When: Sat., June 4, 8 p.m. 2016
SATURDAY, JUNE 4
Every semester, I teach Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual to my music writing class for several reasons. It provides a neat way to show how far pop journalism has progressed since the eighties, when Lauper's boisterous solo debut was largely ignored by rock-obsessed men working for dailies. It's also a fine exercise in dual retroism, with its callbacks to girl groups and Betty Boop, filtered through a DayGlo sensibility. But mostly I have my undergraduates listen because it's one of the decade's finest pop albums. Lauper flaunts an insatiable appetite for different musical styles, from the spiky new wave of "She Bop" to the wistful minimalism of the Prince-penned "When You Were Mine" and the widescreen balladry of "All Through the Night." It feels fluid and joyful, like Lauper is figuring this all out as she goes along.
Next semester, I might add a couple of tracks from Lauper's new Detour to show how artists can successfully shape-shift even when their pop-cultural perceptions are set in stone. Detour is Lauper's foray into country, with a track list that borrows from dusty jukeboxes of yore and a last-call vibe of fiddles and slide guitar. Lauper's voice works well in the chicken-fried context. Her real-talk persona fuels the pathos of the rueful title track, while her interpretative talent adds a wallop to "Heartaches by the Number." When Willie Nelson shows up to duet on his "Night Life," the reasons for Lauper's embrace of country become clear—their two voices, weathered but strong, tell stories about lives fully lived more deeply than any lyric ever could. Having contributed multiple entries to the American pop songbook, Lauper's choice to revisit its older offerings represents a fiery grace that only cements her status as one of our true greats. —Maura Johnston
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