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Cyndi Lauper Is Still The Feminist Pop Star We Need
From her impactful 1983 debut album 'She's So Unusual' to the sparkly musical "Kinky Boots," Cyndi Lauper's music has always celebrated women and queer people
The '80s are known as a decade of excess and extremes. These characteristics are certainly present in the musicians from that era—both male and female— who flamboyantly boasted big hair and shimmery makeup, whose shoulders were padded and accessories were of the quantity-over-quality variety. By today's standards, some lyrics of the time may read as problematic, as far as sexual politics are concerned. However, Cyndi Lauper's music remains uniquely empowering and inclusive in the 21st century.
On the surface, Lauper is a quintessential example of an '80s pop star: bubbly songs with narrative music videos, wacky clothes plus wild hair and makeup. Her 1983 debut album, She's So Unusual, spawned four Top 5 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and hit the No. 4 spot on the Billboard 200 album chart. She was nominated for five GRAMMYs in 1985 and took home the coveted Best New Artist award. The memorable, colorful cover art also helped the project earn Best Album Package. It has gone six times platinum in the U.S. and sold 16 million copies globally in 1984.
At the time of the album's release in October 1983, Lauper was 30 years old and nobody's pushover. Lauper knew who she was and what she wanted to portray, which was not a sex toy, but rather, a fearless and outspoken feminist voice at a time when the Equal Rights Amendment still had not been passed.
She insisted on writing her own songs, and when she was presented with "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," written by Robert Hazard, she only agreed to record it if she could change the lyrics, which were originally about getting girls into bed. She flipped the song on its head and put her four-octave voice to work to shout girl power and the right to have the kind of fun you want to have.
This is reflected in the song's funky, punky video where a noisily clad Lauper with half-shaved orange hair declares that she and her gal pals—a vibrant multicultural group of women—wanted to do whatever they deemed fun, on their terms. The message can be a rallying cry for today's young women, who live in a society where porn and much of other media still depict the male point of view of what fun entails: pleasing the man.
If the message wasn't clear enough on "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," the tiny-yet-loud Lauper spelled it out in no uncertain terms with "She Bop." The song, with its nonsensical chorus: "She bop, he bop, a we bop/I bop, you bop, a they bop/Be bop, be bop, a lu bop," is all about masturbation. In it, Lauper makes fun of every masturbation cliché such as, "They say I better stop or I'll go blind." She double entendres the hell out of her nether regions with "I wanna go south and get me some more" and "I can't stop messin' with the danger zone."
The daring video for "She Bop" went over the top in its risquéness, taking the chance of being banned from MTV, upon which pop stars were deeply dependent. To start, Lauper is having a great time by herself in a car with steamed up windows and "the pages of a Blueboy magazine." When she gets out of the car to a biker dude and his revved up hog, she's more interested in "picking up the good vibrations" of the engine than anything the biker has to offer. When the video, now in animated form, shows them pulling up to "Fill 'Er Up" gas station, cartoon Lauper points to the "self service" sign. The closing scene shows a blind Lauper doing an impressive soft-shoe with a cane because, apparently, she bopped so much she actually did go blind—but she did it on her terms.
While it was not banned from MTV, the song set off the radar of the Parents Music Resource Center, the now-defunct committee led by Tipper Gore, responsible for the parental advisory labels on albums. "She Bop" is one of the PRMC's "Filthy 15," a list of songs the organization deemed most objectionable at the time of its forming. It should be noted that two-thirds of the list is comprised of sex-related songs, including three songs penned by Prince: his own "Darling Nikki," Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls" and Vanity's "Strap On 'Robbie Baby.'"
Speaking of the song, Lauper told Vice in 2016, "I kept saying, 'Look, I don't wanna mention anything to do with hands.' I want little kids to think it's about dance and grown-ups to have a chuckle when they hear it. That's how I wanted it so that's how we did it."
Featured with contemporaries Madonna, Pat Benatar and Joan Jett, all feminist symbols in their own right, in Newsweek March 4, 1985 story Rock and Roll Woman Power, it was Lauper who graced the cover. She is quoted in the story as saying, "I'm glad to have a girl following because I want to encourage them. I try to beget strength and courage and purpose. I want to show them a new woman."
She is not just an icon for women, but also a stalwart advocate for the LGBTQIA community. "True Colors," the title track from her second album, was inspired by the death of a friend due to AIDS. It was also her second No. 1 (her first was "Time After Time" from She's So Unusual). The song's legacy rivals that of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun." Lauper even named her non-profit, True Colors United, after it. The organization is dedicated to ending youth homelessness—which Lauper experienced personally—and which counts a large percentage of LGBTQIA amongst its numbers. Among True Colors United's efforts are Lauper's annual Home for the Holidays benefit concert. Lauper is also on the board of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which seeks to end hate crimes.
