Cyndi Lauper’s career has been anything but business as usual. In the three decades since her debut album, She’s So Unusual, became an instant pop culture phenomenon, the lovably odd singer has won multiple awards, starred in several movies and TV shows, released albums across multiple genres of music, and been an outspoken LGBT ally.
At the height of the AIDS crisis in the mid 1980s, Lauper became one of the earliest celebrity activists to join the fight against HIV. She also cofounded the True Colors Fund in 2008, an organization which encourages the advancement of equality for all and aims to raise awareness as well as end LGBT youth homelessness. In 2012 the gifted songstress wrote the music for the new Broadway musical Kinky Boots, which earned her a 2013 Tony Awards nomination for Best Original Score, and this summer she’s taking us back to where it all began with the She’s So Unusual 30th anniversary tour.
With her nostalgic ride kicking off June 12 in San Diego, The Advocate interviewed the iconic singer about her upcoming tour, her recent Broadway success, and the experience that changed her into an advocate in the battle to end HIV.
The Advocate: Kinky Boots has been a rousing success. How did you become involved in the Broadway adaption of the British film?
Cyndi Lauper: Harvey Fierstein called and asked me. It was that simple. It’s been a privilege to work on a Broadway musical with Broadway royalty who is also a friend.
You’re certainly no stranger to performing on Broadway yourself. How does the experience of composing the music for a production like this compare with acting onstage?
It’s totally different. Acting is very much a collaboration between you and your fellow actors on stage. However, writing music for a play is an even bigger collaboration. Having to write songs for different characters, you have to be part of every minute of the show and you feel more responsible, I guess. Theater is such an amazing environment. A real team experience, and when the show is frozen you look at each other and feel this connectedness I have never felt before in my life.
It’s been 30 years since you rocked our worlds with She’s So Unusual. Can you believe it’s been that long?
It’s a blink and it’s forever.
Are there any particular tracks from the album you’re looking forward to performing once again on your 30th anniversary tour this summer?
I can’t wait to play them the way I recorded them 30 years ago. Over the years the songs morph and change a bit, but to go back and listen to what you did 30 years ago and worked so hard on, it’s fun to re-create that moment in time. I can’t say there is a single song I look forward to more than the other. I’m looking forward to taking that ride again with all my fans. I can’t wait!
Your career began to take off in the mid 1980s, the same time the AIDS crisis hit. How did the disease impact your life in those early days?
One of my very dear friends, Gregory, passed away in 1986 from AIDS. He lived in the apartment upstairs with his partner. We tried to help him through it all as best we could. It was a very scary time. So many people in my life and in the music industry were dying, and not nearly enough was being done by our government at the time to help.
Since then, you’ve been an incredibly vocal advocate for HIV awareness.
Having never been a person who was afraid to speak up, I knew I had to help make some noise and do whatever I could to make a difference. You fight fear and ignorance through education and awareness.
What’s the biggest change you’ve witnessed in the field of HIV advocacy over the years?
The biggest challenge today is that people don’t think HIV is that much of an issue anymore. While the drug therapies have done an incredible job of keeping people with HIV alive, it is an arduous journey for people taking the drugs. The side effects are significant. The public does not see HIV as a death sentence anymore. We need to continue to reinvest in prevention efforts and to put all the resources we can into ending the epidemic.
You’ve recorded a wide range of music throughout your career and released albums from a variety of genres, including your most recent effort, Memphis Blues. Do you ever worry about public reaction to any project before you dive in?
I don’t, and the reason is, I have the greatest fans ever. They have allowed me to follow my muse and have been there every time. It’s like taking an adventure together and they have always been the great traveling buddies. They make me brave.
Is another Cyndi Lauper pop album a possibility in the near future or do you have different genre in mind for your next musical adventure?
I am already planning, but nothing I am ready to share yet. It’s still in its infancy stage. It’s kind of like when you are first pregnant. You don’t want to tell the world until the first trimester has passed. I am a bit superstitious that way. [Laughs]
Is there a particular artist you’re a fan of that you think might surprise people?
I don’t think so. I listen to everyone from Joni Mitchell to Pink to Hunter Valentine to Matt and Kim to Swedish House Mafia to Nicki Minaj to Nelly to Janis Joplin to Patsy Cline. I love music of all genres.
Do you feel the music industry is in a better place now than it was 30 years ago?
I think artists have more power, and that’s a good thing!
Visit CyndiLauper.com for tickets, tour dates, and the latest news on things Cyndi Lauper.