“I’m a big fan of unpopular causes.” That’s how Cyndi Lauper — pop music icon, Tony-award winning writer of Broadway’s Kinky Boots, former reality-show star, and LGBTQ activist — explains her latest raison d’etre: speaking out about psoriasis, from which she suffers.
“I was very sick from 2010 to 2015, and tried every concoction,” including slathering herself in cod liver oil and then wrapping her body in plastic wrap at bedtime, “trying not to wreck the sheets, and stinking,” she explained, as she took to the AOL BUILD stage to talk about the “Hope” video and See Me campaign she’s doing with Novartis and its psoriasis treatment, Cosentyx, that she’s found to be so effective.
“You’ve got to give people hope, that’s what people need,” she said. “That’s what’s lacking sometimes.”
Lauper, whose always changing hair was short and spiky and bright pink, also talked about sexism and ageism in the music industry, the challenges of raising her teenage son, Declyn, and how she managed to turn “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” into a political anthem. “It was a song written by a man, so I don’t even have to say anything. … I decided I would do something [for the video], and when it came to the lineup of girls, we got every racial group — white, black, Asian — so every little girl who looked at that video would want to join our club and understand that every woman, every person, is entitled to a joyful experience.”
At the Women’s March in January, Lauper recalled, she was tickled to see young women carrying signs that riffed on her song further, with “Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Rights,” and “all the stuff I said in the ’80s when they said, ‘Don’t be so political!'”
The Broadway musical composer — who wrote a song for the new SpongeBob Squarepants and will be writing the score for an in-the-works stage adaptation of the 1988 movie Working Girl — credits her mother for imbuing her young life with a love for musical theater. She said, “When I was a kid, I didn’t hang out with a lot of people, but I did hang out by the record player,” and acted out the parts from My Fair Lady and The King and I; the first musical she can remember seeing was Applause, starring Lauren Bacall.
Lauper has been married to actor David Thornton for 26 years, but when asked for relationship advice, she shrugged. “Don’t ask me. I think you stay married, that’s all,” she offered. Then she sweetly added, “But I know that he’s my best friend, he’s the funniest person I know, he’s wildly creative, looks at things the way other people don’t.”
In addition to creating music, Lauper has worked on an original fashion line, which debuted recently on the Home Shopping Network. She stood and twirled to show off the funky scarlet suit and fuzzy black platform heels she wore, both part of the Touch of Cyn line.
“I feel like older women are pushed out of any kind of couture,” she said, noting that her jacket, for example, “makes you look better than you sometimes feel you look.” For her heels, which she insisted are cozy and comfortable, she said she spent hours researching shoe design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “It’s a combination of the little teacup heel and old [Elsa] Schiaparelli heel,” she said. “I wanted women to feel comfortable, but we don’t have to go looking like Mother Cabrini just because we’re older.”
As for not letting her age, 64, hold her back in the music industry, she said, “At one point, I’ll sing under a fake name to actually just make modern music, because along with sexism is ageism. And as a musician, what they told us in the ’80s was that our music was disposable. I said, ‘I didn’t come this far and work my whole life to make disposable music … in 50 years, people will remember my songs.”
But no matter what life continues to throw at Lauper, she said, “I have a thick skin and I’m Sicilian, and we’re taught to keep going. I also used to look at the [main New York City] post office on 30th Street every time I came from Queens to rehearse, and it said, ‘Neither rain, sleet, snow nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.’ And I kinda took it literal.”
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