Beneath the formidable glare of the midday sun, Cyndi Lauper has cast her beach umbrella to the footpath as she pulls off something akin to a punk flamenco gyration.
The genius of the Annie Leibovitz photo which graces the cover of She’s So Unusual is that it invites many possible scenarios.
What song is making her stop here to dance? What was she doing just prior? And to anyone who’d seen her hilarious videos for ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ and ‘She Bop’, why does she look so serious?
Lauper knew from a young age that she was different from other kids. She had her own thrift store style, she had a different take on the world and the routines of the classroom just weren’t right for her. Singing was what she loved.
She had stints in various cover bands before forming rockabilly band, Blue Angel, who showed enough promise to score a record deal. When their album flopped, the band was dropped and broke up. Further, she copped a hefty lawsuit when the band’s former manager sued them.
By the time she came to make She’s So Unusual, she was 30. And, even though it was her solo debut, she was no naïve new gal on the block.
“Nothing on that record is an accident,” she told Time magazine in 2014. “I have a very clear vision of what I wanted to say on that record, what I had hoped people would feel when they listened to it.
“I wanted to be very clear that I was an artist that had been influenced by many genres of music, so I made sure you could hear a little bit of it all. I wanted all those influences included and to sound like me while also being commercial at the same time.”
Elements of new wave, blues and pop come together throughout this collection of songs. There’s carnal desire spouting from the punk-fueled ‘I’ll Kiss You’ and then there’s the irresistible reggae bounce of ‘Witness’.
It might have been too eclectic and unworkable a mix for one record, but Lauper’s powerful range, expressiveness and genuine love of many styles of music ensured she was able to authentically place herself squarely at the centre of each of these songs.
Lauper only got to co-write a handful of songs, but the success of the album’s second single was a significant artistic acknowledgement for her.
“For [‘Time After Time’] to be a hit was very important to me personally, since it was a song I wrote and had to fight very hard for it to be on the album,” she told Buzzfeed in 2014.
As a former jazz student, Lauper received a greater thrill and further vindication when Miles Davis chose to do an instrumental cover of ‘Time After Time’ on his 1985 record You’re Under Arrest.
The song that catapulted her to stardom is a great example of how Lauper, by flipping the script, found a place for herself in someone else’s song. In doing so, she created an enduring and joyful message that still resonates today.
‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ was written and demoed by Robert Hazard. Sung from a male perspective, lyrics like ‘Don’t worry, mother dear, you’re still number one…these girls just wanna have fun…’ oozed with smarmy chauvinism.
Lauper was far from keen when her record label suggested she cover the song.
“Well, the first time I listened to it, I didn’t love it,” she told Time. “But then I went, ‘Wait a minute… this song sang from a woman's perspective could be really cool’. Robert wrote it for a guy to sing about a girl. Y'know, ‘girls want to have fun’. And I was like, ‘Ya know what, as a matter of fact, we do.’ I could see how I could turn it into a song about empowerment.”
With its accompanying video, in which she proudly and rowdily parties with her friends and multi-racial New York neighbourhood, ‘Girls….’ was a smash hit on MTV.
It’s easy to see how Lauper’s imagery, energy and message has influenced some of the biggest names in pop like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj and still causes audiences to erupt whenever Lauper plays it.
“What has been great to see is every year since that record has come out, when I perform it live, the women – and the men, too – in the audience celebrate,” she told Time.
“At first it was just women with their friends, then I started to see women with their young daughters, and now I see those little girls who are now in their 30s with daughters of their own – three generations of ‘girls’ – and that is inspiring to me.
“That the words and that call to women to recognize their power still connects is something I am very proud of.”