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Music

history repeating

Cyndi Lauper: The girl still just wants to have fun

Cyndi Lauper in her New York apartment in 1995.

Wyatt Counts/AP/file

Cyndi Lauper in her New York apartment in 1995.

To see the before and afer graphic, click here.

The singer has said she recorded her controversial hit about masturbation while she was wearing little more than her birthday suit. Her garish clothes and wildly dyed hair have been the bane of sensible mothers praying their impressionable daughters will make sensible choices.

The singer is now 60.

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Cyndi Lauper, who became a household name with her giddy and defiant persona a year before Katy Perry was born, brought her enduring brand of pop spectacle to the Wang Theatre Saturday. With her Top Five hit “She Bop” — one of four to chart at least that high from her huge 1983 debut album, “She’s So Unusual” — Lauper earned an unsolicited spot on the Parents Music Resource Center’s list of the “Filthy Fifteen,” the songs that inspired the watchdog group’s infamous parental advisory stickers.

Lauper’s most famous song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” has been covered in recent years by both Perry and Miley Cyrus, among many others. Less risqué than “She Bop,” the song celebrated pop feminism with enough gusto to speak loudly, with an endearing Queens accent.

In her 2011 memoir, Lauper recalled leaving home when she was 17. “I took a paper bag with a toothbrush, a change of underwear, an apple, and a copy of Yoko Ono’s book ‘Grapefruit,’” she wrote. That book featured Ono’s “event scores” — surreal instructions for the reader (“Step in all the puddles in the city”) intended as conceptual art. Through three decades of pop stardom, Lauper has retained that sense of creative whimsy, leading the post-MTV attention-grabbers by example.

She had a long relationship with the gaudy world of pro wrestling, beginning with the “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” video, which featured the late Captain Lou Albano as her domineering father. Under an alias, she sang the theme to Pee-wee Herman’s bizarre TV show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” More recently, she appeared as a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

But for all her lowbrow instincts, Lauper has also maintained plenty of artistic credibility, winning a Tony Award this year for her score for the Broadway show “Kinky Boots.” The sessions for her most recent album, 2010’s stylish “Memphis Blues,” yielded a saucy cover of “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues,” proving that maturing artists don’t have to sacrifice their youthful inclinations.

Amid the hubbub over Cyrus’s raunchy performance on this year’s MTV VMA awards show, Lauper expressed her dismay. “That was girl gone wild,” she said, calling out the younger singer’s participation on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the content of which she equated with “date rape.”

But Lauper has long been an outspoken advocate of women’s and LGBT rights. She’s become no prude in her later years, just a strong advocate for an individual’s — every individual’s — right to define their own sexuality. In a popular culture obsessed with images and boundaries, her kind of independence continues to be great fun.

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.
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