Back in 1983, a girl from Queens burst into the pop music world with a fluorescent orange mullet, an outer-borough squawk and a singing voice, blending a rocker's attack and a soul star's range, that seemed like it could power all of downtown Manhattan. On her debut album, She's So Unusual, Cyndi Lauper proved a pop artist could dominate the charts simply by being her kooky self: By 1984, she was the first woman to have four singles from an LP reach the top five of the Billboard Hot 100. Over four decades and 11 albums, Lauper never stopped promoting self-acceptance, whether encouraging women’s liberation on “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” or founding her True Colors Fund for homeless LGBTQ youth (its namesake song is a community anthem). It's hard not to see her influence in today's pop stars, from Lady Gaga to Cardi B, who happily let their freak flags fly. And at 65, this year's Icon is still growing: A Tony Award winner for her Kinky Boots score, Lauper is adapting the 1988 film Working Girl for Broadway. “Deep in my heart,” she says, “I still want to be a great artist. I mean, really great.”
You've always seemed to have fun just being yourself. How did you find your tribe?
As early teens, my friend and I were a duet. We met a manager who said, “The only way I'll work with you is if you get married to two boys.” I was like, “Get married? What the fuck?” So that didn't work out. Then all my friends in that tribe came out. Because I was straight, I kind of fell out of that tribe real quick. It was like, “Well, she's straight.” Then my sister came out, and I was like, “Ha! You're not ditching me! Wherever you go, I'm gonna be right there.” When I joined a folk cover band, all of a sudden I didn't feel so different anymore. Everybody was kind of messed up. I could do my hair in pink curls like a version of Sir Isaac Newton. When I started to come to Manhattan, that’s when I started to feel more alive.