Cyndi Lauper hardly requires any introduction. The pop legend is one of the defining voices of the 1980s and is as much a part of the musical conversation of that decade as Madonna and Michael Jackson. This year, Lauper reissued her solo debut, She’s So Unusual, to commemorate its 30th anniversary and is touring in support of it. On April 26, she will perform alongside Cher in Ottawa. Daily Xtra was lucky enough to talk to her about the upcoming show, her obsession with fashion and her tireless commitment to queer activism.
Xtra: It’s been more than 30 years since the release of She’s So Unusual. What has it been like for you to re-release it in 2014?
Cyndi Lauper: The fact that She’s So Unusual came out 30 years ago is pretty crazy. In some ways it feels like yesterday, and in other ways it feels like 30 years ago. When Sony came to me to release a 30th anniversary issue of it, I said yes, so long as it was a real celebration. Because I do feel like we captured a moment in time that still sounds good today. That’s because we weren’t following a fad, but following my muse, ya know. I went and found old demos and we found some old live material from that time, and through that process I was reminded how much fun we had making that record, what an exciting time it was for me in my career.
Looking back, can you recall the experience of performing in New York clubs and then releasing an album that would become an international sensation almost overnight? How did that transition feel?
Well, you have to remember that I was 30 when She’s So Unusual came out. I had been doing clubs for a long time and then got my first major-label deal at 25 with my band Blue Angel, so it was not like an overnight thing at all. But when She’s So Unusual started to happen and we had five top-five singles in a row and things just got that big, it was just a wild ride. But in some ways I was prepared because I had been working for it for a long time.
No, I didn’t. Gloria Steinem was my hero, and from the time I was a teenager I had always been painfully aware of how unequal women were, and I felt like I had a real platform as a solo artist to make a statement about women’s rights. I wanted to encourage women to demand that we get our rights. The fact that in 2014 in the US, women get paid less than men for the same job is so insulting and frustrating. It’s insane in 2014 that in some countries women can’t vote or have a life outside of their husband’s home. It’s insane that in 2014 women are sold into bondage for a man’s debt. It’s insane that in some countries you can be put to death or imprisoned for being gay. It’s insane that in the US gay people do not have the right to marry, among many other inequalities. The world will not be right until we all have the same rights and until everyone is equal.
You’ve been an advocate for LGBT rights throughout your career. What motivated you to start your True Colors Fund?
When I learned about the fact that up to 40 percent of homeless youth in America identify as gay or transgender, I knew I could not stand by and do nothing. As a mother, and as a human being, I knew I had to act. That is the main reason we started the True Colors Fund, to give these kids a voice and to build a national movement through our Forty to None Project to bring an end to this epidemic. If we do not do something now, no matter if we have legal equality, like same-sex marriage, we will have let generations of young LGBT people down. We all have a responsibility to do something now, and if people want to learn what they can do, they can visittruecolorsfund.org.
What was the experience of opening the True Colors residence for homeless queer youth in NYC like for you?
It is actually a low-income permanent housing program that provides LGBT homeless youth aged 18 to 24 low-income housing and the life-skills training they need to move on to full independence. I give all of the credit to Colleen Jackson and West End Residences for making the True Colors Residence a reality. They are making a real difference in these kids’ lives. The young people are really empowering and determined to achieve their goals. I am honoured that the True Colors Fund and I are partnered with them. They are already working on setting up a second residence.
Fashion has always played a big role in your career and music videos. Have you always had an interest in fashion, and is it still important to you at this stage of your career?
Since I was a baby, literally. When I started kindergarten, all I was focused on was my outfit and what kind of impression I wanted to make on my classmates that first day. And my love for fashion has not abated.
Congratulations on the success of Kinky Boots. What was it like composing for a Broadway musical versus writing and recording a pop album?
Thank you. It’s very different. Your job as the composer of a musical is to move the story forward with the songs. You have to write for many voices, from all the characters’ perspectives, and I had a blast doing that. There were songs that I wrote that I really loved that didn’t make the show because maybe there was a change in the book or there was a different arc for a character and the story, and therefore the song had to change. For my own CDs, when I write a song that I love, it makes my records. And of course, I’m writing from my perspective, the story I am trying to tell through the album to my fans.
How has the music industry changed since you first started out? Do you think it’s harder or easier for artists now to get exposure and be successful?
The music business has really changed. I actually think it’s harder in some critical ways. There is not as vital a club scene or live scene as when I first started. You used to just hit the road, and if you were good enough your live numbers would increase and then maybe you’d get an agent and they would help you get bigger. Then labels would hear of you and then you’d get a deal, but you’d already have a fan base to build on, and eventually, if you were good enough, you’d have a career. There was also real money to make great-sounding records, and I think that’s just not how it is now. Anyone can make a record on a laptop, and because there is so much music, some of the good stuff gets missed.
Can you tell us about the new material you are working on? Is it difficult to compose new material while on such a large tour?
I always write, but it is a bit tougher on the road. But sometimes it happens; it really depends. But I will have some new music in 2015.
What can you tell us about sharing a bill with Cher on her Dressed to Kill tour?
I can’t wait. We have such a good time together on the road. Last time we toured together was 10 years ago, and when Cher asked me to come out again, how could I say no? She’s awesome, and we have similar audiences. Her show is a real jaw-dropping fabulous extravaganza, and she gives her fans so much.