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Cyndi Lauper is our Advocate of the year: 'Hon, I'm a family member'

Cyndi Lauper is our Advocate of the year: 'Hon, I'm a family member'


<p>Cyndi Lauper is our Advocate of the year: 'Hon, I'm a family member'</p>
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

The legendary icon continues to use her voice to create beautiful music and stand up for equality for all.

The year was 1984.My sister and I huddled close to our 17-inch-screen television, with its makeshift wire hanger antenna, excited to watch the new music video for Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” The song was the second hit single to come out following the enduring feminist anthem, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” from her iconic debut album, She’s So Unusual.

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And boy, was she unusual, in the most wonderful way possible. In the video, Cyndi — dressed in a colorful mishmash of vintage and punk clothing, jangles of bangles, and glittering makeup — removes her hat to reveal a new do. With one side of her fire-red hair shaved closely in a waffle-like pattern, her excitement fades as her boyfriend seems to disapprove of the haircut. The video goes on to show Lauper ultimately choosing to leave the relationship behind in order to pursue her own dreams.

Cyndi LauperCyndi Lauper performing at the Montreux Rock Festival in Switzerland in May of 1984.

Cyndi LauperAn image from the documentary 'Let the Canary Sing.'Laurie Paladino/Paramount+

My 8-year-old self was blown away. I had never seen a young woman have such agency over how she was depicted in mainstream media. Or just look so darn cool. Not only did these early songs deliver empowering messages to young women and girls at the time, her radical perspective and style also greatly appealed to many LGBTQ+ people.

“Hon, I’m a family member!” Lauper says proudly of her long-standing relationship with the queer community — which is a big reason she cofounded True Colors United in 2008 with Lisa Barbaris, Jonny Podell, and Gregory Lewis. Years earlier, Lauper had dedicated her soulful ballad “True Colors,” for which the foundation is named, in honor of a dear friend who’d died of HIV-related complications.

True Colors United is still going,” she says. “They’re advocating for the long-term solution to the problem of homelessness for LGBT youth through advocacy, youth action, and technical assistance. They’re working with shelters and housing programs to make sure there are safe places for the LGBTQ+.”

Lauper’s passion for activism has grown and continued alongside her amazing four-decade-plus career, much of which is documented in the fascinating new film Let the Canary Sing, now streaming on Paramount+. The documentary goes deep, recounting the difficulties and abuse she and her siblings endured in their younger years, to showing her ongoing battle to be true to herself in the face of rampant misogyny in the music industry early in her career. “Why? Did you think it went away?” she quips.

“When I sang, I felt free,” she says. “And…if you have someone constantly up your bum telling you what to sing, what to think, when to do it, how to do it, then what are you doing? I didn’t step into music to be a model and model someone else’s work. I stepped into it to create my own.”

Cyndi LauperAn image from the documentary 'Let the Canary Sing.'Laurie Paladino/Paramount+

Cyndi LauperAn image from the documentary 'Let the Canary Sing.'Laurie Paladino/Paramount+

So she stuck to her guns, navigating from pop and rock to genres like blues, jazz, and musical theater. Consequently, she experienced her share of personal and professional highs and lows over the years — but ultimately has become one of our most beloved musical, cultural, and feminist icons who continues to stand up for causes like reproductive rights and more.

Lauper recently started Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Rights, a fund created in partnership with the Tides Foundation. She was inspired to get involved after seeing thousands of women holding signs with the clever catchphrase inspired by Lauper’s famous lyrics at a pro-choice rally following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022. “In 2023, we raised $155K for 12 incredible organizations. We give money and grant it to organizations working on the ground that advance women’s civil rights and reproductive health care around the world.”

With two Grammys, an Emmy, and a Tony for Best Original Score for the Broadway hit Kinky Boots (the first woman to win that category solo, by the way) all under her belt — could an Oscar be next, making Lauper a part of the exclusive EGOT club? Surely she has the chops to garner a Best Original Song nomination if she set her sights on it.

Cyndi LauperTimothy Greenfield-Sanders

“I think...you never know,” she says humbly, after pondering the possibility for a moment. “And awards are great, they really are. But I just want to be able to do something great. That’s all. Something really great that moves people, that makes them feel better. That makes them be inspired…. That’s worth it. If you’re going to climb a mountain, when you get to the top of the hill, you better have something good to say.”

These days, Lauper, 70, is as busy as ever — and still sporting her signature funky fashions and wild hairdos that regularly fluctuate from pink to platinum to purple. When we chatted with her, in addition to promoting Let the Canary Sing and preparing to embark on a huge world tour, Lauper was also getting ready to fly to L.A. to appear at WeHo Pride, where she was honored with the first-ever Lifetime Ally Icon award.

“Cyndi Lauper embodies the spirit of inclusivity, unity, and vibrancy that has defined West Hollywood throughout its history,” Mayor John M. Erickson said in a statement. “Her unwavering dedication to advocacy throughout the years, coupled with her unparalleled musical legacy, makes her a perfect fit for this moment in time as Lifetime Ally Icon as we celebrate WeHo Pride 2024.”

Cyndi LauperRuven Afanador

Cyndi LauperRuven Afanador

On her decision to get back on the road for her Girls Just Wanna Have Fun farewell tour, Lauper explains that she just wanted to give something big back to her fans for all their love and loyalty over the years.

“I’m going to do a farewell arena tour. I haven’t done it in years,” she says. “And if I’m going to [tour] at the age I am, I am the strongest. It’s not like in another three years I’m going to be stronger…. I’m working out like a banshee and I’m doing my vocal lessons! But I think that it would be nice at this point to really put together something for all my fans all around the world for how many years I used to go out to them and sing, and just do something really nice that would make them happy — a celebration and a thank-you.”

Click here to watch 'Let the Canary Sing' on Paramount+.

For information on how you can help combat homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth, visit truecolorsunited.org. For more info on the 'Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Rights' initiative, visit cyndilauper.com/fund.

The Advocates is an annual feature celebrating 10 artists, activists, advocates, and others who strive to make the world a better place for all. Click here to read about our other honorable Advocates of the year.

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Cyndi Lauper on the cover of The Advocate

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