‘Let The Canary Sing’ Reminds Us Cyndi Lauper Is A Girl Who Wants More Than Just Fun

Let the Canary Sing Reminds Us Cyndi Lauper Is a Girl Who Wants More Than Just Fun

By Michele Yeo

“Just because I can sing whatever I freakin’ want doesn’t mean I’m going to sing what you would want to sing if you could sing.”

That’s Cyndi Lauper recalling her early years and her scrappy foray into the music industry in her new biographical documentary, Let The Canary Sing. The doc, now streaming on Paramount +, reminds us that Lauper has always, unapologetically done things her way. Before there was Taylor’s Version, there was Cyndi’s Version. “I didn’t want anyone to tell me what I could and couldn’t do. To pigeonhole people in one genre of music is silly.”

Let the Canary Sing Reminds Us Cyndi Lauper Is a Girl Who Wants More Than Just Fun

Let The Canary Sing traces Lauper’s humble beginnings in New York and a childhood that could be described as tumultuous. After her parents divorced, Lauper’s mother remarried a man who was abusive towards their mother and lecherous towards her and her sister.. “We used to come home from school and lock our door,” Lauper explains. And the local police were no help. “Cops would come and they would just look around and look at each other and go ‘domestic’ and leave.” The chaos of her childhood and teenage years made Lauper realize she wanted better for herself. “Cyndi challenged the legacy that was supposed to be a family drama,” explains her sister Elen in the documentary, “and she said no, we’re gonna rewrite this, we’re going to make something else.”

Lauper’s youth was also instrumental in her becoming the staunch and outspoken feminist she would eventually become. The singer recalls watching the game show Queen for a Day with her Grandmother. The premise of the show had women, mostly housewives, recounting emotional and financial hardships and pleading their cases for why they should be awarded some sort of lavish grand prize. The winning contestant was selected by the audience via an applause meter. Lauper recalls watching an episode where the winning woman was awarded a washing machine. “My grandmother cried because she washed the sheets in the tub and I thought to myself’ what queen washes clothes?’ It was like, ‘what the heck?” Another television show, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scout Show which, in one episode, featured singer Patsy Cline, also helped inspire Lauper’s ambition to forge her own path. “I thought to myself, maybe instead of being the Queen that’s crying about the washing machine, I was gonna sing.”

Let the Canary Sing Reminds Us Cyndi Lauper Is a Girl Who Wants More Than Just Fun

And sing she did. After a stint in the band Blue Angel, Lauper went solo and there was no shortage of opinions on the direction she should take. In the documentary she recalls initially being advised to go “the Streisand route.”, “I was like, well that’s already taken isn’t it?” Lauper’s stubbornness would serve her well later as she went to work on her debut album, 1983’s She’s So Unusual. A producer sent her a demo of the song ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ performed by Robert Hazard and suggested she use the single on the album. It was a no for Lauper. “I will never do that fucking song.” Lauper recalls in the doc, “not the way it was, it was wrong for me.” The singer thought the existing version offered too much of a masculine perspective. “Every time we wanna have fun, we’re whores, we’re this, we’re that, we’re problematic.” It was only after putting her own feminist spin on the song did Lauper agree to add it to the album.

Let the Canary Sing Reminds Us Cyndi Lauper Is a Girl Who Wants More Than Just Fun

She’s So Unusual took off like a rocket. The album produced four singles that landed in the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 making Lauper the first female singer to achieve the milestone. The album sold more than 16 million copies worldwide and stayed on the top 40 charts for 65 weeks. Lauper was awarded two Grammy Awards including the coveted Best New Artist trophy. ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ was the clear runaway hit from the album and remains the song most closely associated with Lauper to this day. But in the subsequent years since its release, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ has taken on new meaning, becoming a rallying cry or sorts but for something far more important than having fun. After seeing protestors at women’s marches with signs proclaiming “Girls Just Wanna Have…Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” Lauper was spurred into action. “When I saw signs at the women’s demonstrations…I thought wow,” she says. In 2022 she established the Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Rights Fund with a mission to raise money for efforts that advance the health of all women and girls, particularly reproductive health and ensuring access to safe, legal abortions – access that continues to come under fire, particularly in the United States following the overturning of Roe Vs. Wade. “A lot of us thought we’d never have to fight this again but sometimes you gotta stand up and let your voice be heard.” Lauper’s sister Elen is not surprised the singer has taken up the cause. “She is not afraid to speak her mind so Cyndi is at it again.”

On whether she knew ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun;’ would become an anthem, Lauper had her suspicions.  “That’s what we were doing, what we hoped. You want me to start a revolution? Well, that’s my favourite thing.

Let the Canary Sing Reminds Us Cyndi Lauper Is a Girl Who Wants More Than Just Fun

Let the Canary Sing, the new feature-length documentary about ’80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper by Emmy-winning documentarian Alison Ellwood premiered at the Tribeca Festival and is now streaming on Paramount+ in the U.S. and Canada.

Tags: cyndi lauper, documentary, Paramount +, top story, topstory

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