The year 1983 was a year of firsts for Cyndi Lauper – and the music industry. That year, Lauper released her first solo album, She's So Unusual, which became the first debut album by a female artist to score four Top Five singles: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” “She Bop” and “All Through the Night." She won two American Music Awards, the Grammy for Best New Artist and went on to become the most nominated artist at the MTV Video Music Awards with nine nominations for the album She’s So Unusual, winning the Best Female Video Moonman. Because of her music, influence and artistic contributions, Lauper is featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Women Who Rock exhibit, which illustrates the important roles that women have played in rock and roll history, from roots to today. Cyndi Lauper was instrumental in the creation of the exhibit, as she visited the museum during the inception of the exhibit and advocated about how important the inclusion of women is to the story of rock and roll. She also played a major role as a spokeswoman for the exhibit. Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power is now a traveling exhibit, currently on view at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, through April 2014.
More than a hit single, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" was a call to female empowerment, a modern call to female solidarity. In fact, the entire She’s So Unusual album encourages self-expression and independence, confidence to be an individual. A singer, songwriter, musician, philanthropist and actress, Lauper’s influence is all over contemporary rock –from Nicki Minaj to Katy Perry to Lady Gaga. In the tradition of the powerful female musicians who came before her – Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Brenda Lee, Wanda Jackson, Ellie Greenwich, the Supremes, Joni Mitchell – Lauper broke the mold and moved popular music forward. Like those pioneering singers and songwriters, Lauper's candid lyrics shifted the message of the historically male-dominated rock paradigm. On "I'll Kiss You," for example, Lauper sang about finding a potion to help seduce her boyfriend, while "She Bop" centered around a candid narrative about masturbation.
Cyndi Lauper's message was conveyed not only in the lyrics and music, but also in the visual resonance of the album cover.
In 2010, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's landmark Women Who Rock exhibit was coming together, I had the pleasure of working with Lauper. I styled the iconic outfit that she wore on the cover of the She’s So Unusual album. Even though I had spent countless hours studying that album cover over the years, there was one detail that she wanted to make sure was prominent: "chains," as she explained to me. "I was inspired by a picture that I had in a book of photos of South America that my friend Ken Walls had…. One time I found this photograph of a girl standing in the midday sun. She had a colorful skirt and a bouquet of flowers and the sun cast a shadow that was just right," Lauper explained in her 2012 memoir. "For the front cover [of She's So Unusual], I wanted flowers like the girl in the South American picture, and I wanted a chain on my ankle and on my hip, to stress that woman is the slave of the world… that chain was very symbolic to me." In her explanation to me, the chain represented the stereotypical, traditional role that has been placed on women – as a wife and a mother – without the freedom to be able to choose to explore life on their own terms. In She’s So Unusual, Lauper is breaking free of those traditions by expressing herself - her life and music, with total control - In essence, literally breaking free of those chains.
After winning Grammy, Tony and Emmy awards, Lauper's motto of a united sisterhood has not wavered. Much in the same vein, Lauper’s friend, Yoko Ono explained in the book She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll, by Gillian Gaar: “In the beginning there was music. Two sounds playing with each other and generating energy have created the universe… We are now seeing the world dancing to our songs and our music. One day we will come together and the world will be as one, and a better place for all. ‘Til then, sisters, let’s keep rocking!"