One of pop music’s most enduring icons, Cyndi Lauper looms large over today’s pop and dance charts. You can see and hear it in the success of such big-voiced, fashion-forward females with irreverent attitudes like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Robyn, and ultra-hip rock band The Gossip’s frontwoman Beth Ditto, all of whom have name-checked the shape-shifting Queens, New York-born performer as a primary influence. “When I was a little kid, I wanted to be like Cyndi Lauper,” Ditto has said about why she became a singer. “I thought she was my sister for a really long time.”
Lauper may have first captured the public’s imagination in the mid-’80s with her debut album She’s So Unusual — a colorful fusion of New Wave, post-punk, pop, and funk — and its string of indelible Top 10 singles, including the blockbuster “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” but now, after 25 million albums sold, 13 Grammy Award nominations, two Emmy Awards, two American Music Awards, and 18 MTV Video Music Awards, Lauper continues to lead as a singer, songwriter, musician, actress, and activist. So influential has she remained that MAC cosmetics recently named Lauper, along with Lady Gaga, the latest face of its high-profile Viva Glam campaign. The company will create a new lip color called “Viva Glam Cyndi Lipstick” that will be sold in stores around the world beginning in March 2010. All the proceeds will be donated to the MAC AIDS Fund, which has supported men, women, and children affected by HIV and AIDS globally since 1994.
The honor comes on the heels of a busy time for Lauper. In May 2008, she released her seventh studio album, the dance-oriented Bring Ya To The Brink, which featured her collaborations with a cadre of cutting-edge producers, such as Basement Jaxx, Dragonette, Digital Dog, Kleerup, Scum Frog, and Rich Morel. The album climbed to No. 7 on the iTunes album chart, spawned two No. 1 Billboard Hot Dance Club Play singles (“Same Ol’ Story” and “Into the Nightlife”), and earned Lauper her 13th Grammy Award nomination, this time for “Best Electronic/Dance Album.”
A truly versatile entertainer, Lauper has always moved effortlessly between the worlds of music and acting and 2009 was no exception. She appeared on such red-hot television shows as 30 Rock, Gossip Girl, Bones (in a recurring role as psychic Avalon Harmonia), and American Idol (performing with contestant Allison Iraheta), and was a surprise guest at the resurrected concert event “VH1 Divas,” where she joined Leona Lewis onstage for a duet on her No. 1 single “True Colors.”
In the summer of 2008, Lauper launched the second annual True Colors tour, which she had conceived the year before as a way to give back to her gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) fans for the love they have shown her throughout her career. Lauper headlined the 25-city North American tour along with The B-52s, Rosie O’Donnell, and host Carson Kressley, determined to highlight the need for the GLBT community and its straight allies to make their votes count during the Presidential election year.
In addition to her love of performing, Lauper is unwavering in her commitment to social activism, becoming especially vocal as civil rights issues for same-sex couples heated up and gay-marriage initiatives began to appear on ballots in several states. Lauper kicked off 2009 by attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama and performing at the Out for Equality Inaugural Ball. She also launched the First Annual True Colors Fund Summer Online Auction and the True Colors Cabaret — a monthly series of fundraisers that features entertainers from both Broadway and pop music, with all proceeds donated to Broadway Impact and the True Colors Fund, which Lauper created as a show of solidarity against discrimination and to raise awareness about the issues facing the GLBT population. In October 2009, Lauper visited the White House to listen to President Obama speak about the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which she rallied to help pass along with Shepard’s mother Judy and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Lauper and her manager, Lisa Barbaris, have also teamed up with the West End Intergenerational Organization to found the True Colors Residence, which is slated to break ground in Central Harlem in Fall 2009. It will be the first permanent, supportive housing facility for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in New York State, providing 30 studio apartments, educational services, and job training to homeless young people.
Lauper’s passionate lobbying on behalf of gays and lesbians is not surprising given the support they shown her since the beginning of her career. Lauper burst onto the music landscape in 1983 with the synth-driven pop gem She’s So Unusual, which spawned several hits, including the female empowerment anthem “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” “She Bop,” “All Through the Night, and “Money Changes Everything,” making her the first artist in history to score five Top 10 singles from a debut album. The eye-popping video for “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” became an MTV mainstay and established her reputation as an unstoppable force with a voice and songwriting talent to match. Lauper continued to evolve artistically over the next two decades, following up She’s So Unusual with nine more albums: 1986’s True Colors, 1989’s A Night to Remember, 1993’s Hat Full of Stars, 1996’s Sisters of Avalon, 1998’s Merry Christmas…Have a Nice Life, 2001’s Shine, 2003’s At Last, 2005’s The Body Acoustic, and 2008’s aforementioned Bring Ya To The Brink.
She made her film debut in 1988 in Vibes, alongside Jeff Bridges, and later appeared in such motion pictures as Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Life With Mikey, Off and Running, and The Opportunist opposite Christopher Walken. In 2006, Lauper made her Broadway debut in The Threepenny Opera. On television, Lauper has appeared in Queer as Folk, the BBC’s Live and Kicking and Noel’s House Party, and earned an Emmy for “Outstanding Guest Performance in a Comedy Series” for Mad About You. She has lent her talents to other film and TV projects, voicing animated projects for Disney and The Simpsons, as well as scoring soundtracks for the films Off and Running and Private Property and the title song for Nick Cassavetes’ Unhook The Stars.
In May 2009, Lauper was asked, along with Katy Perry, Dita Von Teese, Robyn, and others, to collaborate with fashion retailer H&M to raise money for youth HIV/AIDS awareness projects by creating designs for various clothing items. (Lauper’s design featured the message “Girls Just Wanna Have Safe Sex” as if scribbled in pink lipstick on a black vest.) In October 2009, Lauper began filming the new season of The Celebrity Apprentice, which will air on NBC in spring 2010. She has also been immortalized by toy company Mattel, which has created a Barbie Cyndi Lauper “Ladies of the ’80s” Doll, capturing the star in all her “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”-era glory. Lauper recently appeared on the cover of Out magazine, along with Adam Lambert, Wanda Sykes, Lt. Dan Choi, and film director Rob Marshall, as part of the magazine’s annual “Out 100” list honoring its most inspiring men and women of the year. She is currently writing her autobiography, in which she takes readers on a journey through her colorful life. Published by Simon & Shuster in 2010, the book will undoubtedly be another bar-raising milestone in a career that continues to leave the world wanting more from this fascinating artist.