30 years ago, Cyndi Lauper leapt onto MTV and the Billboard 100 with her debut solo “She’s So Unusual.” To celebrate the anniversary of the album that made her career and created an ’80s icon, Cyndi is currently on a tour of the US, Japan, and Australia.
I was a senior in high school in 1983, busy with SAT tests and college applications and impending adulthood, so it was a good time to be reminded that girls just wanted to have fun. The “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” video was so exuberant and weird (who was this shaggy professional wrestler playing her father?) that it took us all by storm, and my friends and I loved her wacky look. Her fishnet stockings and vintage prom dress on the cover of the album were sort of evocative of Madonna, but she obviously had less of a stick up her butt. She was someone you wanted to dance with down the streets (like in a video), who would probably lead you into some random bar along the way, and not care if you were underage. Her giddy bounce was infectious and totally accessible.
The songs themselves were largely covers, but being 17, we didn’t know that. We had never heard of the Brains, a New Wave underground band in the ’70s, so we thought “Money Changes Everything” was new and subversive and a brilliant indictment of life in Reagan’s America. Maybe one of our friends realized that “When You Were Mine” had originally been done by Prince, but we thought it was Cyndi’s (and thought it meant she was a lesbian, but that was okay). And we couldn’t have cared less that some folk singer had written and sang “All Through the Night,” because Cyndi was singing to us, to our teenage angst, and we sang back to her through the radio, emo as only teenage girls can be.
That emotional gift was most evident on “Time After Time,” which had as big an impact as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” though naturally in a radically different way. She’s running in the video, running away from love, running towards love, or something else. For girls on the cusp of independence, leaving the familiar and trekking off into the unknown, it was comforting to think that “If you’re lost, you can look, and you will find me/Time after Time…If you fall, I will catch you/I will be waiting/Time after Time…” She knew we were afraid, and she was telling us it was going to be all right, because someone would always be there for us.
The rest of the album was fun, but not as important to us as these five tracks. “She Bop” was a big hit, which was released on my 18th birthday, and I swear I didn’t know it was about masturbation until I was well into my 20s. “Witness,” “He’s So Unusual,” and “Yeah Yeah” were all catchy, but looking at the tracklist, I can honestly say I don’t even remember “I’ll Kiss You.”
This album was, perhaps, a classic example of an artist throwing in all her chips on her debut, and never being able to match that success again, but I think it was also emblematic of the times that “She’s So Unusual” was the classic pinnacle of her career. It was well-crafted and clever, but it was mostly effervescent and fun, at a time that many people, not just teenage girls, needed some fun. 30 years is a long time, but I’m sure that many of her fans are thrilled to have the chance to revisit “She’s So Unusual.”
I can’t wait to share that fun with Cyndi again, live.
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