Women didn’t always rule the Hot 100. In 1984, female artists accounted for only four of the 20 songs to reach No. 1: Deniece Williams, Tina Turner, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, a Queens-born singer with a four-octave range and a Day-Glo sense of style. Lauper’s 1983 solo debut, She’s So Unusual, reaped material from eclectic sources — Prince (“When You Were Mine”) post-punks The Brains (“Money Changes Everything”) and minor Philly new-waver Robert Hazard, whose song Lauper sex-changed to a female point of view and turned into the feminist bubble-gum anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
That song never reached No. 1 (classic ballad “Time After Time” did, for two weeks, on June 9), but its playful video christened Lauper an MTV superstar who defiantly stood out during the network’s early days when women were mostly seen dancing in steel cages and on middle-school desks. “Bryan Adams had this song, ‘Cuts Like a Knife,'” recalls Lauper. “I liked the song, but the video was basically a Latino girl stripping in a dressing room. I thought we needed videos that represented women better.”
She’s So Unusual spent nearly all of 1984 in the top 40 of the Billboard 200. In December, when “All Through the Night” made it into the top five of the Hot 100, Lauper, at the age of 31, became the first woman to have four singles from one album hit that mark. Those songs, says Lauper, “were about empowering all us freaks. We stood up and showed them how many of us there really were.”
An edited version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of Billboard.