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Cyndi Lauper Is Still The Feminist Pop Star We Need

Cyndi Lauper

Photo: Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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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

GRAMMYs/Mar 4, 2021 - 03:57 am

Ahead of the inaugural Women In The Mix virtual celebration during GRAMMY Week 2021, GRAMMY.com celebrates two-time GRAMMY winner Cyndi Lauper, one of the event's powerhouse participants.

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 MadonnaPat 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 PerryLady Gaga and even Billie Eilish. 40 years ago, no one could have predicted just how unusual, exceptional and lasting Lauper would prove to be.

The Recording Academy Announces "Women In The Mix" Virtual Celebration: Cyndi Lauper, Ingrid Andress, MC Lyte, Sheila E., Tina Tchen And More Confirmed

The GRAMMY Museum Announces Official GRAMMY Week 2023 Programming Schedule
(L-R): Merck Mercuriadis, Nile Rodgers and THE-DREAM

Photo: Jill Furmonvsky; courtesy of THE-DREAM

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The GRAMMY Museum Announces Official GRAMMY Week 2023 Programming Schedule

Join in on the GRAMMY Museum's GRAMMY Week 2023 education programs and panels ahead of Music's Biggest Night. Here's the lineup for the upcoming, can't-miss events from Jan. 30 - Feb. 3.

GRAMMYs/Jan 23, 2023 - 02:00 pm

With the 2023 GRAMMYs just around the corner, the GRAMMY Museum has announced its official GRAMMY Week 2023 programming schedule ahead of GRAMMY Sunday.

Flush with unique education and community engagement programs, the events offer conversations, live performances and exclusive content from GRAMMY Award-winning and -nominated musicians and industry professionals. From panels discussing what it takes to have a career in the music industry to a celebration of GRAMMY nominee Muni Long, you won't want to miss the GRAMMY Museum’s GRAMMY Week programming.

Join in on these GRAMMY Week festivities from Monday, Jan. 30, to Friday, Feb. 3, with the full lineup as listed below.

Watch the 2023 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 65th GRAMMY Awards, on Sunday, Feb. 5, live on the CBS Television Network and live and on-demand on Paramount+ at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT.

Mon, Jan. 30:

EVENT: Careers in Music: Music Producers Panel with Isla Management

WHAT: A conversation with GRAMMY® Award-winning and -nominated producers Boi-1da, Jahaan Sweet, Sevn Thomas, Leon Thomas, and Isla Management Founder and Manager Simon Gebrelul on the creative process, working with artists, and what it takes to have a career in the music industry as a music producer.

WHEN: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

REGISTER: Click here.

EVENT: Careers in Music: Latin Music Panel

WHAT: A conversation celebrating the culture and impact of Latin Music with singer-songwriter, Gaby Moreno, Vice President of Latin Division at Peermusic, Yvonne Drazan, and Founder and President of Cosmica Records, Gil Gastelum.

WHEN: 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

REGISTER: Click here.

Tues, Jan. 31:

EVENT: Backstage Pass: Global Music Panel

WHAT: A conversation celebrating music from around the world with GRAMMY-nominated artist Zakes Bantwini, CEO of Creative Agency GridWorldwide Adam Byars, TV/Radio personality and entrepreneur Anele Mdoda, Talent Manager and Music/Entertainment Executive Sibo Mhlungu, and Entrepreneur CEO & Founder of Bathu Sneakers Theo Baloyi. This program will also include a live performance by Zakes Bantwini and Nomcebo Zikode.

WHEN: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

REGISTER: Click here.

EVENT: Backstage Pass: LGBTQ Panel & Performance presented by the Ally Coalition

WHAT: Backstage Pass is a career exploration program that gives students a first-hand look at what it takes to get a job in the music industry. This Backstage Pass program will consist of a question-and-answer session with music industry professionals from the LGBTQ community.

WHEN: 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

REGISTER: Click here.

EVENT: Celebrating GRAMMY® Nominee: Muni Long

WHAT: Join us for this exclusive GRAMMY Week event to celebrate this year’s three-time GRAMMY nominee, Muni Long, just ahead of GRAMMY Sunday. Nominated for Best New Artist, Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance, Long was an in-demand songwriter for Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Ariana Grande, and more before breaking through as a solo artist.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS: Click here.

Wed, Feb. 1:

EVENT: Careers in Music: 1500 Sound Academy

WHAT: 1500 Sound Academy is a trailblazing music education institution that strives to produce passionate sound creators through mentorship, positive mindset and professional development. Join us for a moderated Q&A with founders of the 1500 Sound Academy and of the legendary musical ensemble, 1500 or Nothin', GRAMMY Award winners James Fauntleroy and Larrance "Rance" Dopson.

WHEN: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

REGISTER: Click here.

