything,” one of the many cover songs she forever made her own. 

Lauper always knew she had the goods, even as she struggled for recognition and took heat for her clothes and hair, pre-Unusual. “People have always said I couldn’t sing, always tried to label me. I ain’t worried about them, because the minute I open my mouth and sing, I can blow them right offa their chairs,” she told Rolling Stone in 1984.

She’s So Unusual was just the beginning for Lauper, with a career that (so far) boasts 11 albums and 14 major tours. Her distinctive singing voice, as clear as a bell, can be heard rising above “We Are the World”; she played herself on “The Simpsons,” and has had a second career acting in movies (not great ones) and television (some good ones).

A self-described misfit who quickly became an icon in the gay world, Lauper has been speaking up for the LGBTQ+ community from the start, since losing a good friend to AIDS. She recorded “True Colors” for him, a ballad sung in a whisper, so she could "speak to the softest, most gentle part of a human being.” She supports teen homelessness with her time and money, across the world.

Her New York City home has loved her back all along and continues to, awarding her a Tony for the music and lyrics in Broadway’s Kinky Boots, which she adds to her two Grammy Awards and an Emmy (as a recurring guest character on “Mad About You”).

No flash in the pan, Lauper has elegantly grown into the role of esteemed songwriter, ardent activist, and respected humanitarian — without ever losing her accent, her quirky hair, or her upfront honesty.

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WFUV's EQFM Album ReCue: Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual

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