In 2013, Lauper's drag queen Broadway musical "Kinky Boots" was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won six, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The music and lyrics are wholly written by the pop queen. The following year, the Kinky Boots Original Broadway Cast Recording won the GRAMMY for Best Musical Theater Album. She has penned music and lyrics for the musical adaptation of the 1988 comedy Working Girl, set to take the stage after theaters reopen.
She's So Unusual was likely named as such because of Lauper's edgy, punk-inspired aesthetic. She was the person outcasts and outsiders could look to and see that it was not only okay to be different, but it could be celebrated. Later versions of her showed up in Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and even Billie Eilish. 40 years ago, no one could have predicted just how unusual, exceptional and lasting Lauper would prove to be.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images
Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West
Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium
Taylor Swift will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.
The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic. I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West! https://t.co/xw6YMN38WE pic.twitter.com/IhVPQ8DMUG— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) September 17, 2019
The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1
"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!"
Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.
Photo: Miguel Pereira/Getty Contributor
10 Ways To Support Women Musicians & Creators Year-Round
March may be Women’s History Month, but you can support female music professionals and creatives year-round. From posting jobs on female-centric platforms, to buying from women-owned record labels, here are 10 impactful ways to support women in music.
Gender inequality in the music industry has remained a constant issue. Countless media outlets, including Pitchfork and Complex, have brought attention to the gender disparity n festival lineups with quantifiable breakdowns while organizations such as Keychange and Book More Women toil to foster change. A major factor in this industry-wide imbalance is a lack of gender equity in positions of power, according to a 2021 study on "Inclusion in the Music Business."
The struggle for women to hold space in any part of the male-dominated music industry — be it as an industry professional or a creative — is very real and ongoing. A study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Institute found that women comprised 21.6 percent of all artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts between 2012 and 2020, and accounted for just 20.2 percent of artists on the 2020 chart. The latter percentage, according to the institution, incorrectly demonstrates that "there has been no meaningful and sustained increase in the percentage of women artists in nearly a decade."
Before female artists can make it to playlists and festival stages, there needs to be women behind the scenes putting them there. Women need to be in recording studios, become event producers, agents, managers, talent bookers and music executives. In order for that to happen, there needs to be guidance and support for women entering the music industry.
Here are a few ways fans and music industry workers can help make that happen.
Make the recording environment a safe space
Stories of sexual harassment in recording studio have been around for so long, they are nearly cliché. Unfortunately, instances of harassment and assault for both for artists and for the small percentage of women who work in an audio engineering environment continue to occur.
Creating safe spaces provides women with "a fair chance, more opportunities, " said engineer Suzy Shinn. Shinn has worked on GRAMMY-nominated albums including Weezer’s Pacific Daydream and produced Van Weezer.
Yet producer and songwriter Jake Sinclair was the first person to give Shinn a safe and stable studio in which to work and learn. "Before [Sinclair], I was running around town, doing every job I could get, dealing with unfamiliar situations that were different every day. [Sinclair] really gave me space to grow, " Shinn told GRAMMY.com. "When I get into that room, I do insane work and make sure I can blow it out of the water."
Get involved with organizations that support women in audio
The percentage of women in the audio space is growing, albeit incrementally. A number of organizations led by long-time, well-respected professionals are encouraging women to enter these careers and support them when they do. Among these are SoundGirls, Women’s Audio Mission, We Are Moving the Needle and Femme House.
Each one of these organizations has a "donate" button or merchandise, the proceeds of which go toward supporting their causes. You can go one step further and set up a scholarship fund (also a handy tax write-off) for women pursuing music education, or help fund existing scholarships offered by We Are Moving the Needle and Femme House.
Hire women and provide support once they’re on board
Have a position you need filled or a project you need done? Post it with shesaid.so, "a global community of women, gender minorities and allies in the music industry," or at Women Connect, who are "creating safer, inclusive spaces and equal opportunities for women, gender fluid and non-conforming people."
If you’re looking for a job in the industry, tune into MeloCompass’ podcast, and tap into Producers Program, "an initiative to support female-identifying music producers and help right the gender imbalance in their field."
Providing continual support to music professionals who are currently working is also important. Shesaid.so hosts mentorship programs where female professionals can uplift each other.
Listen to women-created and women-focused music podcasts
There are many informative women- and music industry-centric podcasts which allow listeners to gain insight into the position of women in the music industry. These podcasts often feature professionals and musicians who speak about their experience and offer advice.
Some excellent options are the radio show/podcast (and also zine), "Women in Sound," run by audio engineer Madeleine Campbell; "We Are the Unheard"; and the award-winning The Last Bohemians, which profiles women in arts and culture.
Provide basic amenities in venue dressing rooms
If you book women at a venue, they should have a private place to get dressed with adequate lighting and a mirror.
