For a while there in the mid '80s, she seemed destined to be. She won the Best New Artist Grammy in 1985, and her debut solo album, 1983's She's So Unusual, went six-times platinum in the U.S. To put how big Lauper was circa 1984 to 1986 into modern-day perspective, she was Katy Perry to Rihanna's or Lady Gaga's Madonna, only in Lauper's case, far more talented than Perry, Rihanna, or her old rival, whose rise may have hastened Lauper's chart fall. Back then, the tops of the pops had use for only one girl who just wanted to have fun at a time.
Considering her considerable talent then, a more accurate description might be Christina Aguilera to Britney Spears's Madonna at the turn of the century. Yes, Lauper was the talented one, but her chart success was even shorter lived than Aguilera's is turning out to be. (According to HitsDailyDouble, Aguilera's fifth studio album, Lotus, which was released in the U.S. on Tuesday, is on track to sell a relatively paltry 75,000 to 80,000 copies in its first week. That's a shame because I'd rather go for a run around the park with it than Pink's latest, which sold 281,000 copies during the same first-week period.)
Ironically, although Lauper started off as something of a joke, with the wild hair, day-glo costumes and WWF affiliation (which one could file under questionable taste to explain her lack of commercial longevity), in decline, she ended up being taken quite seriously as an artist. Even after she stopped topping the charts, her albums continued to be critically acclaimed (her 2008 dance collection, Bring Ya to the Brink, rivaled Confessions on a Dance Floor, the best of Madonna, in quality, if not in terms of success), and she won a 1995 Emmy for one of her guest spots on the NBC sitcom Mad About You.
Now she's about to go (again) where it seems every music star past and present eventually does -- to reality TV. In January, the WE Network will begin airing Cyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual, a 12-part series that will document the now-59-year-old star's home and work life. Laugh if you will, but it's a step up from The Celebrity Apprentice, on which Lauper competed in 2010, and so much better than Dancing with the Stars.
Normally, I dismiss reality projects such as this one as last-ditch attempts by desperate has-beens to recapture a long-dimmed spotlight, or desperate attempts by current stars with a limited shelf life (see Nicki Minaj) to cash in while they can, maybe even pad their 15 minutes of fame. I never understood the fuss over the Osbournes or Jessica Simpson, and of all the aging heavy metal stars for reality TV cameras to follow, I can't understand why they'd settle on KISS's Gene Simmons.
But to each his and her own, and I'm glad to see Lauper getting her shot. Hopefully, Cyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual will not only recapture that long-dimmed spotlight, but it will lead to a commercial renaissance to make up for everything that questionable taste and Madonna cheated her out of all those years ago.
The Best of Cyndi Lauper
"High and Mighty" (from Bring Ya to the Brink)
"True Colors" (from True Colors)
"I Drove All Night" (from A Night to Remember)
"Unhook the Stars" (from Sisters of Avalon)
"She Bop" (from She's So Unusual)