Note: Liz Tracy is the music editor at our sister paper New Times in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida.
"Do you know anything about me?" Cyndi Lauper aggressively questioned me recently over the telephone. I was, needless to say, taken aback, confused, sort of desperate to see where the conversation had gone wrong even though we'd only been on the phone two minutes.
Before the call, I was, as a child of the '80s and a big fan of gay rights, excited to speak with pop's greatest advocate of girls having fun. After the call, "fun" and "Cyndi Lauper" just don't go hand in lace-gloved hand for me anymore.
At first, I thought that maybe it was because I started out the interview by stepping out of the bounds of music-talk that forced it in a weird direction. I asked about John Boehner's comments on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act; it affects the LGBT community, one with which Lauper works closely.
But once she derided me, it became clear that simply she just wasn't the most gracious interviewee. And by that, I mean she was kind of a bully who made me feel pea-sized for no apparent reason.
Though the first question didn't go well, I simply cackled oddly, and moved on to the next, asking how she personally relates to the gay community -- as a straight woman. Possibly my query wasn't clear; I was asking about empathy. But that's when she figuratively punched me in the gut: "Do you know anything about me?" She asked offensively. When I tried to respond, she asked again: "No! Do you know anything about me?" My eyes crossed with frustration.
Then she gave an actual response: "through friends and family." I, horrified, spent like a minute clarifying that I did indeed know about the True Colors Fund, but was looking for something a little deeper from her on this topic.
"I'm always empathetic to the underdog," she said. Funny, 'cause as the interviewer, the female music editor, I felt at a disadvantage speaking with this pop superstar, and zero empathy.
She chilled out chatting about the True Colors Fund and its Forty to None project, which works with gay and transgendered homeless youth. "We try now to educate people and also educate them about different programs that bring families together so they can discuss issues before the kids run away or are thrown out," Lauper said. "A lot of times, the kids are bullied, and a lot of times the kids go to shelters and are rejected," adding, "We have some wonderful people working for us, and there's a big, fat light at the end of that tunnel."
She spoke at length about the topics of abuse, education, and against discrimination. I asked her about penning Kinky Boots, if she used writing that as a creative outlet to deal with some of the social issues she's working on. This got her a little annoyed. I mean, what an annoying question, right? "Kinky Boots is about family and people, and it's not just about someone who dresses in women's clothing," she said. Straight men do too, she schooled me.
Lauper was about to come to town with the She's So Unusual tour, which involved her sharing stories from the stage. When asked how she chose the tales, she said they change a little with each performance, "because I hate doing the same thing all the time."
She noted, "I try to make them funny... Everyone seems to love this album, so this was my gift back to my fans."
But at her recent show at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, she wasn't telling funny stories from the stage. Our writer David Von Bader attended and relayed quite a different message.
"As an artist doing a tour to celebrate the legacy of an album that meant a lot to fans, It's really unfortunate that Lauper would spend so much of the show stifling their excitement," he observed. She told fans to "shut the fuck up" when they burst out in excitement during her stories about the history of the album. She yelled at people taking photos.
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"What began as playful, and another facet of Lauper's Queens-chick bit, quickly devolved into an uncomfortable stroking of her own ego and borderline fan abuse," he pointed out. "Someone with a career as long as Lauper knows what to expect from audiences and should have a more dynamic approach to handling it."
I wasn't alone in getting verbally battered by Cyndi Lauper?! What relief! But I didn't know that when I asked her about electronic music. "I read in an interview recently that you like electronic music..." And quickly got cut off, with a: "That album... If you did your homework..." She was referring to Bring Ya to the Brink, her own EDM escapade.
"You specifically mentioned Kraftwerk..."
"That was 1983," she condescended.
Who cares what the question was, because Cyndi was going to challenge me on my knowledge of electronic music! "We have a lot of it in South Florida," I nervously attempted to divert attention from myself.
"What do you mean, you have a lot of it? Do you listen to it on the radio or go to clubs?"
After her cat-and-mouse effort to find out what music I like -- I assume to find a way to undermine me -- I got to my mainstream EDM question.
"It was always meant to be mainstreamed," she said on the topic. "I always thought that electronic music mixed with pop would work. And I think Avicii's album is a really interesting album and Van Buren's stuff is really great. And that's the really mainstream pop stuff. I think that the electronic stuff that sounds like video games is fun."
Yeah, and everything now feels a lot more fun after that conversation.
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