For over 30 years, pop music and performance legend Cyndi Lauper has been a leader in pushing social boundaries and creative innovation. In honor of her work, on December 6, she will receive the 2018 Icon Award at Billboard’s Annual Music in Women ceremony. In the early 1980s when Lauper began her career as a singer/songwriter, her eclectic style and brilliant discography propelled her to the top of the pop charts. She made a huge mark on the industry with unforgettable singles like, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and “True Colors,” but Lauper also used her platform to bring awareness to important issues, especially within the LGBTQ community.
“The entire world recognizes the power of Cyndi Lauper’s pop music, and just as crucially, she has used her undeniable talent to soar beyond music, create positive change in modern society and become a true Icon,” Billboard’s editorial director Jason Lipshutz said in an earlier article on the site.
In honor of Lauper’s legacy, Billboard has highlighted some of her most important accomplishments and moments from over the years. Here’s a breakdown of her inventive and extraordinary journey.
She made a strong first impression in 1983 with her debut album She’s So Unusual
Over the next year, the project became the first solo album by a female artist to boast four Top 5 singles on the Billboard Pop Charts. It’s also home to Lauper’s famed breakout single, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
Lauper’s spirited girl-anthem “Girls Wanna Have Fun” was originally written by new-wave artist Robert Hazard. Lauper heard his original demo, and it was catchy but she didn’t like its misogynistic message. So, the singer added her flair, changed the lyrics to craft a fun and liberating song for women. While the it gained popularity, the song’s lively and interactive music video marked another moment where Lauper pushed back against the norms of the industry at the time.
In an earlier interview with Billboard she explained her desire to present a different narrative with the song’s visual, “Bryan Adams had this song, ‘Cuts Like a Knife,'” recalls Lauper. “I liked the song, but the video was basically a Latina girl stripping in a dressing room. I thought we needed videos that represented women better.” Lauper’s visual for “Girls Wanna Have Fun” was liberating and featured a diverse group of women celebrating and in control.
In 1983, Lauper’s released her second single, which was a major success and showed her songwriting talent
On the track from She’s So Unusual, “Time After Time,” — co-written by Lauper — hit No.1 on the Billboard charts. As her career evolved, Lauper would establish her role as a songwriter for herself and across the industry.
After the 1984 Video Music Awards, Lauper became an MTV star after “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” won the award for Best Female Video.
In 1985, Lauper joined a supergroup of 45 other musicians to release USA for Africa’s song “We Are the World”
As a part of an effort to combat famine in East Africa, Lauper and the other artists showed sonic solidarity with this gesture of advocacy.
In 1986, she continued to use her music to call attention to larger issues in society
Lauper released her sophomore album, True Colors and donated a portion of the proceeds to AIDS research. She also dedicated its title track to her close friend Gregory Natal who passed away from AIDS.
By the ‘90s, Lauper had already been deemed a pop sensation. She released two studio albums Hat Full of Stars in 1993 and four years later, there was her fifth LP Sisters of Avalon. Both albums highlighted poignant issues like racism, homophobia, and domestic violence.
In 2008, Lauper took her advocacy for the LGBTQ community to a new level
In 2008, she co-founded The True Colors Fund, a non-proft organization devoted to eradicate homelessness among LGBTQ teens through research and policy change. In an interview with Variety about the fund, Lauper revealed that it was originally called the, “Give a Damn Campaign.”
“We all have brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles who are affected. You can’t sit back and watch your family and friends have their civil rights stripped from them bit by bit,” she said. “And that campaign got straight people, gay people, questioning people, bisexual people to stand forward and say, ‘I give a damn.’”
In 2013, Lauper reached another milestone as the composer of the acclaimed musical “Kinky Boots”
Her friend, actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote the book for the play and asked Lauper to create its musical score. In an earlier interview with the Los Angeles Times, he explained why he thought Lauper would connect with the script, “‘Kinky Boots’ is about two guys who had fathers that wanted their sons to turn out a certain way — and neither son wanted to take that path. It was such a natural for Cyndi because she understands having to reinvent yourself and having to make a place in the world.”
That same year, Lauper made history as the first solo woman to win the Tony award for Best Original Score.
With a legacy spanning over three decades, Lauper has been a motivating force in the music industry and world. In honor of her legacy and contributions, the star recognized with the Billboard Icon Award.