2022 Brit Award-nominated artist Rebecca Taylor (professionally known as Self Esteem) breaks it down quite simply: "Women, like all musicians, have to start small at 300-400-capacity venues," Taylor tells GRAMMY.com. "My band is six women and the space in these venues isn't for a woman. There isn’t anywhere to change. If there's a mirror it's covered in stickers. There is no light. The dressing room is for drinking and being a dude.
"That's where it starts, at the grassroots. The absolute smallest thing you can do, which is play a gig, the venue is not expecting women to be there. The knock-on from that has a huge effect. That’s why women are second all the time in music."
Bring up women bookers, promoters and festival organizers
Lauren Kashuk, founder and creative director of Ideaison, an experiential event production and marketing company, noted that female-fronted businesses are significantly less financially supported. "Events are expensive. You have to have the capital from somewhere, especially the first few years when they’re not profitable," she says. "For so long, the decision-makers have been men, and that ties in with financial implications."
Back-of-house positions such as Kashuk’s are often neglected in conversations about gender, she added. "Women behind the scenes need to have equal representation. Speak our names in rooms. If you sit at a table where there is no diversity, you are not going to represent the diverse population of your event and that’s going to impact every aspect of it.
"Empower and bring people that are different than you. We need confident men in positions of power to share that table and not be intimidated by women who are ambitious," Kashuk tells GRAMMY.com. "The way we’re going to change the industry is together, with allies."
Fill rooms and festival stages — including virtual events — where women perform
When promoters see sparse attendance for a woman performer, it is unlikely they will book her again. So showing up goes a long way. Make an effort to time your festival movements so you are in the vicinity of the stage with the rare female artist.
Notes Kashuk, "it’s easy to go to the glamorous large festival. You have to make a conscious effort to go to the smaller events." This support includes buying tickets and sharing information about the performance on social media.
Even tuning into a virtual festival, like SiriusXM’s EMPOWERED, led by the platform’s Rida Naser, makes a difference. After the festival, Naser said the ultimately wanted to have an EMPOWERED stage at a festival. This is an attainable goal, but only if Naser has (among many other things) the audience numbers to take to festival producers.
Support women-owned record labels
Women have great taste in music. They also are great at business. This makes women-owned record labels a double threat, and purchasing from them doubles down on a commitment to support women. Buying directly from a record label (or indie distributor or record store) allows label owners and artists to continue creating and releasing.
There are many women-owned labels to choose from, including Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records, Tokimonsta’s Young Art Records and the femme queer collective Surround’s Dusk Recordings. While you’re in a buying mood, grab some merchandise, post a photo with it and tag everyone involved.
Interact on social media — the right way
Follow, interact, comment, retweet, share. These are givens for any creative you want to support. But if a female artist has a non-algorithm platform you can connect with, such as Discord, engage there to create a direct line between artist and audience.
"I would love it if people used my songs in Instagram Reels and TikTok," independent artist TRISHES told GRAMMY.com. "Everyone wants to know if one of your songs is blowing up on TikTok. Using my music gives it a little bit more of a shot to catch on to a trending thing. Plus, a lot of trending sounds are made by Black creators, but not credited to Black creators. This way you’re not just using it, but also crediting it."
Focus should be shifted from physically objectifying women, TRISHES notes. Adds Self Esteem, "never comment one way or another on what we look like. I like shoes. I like fashion, but I don’t want you to tell me either way what you think about how I look, that would be helpful."
Do more than stream
According to Chartmasters, only two of top 10 most streamed artists on Spotify are women: Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift. The same source shows only two more in the top 20: Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa.
This extreme imbalance has broad ripple effects that leads to more gender inequity. "The people that book festivals, make playlists, those are the ones impeding women because they’re the ones that make those lists 80 percent men," TRISHES explains.
Naturally, you should follow women artists whose music you enjoy on streaming platforms and YouTube, but also add them to your playlists and share those. Since the individuals at these platforms are not necessarily picking women to populate playlists, any playlist women show up on helps to bring attention to their music.
ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"
Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.
Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?
Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?
Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible.
In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.
Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.
Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.
Fleetwood Mac in 1975
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?
"Dreams" experienced a charming viral moment on TikTok after a man posted a video skateboarding to the classic track, and now it's back on the charts, 43 years later
In honor of Fleetwood Mac's ethereal '70s rock classic "Dreams," which recently returned to the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to a viral TikTok skateboard video from Nathan Apodaca, we want to know which of the legendary group's songs is your favorite!
Beyond their ubiquitous 1977 No. 1 hit "Dreams," there are so many other gems from the iconic GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, as well as across their entire catalog. There's the oft-covered sentimental ballad "Landslide" from their 1975 self-titled album, the jubilant, sparkling Tango in the Night cut "Everywhere" and Stevie Nicks' triumphant anthem for the people "Gypsy," from 1982's Mirage, among many others.
Vote below in our latest GRAMMY.com poll to let us know which you love most.