Cyndi Lauper tackles sexism and ageism and calls for inclusiveness

Cyndi Lauper is a Grammy-, Emmy-, and Tony-winning artist with over 30 sterling years in the music industry. She’s also a seasoned activist who has long put her work to good use, with the latest being her partnership with pharmaceutical company Novartis.

The singer has released a new song, “Hope,” in honor of World Psoriasis Day, which was inspired by Lauper’s own experience living with the disease. “Hope” is part of the SEE ME campaign, an initiative that celebrates patients’ success stories and encourages others living with plaque psoriasis to seek ways to get back to doing the things they want to do.

Lauper recently visited New York City to talk to the Build Series about her involvement with the campaign, as well as discuss some of her history as an outspoken artist for change.

As she explains, her most famous single, 1983’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” is way more than just a party tune — it’s a political statement in and of itself.

Written by a man, the song initially had Lauper scratching her head as to how she could translate it effectively to a female perspective. “If a man sings that song, you know what he’s singing about,” she noted. “So I’m saying what do you want me to do, kick up my dress and do a cancan?

“[My team] said no, think about what it could mean — it could be an anthem. So my spiteful, activist little mind got going. Because I burnt my training bra at the first demonstration at the Alice in Wonderland statue — for me, for my mother, and for my grandmother. And for all the women I saw in the generation before me who were disenfranchised.”

Lauper thought a long time about what to do with the song, starting with the video’s visuals. “When it came to the lineup of girls, we got every racial group of girl — mixed, Spanish, white, black, Asian, everybody. So that every little girl who looked at that video would want to join our club. And understand that every woman, every person, is entitled to a joyful experience.”

Lauper recalled a time she met iconic folk singer Bob Dylan, who — although admiring her work — referred to her as “one of those women’s libbers.”

“I didn’t say, ‘Oh, blowin’ in the wind, Bob? Blow it out your ass,'” she deadpanned. “Instead, I said, ‘Y’know, Bob, if I’m not concerned about my own civil liberties, who will be?’

“If you want an inclusive society and you want to be included, you gotta include yourself.”

Lauper, who is 64 years old, notes that although she’s tackled sexism in her career, another form of discrimination she is finding daunting is ageism. Although she likes new music — in fact, she makes a point to seek it out weekly as well as make Spotify playlists of her favorite new artists — the singer admits there is an age barrier she’s longing to overcome. “I think that at one point I’ll sing under a fake name, to just make modern music,” she said.

Regardless of this, Lauper is proud that her work is, to date, holding up in a modern landscape. “As a musician, what they told us in the ’80s was that our music was disposable. And I said I didn’t come this far and work my whole life to make disposable music. Angrily, I said, ‘In 50 years, people will remember my music, because I will not do the songs that mean nothing.’

“Even when you think they mean nothing, they mean something.”

Watch the full interview with Lauper below: