In January, one of the enduring catchcries of the Women’s March cheekily alluded to the chorus of an eighties pop song. Protestors held up posters with a message emblazoned in defiant capitals: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun-Damental Rights”.
They needn’t have altered the words. As performed by Cyndi Lauper in 1983, the song was always a rollicking ode to feminist sassitude. Lauper influenced the synth-swathed, reggae-tinged musical direction of the song but, just as crucially, she tweaked the lyrics. In Robert Hazard’s original wording, the song was sung from the perspective of a guy gloating of his female company. Lauper wasn’t having any of it. “A man’s not gonna say what a woman’s gonna say,” she says. “So I edited it.”
Hazard’s sleazy pronouncement “All my girls have got to walk in the sun” turned into Lauper’s indomitable “I want to be the one to walk in the sun”. Lauper pitched her vocals high, she explains, “like a trumpet”.
At 63, the days when Lauper needed a chain-cutter to undress of an evening are long behind her. The day we meet in the bar of a midtown hotel, her look is Upper West Side chic with a dash of East Village grunge: a black suit with a fringed hem and sleeves, her punk hairdo dyed bubblegum pink.
We meet immediately before a concert event honoring her Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Kinky Boots, which opens in Sydney’s Capitol Theatre this April. (Earlier in the month, Lauper played a number of concerts across Australia, in a double-bill with Blondie.)
Kinky Boots is based on a 2005 British comedy-drama, itself based on a true story of a struggling British shoe factory branching out into custom footwear for drag queens. If the musical has anything in common with her biggest hit, Lauper says, it’s that they’re both bursting with humanity. “Even when we were doing the first album I wanted to do songs that meant something,” she says. “I love the fact ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ still inspires young women to be joyful and strong and express themselves.”
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