Cyndi Lauper Talks Kinky Boots, ‘Detour’ And Being Strikingly Different

Photo courtesy of Cyndi Lauper

When exactly has Cyndi Lauper ever not been all the rage? Can’t think of a moment? Exactly. For almost 35 years, Cyndi Lauper has been nothing short of a revolutionary presence in the music industry, giving new meaning to what it means to be a woman in music — ever changing and never complacent. Her voice can be found in almost every facet of music from pop, to blues, to country, and she’s dominated them all. But for someone known for being ‘so unusual,’ you’ll find that asking her what makes her different will result in an unusually short, and mildly puzzling, answer:

“Am I different?”

The course of her illustrious career has seen 50 million albums sold world-wide between her eleven studio albums, and she’s almost achieved EGOT status having won two Grammy’s, an Emmy and a Tony award. Her first album, 1983’s She’s So Unusual, is also the first female debut album to log four top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The 80’s saw her produce what is considered her most famous works in the original girl power anthem “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” and the legendary LGBT standard, “True Colors;” but some of her other works outside the hit’s bubble of the 80’s like 1993’s Hat Full Of Stars and more recent albums like her turn to blues on 2010’s Memphis Blues and 2016’s country effort Detour, have been lauded as some of her best work. “I got to incorporate some of my experiences from my childhood and work some of the people that had profound impact on me into the songs by telling their stories,” she said of Hat Full of Stars, when we spoke with her recently. “It’s one of the albums I’m most proud of.”

Memphis Blues and Detour are both albums that are comprised of covers of notable songs from their respective genre’s like “I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline on Detours and “Early In The Mornin’” by Louis Jordan on Memphis Blues. Even legends like B.B. King made his way onto Memphis Blues, while Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris showed up on Detour. “I see Detour as a companion piece of Memphis Blues,” she said. “Basically, I pulled music from the same era. If you listen to the music you can see that the country artists were influenced by their blues peers, and blues artists were influenced by country artists of that era.

If you really listen you can hear the similarity. Music has always been way more integrated then society. Artists were listening to each other and that’s magical to me.” This summer will see Lauper heading back out on the road, co-headlining an 18 date U.S. tour with fellow legend Rod Stewart starting July 6th and running through August. “Sir Rod and I shared a stage once… it was in the 80’s,” she said. “We met up again at a private event last year and it was great. He said ‘We should do that again,’ and not long after that my agent Marsha Vlasic called and said the tour was coming together. It’s going to be a blast, I can’t wait. We’re even singing a song together that we’ve never done.”

In 2013 Lauper made her first foray into songwriting for Broadway, composing the music and lyrics for the smash hit musical Kinky Boots, a project that has gone on to become one of the greatest successes of her career. “It’s a story about love, acceptance, friendship and overcoming obstacles that everyone can relate to. ‘Pursue the truth, find something new, learn something new, respect yourself and you’ll respect others too, let love shine, let pride be your guide and you change the world when you change your mind.’ I just thought that’s pretty cool and that would be pretty cool to take around the world.” Her work went on to win her the Tony for Best Original Score, becoming the first woman to win solo in that category, and also scored her second Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album, almost 30 years after her first win as Best New Artist in 1985. She’s also hard at work on white way once again, composing the score for the upcoming Broadway production of the film Working Girl.

Her legendary contributions to music only scratch the surface though. She has actively been one of music’s biggest supporters of the LGBT community from the very beginning of her career, long before many other artists would even go near the subject, consistently advocating for equal rights and other needs in the community. Her efforts led her to being awarded LOGO’s 2017 Trailblazer Award just this past June. “I am a family friend of the LGBT community. My sister, other family and friends are part of the community. Where I come from if you witness your family and friends’ civil rights being stripped away, you speak up and do everything you can to keep that from happening,” Lauper said. “I think the last 10 years have given us major advances, but as we are seeing on a daily basis with this administration, this is no time be complacent. LGBT rights, along with minority and women’s rights are under attack.

We are fighting many fights across the country and in a number of states protections and legislation protecting LGBT people are being rolled back. The kids who came up in the last 10 years who have seen and lived the progress are now understanding the importance of the fight for equality, and are lending their voice in joining all that have come before them to fight to and to protect their rights. They are seeing open discrimination and legislation that is trying to force them back into the days before marriage equality, and in some cases even before Stonewall, with policies that are blatantly discriminatory and backwards. I am hopeful that we will unite and push back for progress in this country, for everyone.”

One of Lauper’s biggest contributions to the LGBT community has been through her True Colors Fund, a non-profit organization striving to end homelessness for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender youth. “The highest percentage of homeless youths are LGBT, and that needs to change,” Lauper said. “Most of the kids I have spoken with through our many True Colors initiatives have been kicked out of their homes or even worse, been kicked out of their homes and then refused lodging and care at homeless shelter due to them being LGBT.

The True Colors fund is doing the work to try and change legislation to make sure that all homeless youths can find a place for help, support, food and lodging and not be turned away for being LGBT, and that federal funding should go to shelters and safe places that will also take in and support homeless LGBT kids.” 2018 will see a landmark for the True Colors Fund as it will celebrate it’s the 10th anniversary. “ I cannot believe that it is almost 10 years,” she said.

“To think that it all started on a tour bus as we traveled America on the True Colors Tour in 2008. We are just beginning to think about how to celebrate it while keeping up with all of the work we are currently doing. But, as with everything we do, we will make sure it will celebrate the young people who we are dedicated to helping. We will highlight their resiliency, their hard work to have the futures they deserve, and their leadership in helping to end the problem.”

Almost 35 years in the spotlight can be a lot for anyone, but Cyndi’s true colors still shine just as bright as they always have. She continues to be the living embodiment of someone thriving in their truth, never compromising herself for anyone or anything. “I just want love and acceptance to be felt in the heart of every being,” she said. And if anyone could make that happen, it’s her.

Text pulled from archived July 2017 issue.