You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh, I realise
It’s hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small…
When Cyndi Lauper graced our shores back in 2013 – to mark the 30th anniversary of her landmark She’s So Unusual set, performing the album in full – she closed her two-song encore with True Colors. Despite knowing the above lyrics well enough to take part in the singalong, I didn’t process their meaningfulness at the time of release (obnoxious teen alert!), so was caught by surprise and completely overwhelmed by the poignant power of Lauper performing True Colors live; it made me want to check in with my 13-year-old niece, give her a hug, and share this sonic masterpiece.
Ahead of the release of She’s So Unusual: A 30th Anniversary Celebration (2014), Lauper shared some thoughts on her debut album: “It wasn’t 100 per cent what I wanted – I was only allowed to contribute a few songs that I had written, but the sound and the cover and the videos we made for the album, I was left alone to create those, and that was really cool.”
Lauper scored two Grammys off the back of She’s So Unusual: Best New Artist and Best Recording Package (AKA cover art, shot by Annie Leibovitz). In the photograph, Lauper appears to have kicked off her red stilettos – they’re on the pavement in front of her – to cavort down Henderson Walk, Coney Island in a red, vintage, prom-style dress that she purchased at Screaming Mimi’s, where she once worked.
Her pose calls to mind the Girls Just Want To Have Fun music clip (for which Lauper collected Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards). The video features Lauper dancing past New York fire escapes and stoops: just celebrating post-bender life, basically. There’s nostalgic cuteness overload when girlfriends gossip into retro handsets, their faces popping up onscreen like cartoonish, ‘80s Skype calls. Lauper’s little nose is so adorably screwed-up, her eyes all squinty, as she borrows Billy Idol’s lip curl while trying on cat-eye sunglasses. Then the clip concludes with an endless conga line of revellers (mostly girls who just wanna have fun, obvs), bypassing Lauper’s parents in the kitchen – played by the musician’s actual mother, Catrine, and actor/professional wrestler Lou Albano – before taking the partay into her bedroom.
A 3D fold-out backdrop of said bedroom, together with a sheet of reusable vinyl cut-outs based on the outfits and accessories Lauper wore in this video, is included in the deluxe edition of She’s So Unusual: A 30th Anniversary Celebration, which also contains ten previously unreleased songs: new remixes (by NERVO, Bent Collective and Yolanda Be Cool), live tracks, early demos and studio outtakes.
During an Austin City Limits interview, Lauper expressed her annoyance about how Girls Just Want To Have Fun was misinterpreted at the time of release: “They wanted it to be like ‘Girls Just Want To Have Sex’, and I was like, ‘Really? Let’s take a little back-step to that one, pally, ‘cause that is not what it’s about.’… The other thing was, they were like, ‘Oh, she’s such a pain in the butt,’ because I wanted to have every single race of woman in that video so that every little girl could see herself and know that she too was entitled to a joyful experience in life, and that freedom of spirit is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Originally written by Robert Hazard as a song for a guy to sing, Lauper immediately saw the potential for Girls Just Want To Have Fun to flip the script and empower womankind. Speaking to Paul Willistein, Hazard said, “I changed all the lyrics over the phone with [Lauper]… We had to make a lot of gender changes.”
A reworked, reggae-tinged version of the song, titled Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun), was released in 1994 as the lead single from Lauper’s greatest hits album, Twelve Deadly Cyns… And Then Some.
Can you believe that Lauper actually had to push for Girls Just Want To Have Fun to be released as She’s So Unusual’s lead single, after her label had already fallen in love with Time After Time? Cowritten with Rob Hyman from The Hooters (who also contributed BVs), the ballad Time After Time (Lauper’s first U.S. #1) was released as the follow-up single.
The album’s third single, She Bop, is Lauper’s tongue-in-cheek ode to female masturbation (“Hey, they say that a stitch in time saves nine/They say I better stop, or I’ll go blind”). During the aforementioned 30th anniversary show, Lauper revealed she recorded this song – which was included on the Parents Music Resource Center’s ‘Filthy Fifteen’ list, and copped a “Parental Advisory” sticker – while topless and tickling herself.
All Through The Night – the fourth single and second ballad to be lifted from She’s So Unusual – was also a hit, despite being released sans accompanying music video. Check out the version of All Through The Night featuring Shaggy (no sh-t!), which appears on Lauper’s 2005 album, The Body Acoustic!
Based on the strength of She’s So Unusual’s album tracks, six of the record’s ten songs were released as singles, and Lauper became the first female artist to release four Top 5 singles from the same album on the Billboard Hot 100: Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Time After Time, She Bop and All Through The Night.
Following the worldwide success of Lauper’s Breakout Belter, she was called upon to sing two lines of the charity single We R The World by the supergroup U.S.A. For Africa. Studio footage shows Lauper singing alongside Michael Jackson, Huey Lewis and Kim Carnes, until a voice from the control booth addresses her specifically: “You have a lot of bracelets!” Lauper quickly apologises before systematically removing countless necklaces, bracelets and earrings, and piling them up on the studio floor. After the next take, Lauper inquires, “Am I still clinking?” Her two-tone hair during this recording session is fluorescent yellow and bright orange, and Lauper pretty much started this trend more than 16 years ago back when hair dye colour charts were limited to natural hues.
She’s So Unusual was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry, which guards America’s sound recording heritage, just this year. Of her debut album, this Queens-born icon with a four-octave vocal range acknowledged: “It empowered all us freaks − we stood up and showed them how many of us there really were.” And Lauper’s message – imploring us all to celebrate individuality – is needed now more than ever: “So don’t be afraid to let them show/ Your true colors/ True colors are beautiful/ Like a rainbow…”