EVENT: Live Out L!ve Presents: Beyond the Mainstage – Black Professionals in Live Music

WHAT: Join us as we go beyond the mainstage and explore the success, challenges and reality of being a Black professional in the live entertainment industry. In this conversation, we will hear from professionals of color who are leading innovation and change in their respective roles. Our panelists will share their journey of becoming a live industry leader and resources for breaking into the industry, and answer questions from the next generation of music industry leaders.

WHEN: 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

REGISTER: Click here.

Thurs, Feb. 2:

EVENT: Backstage Pass: Hawaii Day w/ Bobby Moderow, Jr. & Kawika Kahiapo

WHAT: A celebration of the music and culture of Hawaii, this Backstage Pass program will consist of a question-and-answer session as well as a live performance of two to three songs.

WHEN: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

REGISTER: Click here.

Fri, Feb. 3:

EVENT: Careers In Music: Merck Mercuriadis, Nile Rodgers and 2023 Six-Time GRAMMY®-nominated Singer/Songwriter/Producer THE-DREAM

WHAT: A conversation with Merck Mercuriadis, Nile Rodgers and The-Dream discussing their background in the music industry, the importance and power of the songwriter, sustaining a career, and celebrating the songs past and present that have led to The-Dream having more than 20 GRAMMY nominations and five wins throughout his career. The-Dream is one of the first nominees for the inaugural Songwriter Of The Year, Non-Classical Award and we are here to celebrate his achievements and those of the other great songwriters being honored including his collaboration with Nile Rodgers, Beyoncé and others on "CUFF IT."

WHEN: 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

REGISTER: Click here.

Where, What Channel & How To Watch The Full 2023 GRAMMYs

Mayor Of Los Angeles Karen Bass To Give Keynote Address At 25th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative During 2023 GRAMMY Week Event
(L to R): Peter Paterno, Mayor of Los Angeles Karen Bass, and Aron Lichtshein

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Mayor Of Los Angeles Karen Bass To Give Keynote Address At 25th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative During 2023 GRAMMY Week Event

The Recording Academy Entertainment Law Initiative will welcome Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass as the keynote speaker for its annual GRAMMY Week Event.

GRAMMYs/Jan 20, 2023 - 02:00 pm

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy Entertainment Law Initiative will welcome Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass as the keynote speaker for its annual GRAMMY Week Event. Mayor Bass will join leaders in the legal and creative communities at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Fri, Feb. 3, as they celebrate the work of their peers and the year-round efforts of the Entertainment Law Initiative, which aims to encourage discussion and debate around the impact of legal affairs on the music industry.

"We are honored to welcome Mayor Karen Bass to the ELI GRAMMY Week Event as we gather and celebrate with the trailblazing professionals and students who are paving the way forward in the entertainment law industry," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said. "Mayor Bass has been a longtime supporter of music creators' rights in her legislative roles, and she has a unique understanding of how the creative industries intersect with law and policy that we look forward to hearing at this year's event."

"I'm proud to support GRAMMY Week because of the role that our entertainment industry plays in powering our local economy and to encourage efforts to increase equity and opportunities for Angelenos to break into the music business," Mayor Bass said.

Mayor Bass was sworn in as L.A.'s mayor on Dec. 11, 2022, after representing California's 33rd Congressional District from 2011 to 2013 and its 37th Congressional District from 2013 to 2022 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Between 2004 and 2010, she served in the California State Assembly and was elected as Speaker in 2008. 

The event will also honor the winner and runners-up of the Entertainment Law Initiative Writing Contest, co-sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA). The contest challenges students in Juris Doctorate and Master of Laws programs at U.S. law schools to research a pressing legal issue facing the modern music industry and outline a proposed solution in a 3,000-word essay. The winner of this year's Writing Contest is Aron Lichtschein, a JD student at NYU School of Law, for his essay, "Tickets to Ride: NFTs and the Future of Concert Ticketing." Lichtschein will receive a $10,000 scholarship as well as tickets to the 2023 GRAMMY Awards and other GRAMMY Week events. As well, his essay will be published in the ABA's journal Entertainment & Sports Lawyer. Runners-up Gina Maeng and Amanda Sharp, students at Georgetown Law School and University of San Diego School of Law, respectively, will each receive $2,500 scholarships for their essays.

The Recording Academy announced last month that Peter T. Paterno, Partner at King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP, will receive the 2023 Entertainment Law Initiative Service Award at the ELI GRAMMY Week Event; the award is presented each year to an attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to advancing and supporting the music community through service. 

