When Cyndi Lauper made her debut in the early ’80s, I sometimes got her confused with Madonna, strange as that may seem. At that time, the two female artists had very similar images. Their clothes had a kind of trashy/funky style, and their songs dealt with themes such as the need for women to be independent.
Since then, of course, the two singers have had very different careers. Madonna, whose music I’ve never really liked, became a true global superstar. But Cyndi Lauper never really recaptured the excitement of her debut album, “She’s So Unusual.” Many people apparently thought she was too unusual, as she became more interested in getting involved in the weird world of professional wrestling instead of music.
But Lauper remained a talented singer, songwriter and performer, and her fans in countries such as Japan stayed loyal to her despite Lauper’s declining career in the United States. I think the reason Lauper didn’t become as popular as Madonna is that she just doesn’t have the genius for self-promotion that Madonna so obviously has. Musically, I’ll take Lauper any day — her voice alone is much, much better than Madonna’s.
I think that’s one reason Lauper is still very popular in Japan. Foreign artists who rely too much on hype and image tend not to do well here, for the simple reason that Japan has lots of home-grown performers like that. But foreign musicians who consistently produce good music and pay attention to the Japanese market usually win the long-term loyalty of their fans.
Another reason is that people — correctly — see Lauper as someone who’s doing what she really wants to do, without regard for image or hype. Her best-known song, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” artfully sums up that attitude.
Still, I can’t imagine Madonna doing a TV pizza commercial like Lauper recently did in Japan.
I’ve just been listening to Lauper’s latest single, “You Don’t Know,” and her fans will be happy to hear that it’s classic Cyndi. It’s a little more subdued than some of her previous work, but her tough-but-romantic personality still comes across very strongly. And the lyrics are intelligent and to the point, which is a nice change from the banal crap that passes for lyrics in many pop records.
The single’s “B-side” is a very interesting tune called “Mother” done in the “trip-hop” style, with a distinct Indian feel. It’s a real change of musical direction for this very talented performer. It will be interesting to see what Lauper’s stage show will be like when she tours Japan in late November and early December — will Lauper rely on a “greatest-hits” approach, or will she challenge her fans with unfamiliar music?