Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Staying true: Cyndi Lauper

Tune in, step up, speak out

Credit: (Kevin Trageser)

“Am I excited to have this lineup? Are you kidding me?” exclaims Cyndi Lauper over the phone from her home in Brooklyn.

Surviving the letdowns that inevitably followed her meteoric rise to the top of superstardom in the 1980s, Lauper, who turns 55 this June, has truly ended up the winner and is now content to focus on her remarkable musical gifts and her passion for social justice.

Lauper’s True Colors tour, which is coming back to Toronto for a second year, raises awareness and funds for the gay rights struggle in both the United States and Canada through its partnerships with the US-based Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and, new this year, Canada’s gay and lesbian lobby group Egale.

Alongside Lauper, The B-52s are headlining the tour which stops at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre on Wed, Jun 4. On the strong bill are Toronto’s The Cliks, the Indigo Girls, comic Rosie O’Donnell and host Carson Kressley.

“It’s gonna be a fun tour,” says Lauper. “I’m looking forward to Toronto. I’ll be a little unhappy that I won’t have time to stop off at the Hockey Hall of Fame, I must have been there 10 times already. My kid loves it. He was up there going, ‘Mom, how come we don’t have a house here?'”

Lauper is jubilant about having The B-52s join her this time out. “I love them. Have you heard their new album? It’s fantastic! I know them from way back,” she says. “I guess I met them in the ’90s because Kate [Pierson] was friends with my friends.

“I met up with them again in 2003 and I was watching them sing and thinking, ‘We should do something together. Maybe one day I’ll have a new CD and they’ll have a new CD and we can go out together… and maybe we’ll even take the HRC with us.’ You know, thinking all this stuff and now it’s actually happening, which is extraordinary.

Even before Pride events and the Gay Games became part of her appearance schedule in the 1990s Lauper has always been a vocal proponent of queer rights — perhaps a logical outgrowth of support for her lesbian sister. Lauper is passionate about the need to raise queer rights in the public sphere and knows full well that music is a unifying force in the world. But the fight south of the border is a much tougher slog. When asked why Lauper is honest and direct. “I don’t know, hon. You could still be fired from your job in 31 states if you’re suspected of being gay, bisexual or transgendered. So I mean, things are hard right now. I don’t know what our story is [in America], but I think… lack of information…? I really don’t know.”

In addition to round two of the True Colors tour, Lauper is also promoting her new CD Bring Ya to the Brink, a club-friendly pop CD that she is very much looking forward to performing live. Lauper travelled to the UK to collaborate with a host of top-notch dance producers including Basement Jaxx, Digital Dog and Toronto’s own Dragonette. The variety of producers also challenged Lauper’s traditional approach to recording. “It was a little nutty at times because there was a lot of different people. So it wasn’t just like, ‘Okay, I’m going to make this record with this one guy.’

“I had an idea of what I wanted to do and it’s sort of easier when you work fresh with each individual. If we really hit it off, I wrote another song with them. It was fun and I had a great time. I’m very excited about it. I had an idea and it actually happened, it actually came together!”

One of the new tracks, “Raging Storm,” offers poignant social commentary, a prime example of a song that isn’t afraid to make a statement. It’s disarmingly political for pop music at a time when the charts are dominated by music that has little, if any, social meaning. “It’s about everything,” says Lauper of the song. “It’s about being blinded by celebrity instead of what’s really going on — ’cause what’s going on ain’t so good. You know, this is an interesting time in the world. It’s really time for people to step up and be mindful about this planet and each other and really embrace what’s going on, understand it and do the right thing.”

Not that the album is all politics disguised in club beats. “Into the Nightlife” is a seriously fun club banger and Lauper clearly enjoyed making it. “Yeah, some of it was hilarious. It’s Basement Jaxx stuff, it was two days with them in Britain. See, here’s what I know, not only do they drive on the wrong side of the street there — sorry, the other side — but they sing on the other side of the beat. So I went over there to learn that, trying to figure out the whole English thing, hoping my accent would change just a little, but no,” she says, laughing. “So then I met Dragonette to work with them in London and realized then that I went all they way over there to meet some Canadians! It was funny.”

With a fresh new album of fun dance music and a tour that is contributing to the forces of good in the world, Lauper is at the top of her game. Having been through the relentless mega-celebrity machine, I ask her how celebrity is different now, compared to when she rose to fame in 1983. “I think everyone’s just so hung up on getting famous now, they’re not focusing on their craft,” says Lauper. “Although there are a lot of kids who work really, really hard. Lindsay Lohan is a wonderful little actress and Britney Spears busted her butt for years and years and years — I mean those girls worked really hard. And Christina Ag… Agri… Agrillera? Whatever. I can’t say her name, I have soft Ls.”

Her Ls may be soft but Lauper’s work ethic is hard and full of heart.