Where, What Channel & How To Watch The Full 2023 Grammys

The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing To Honor Trailblazers Terri Lyne Carrington And Judith Sherman
(L-R): Judith Sherman, Terri Lyne Carrington

Source Photos (L-R): Courtesy of the Recording Academy® / Photo by Jason Kempin for Getty Images © 2023; Courtesy of the Recording Academy® / Photo by Alexandra Wyman for Getty Images © 2023

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The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing To Honor Trailblazers Terri Lyne Carrington And Judith Sherman

The Recording Academy's Producers & Engineers Wing will honor three-time GRAMMY winner Terri Lyne Carrington and revered classical producer and 13-time GRAMMY winner Judith Sherman at its annual GRAMMY Week event in February.

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2023 - 02:00 pm

The Recording Academy has announced Terri Lyne Carrington and Judith Sherman as honorees for their accomplishments as pioneering women in jazz and classical music. They will be honored at the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing GRAMMY Week Event on Feb. 1 at The Village Studios in Los Angeles. The 15th annual event will return in-person for the first time since 2020, to kick off GRAMMY Week 2023. 

In addition to celebrating the achievements of three-time GRAMMY winner Terri Lyne Carrington and revered classical producer and 13-time GRAMMY winner Judith Sherman, the event will celebrate the year-round work of the Producers & Engineers Wing and its members. They advocate for excellence and best practices in sound recording, audio technologies and education in the recording arts, along with proper crediting, recognition and rights for music creators.

"We’re thrilled to return live to The Village Studios for the first time in three years to celebrate two groundbreaking music creators who are dedicated to innovating both creatively and technically in the recording field," said Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy. "Both Terri Lyne and Judith have made indelible contributions to music, and we look forward to bringing together producers, engineers and artistic professionals to honor these incredible artists and kick off our GRAMMY Week celebrations."  

Terri Lyne Carrington is an NEA Jazz Master, Doris Duke Artist, and three-time GRAMMY-winning drummer, composer, producer, and educator. She is the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, as well as the artistic director for both Next Jazz Legacy program (a collaboration with New Music USA) and the Carr Center in Detroit. She has performed on more than 100 recordings over her 40-year career and has toured and recorded with luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Esperanza Spalding, and numerous others.

Her artistry and commitment to education has earned her honorary doctorates from York University, Manhattan School of Music and Berklee College of Music, and her curatorial work and music direction has been featured in many prestigious institutions internationally. The critically acclaimed 2019 release, Waiting Game, from Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science, earned the esteemed Edison Award for music and a GRAMMY nomination. In the fall of 2022, she authored two books, Three of a Kind (The AllenCarringtonSpalding Trio) and the seminal songbook collection, New Standards: 101 Lead Sheets By Women Composers. Her current GRAMMY-nominated album, New Standards Vol.1 (Candid Records), and her visual art curatorial debut at Detroit's Carr Center, Shifting the Narrative Part 1: New Standards, have accompanied the songbook release as part of the Jazz Without Patriarchy Project. 

Carrington is a 2022 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is co-executive producer and musical director for the newly formed Jazz Music Awards.

Judith Sherman has made an indelible contribution to the catalog of recorded classical music. 

She is an 18-time GRAMMY Award nominee and 13-time GRAMMY winner, including six GRAMMYs for Producer Of The Year, Classical (at the 36th, 50th, 54th, 57th, 58th, and 64th GRAMMY Awards). Early in her career she was employed at WBAI-FM in New York City, beginning as an engineer and over the course of four years working her way up to become producer and then music director. She was the recording engineer for the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont during the summers of 1976 through 1994 and worked as audio faculty at the Banff Centre in 2006 and 2008. A member of the board of directors of Chamber Music America, Sherman served first as secretary in 2002, and thereafter as vice president. She currently works as a freelance recording producer and engineer in New York.

Sherman has collaborated with a vast number of artists throughout her career including Rudolf Serkin, Ursula Oppens, Marc-André Hamelin, Llŷr Williams; with the Kronos Quartet and the Cleveland, Ying, Takács, and Pacifica String Quartets; with eighth blackbird and the American Brass Quintet; and with conductors such as Christoph Eschenbach, Donald Runnicles and David Zinman. Her recordings in the field of contemporary classical music have been particularly noted, including work with such composers as Steve Reich, Elliott Carter, Steve Mackey, Charles Wuorinen, John Adams, Shulamit Ran, David Rakowski, Philip Glass, Eric Moe, Joan Tower, and Terry Riley. Her recordings have appeared on many labels, including Nonesuch, Telarc, Cedille, New World, Avie, Albany, Signum, Hyperion, and Bright Shiny Things. 

"The Producers & Engineers Wing is privileged to pay tribute to two women who have pushed boundaries both in and outside of the studio," said Maureen Droney, Vice President of the Producers & Engineers Wing. "As GRAMMY nominees this year, Terri Lyne and Judith are awe-inspiring honorees who represent the best of the recording industry and whose contributions to their respective genres continue to resonate with our music community."

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2023 - 12:17 am

Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.

So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.     

Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.