Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No. 494: She's So Unusual

Band: Cyndi Lauper
Album: She's So Unusual
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: In another example of style trumping substance, "She's So Unusual" became a huge seller on the back of four huge videos and Lauper's crazy style.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's a typical 1980s record. There are bad compressed drums and crazy keyboards. Also, way too many backup singers.
Best song: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is great and "Time After Time" is a nice ballad.
Worst song: "I'll Kiss You" stinks.
Is it awesome?: No.

Cyndi Lauper's current popularity -- however small -- is more a product of the times than it is of her talents. That's not to say that Lauper doesn't have some talent; she's a decent songwriter and can sing a song within her limited range pretty well. But, for all intents and purposes, she should have been a one- or two-hit wonder. Instead, because of her strange style and quirky music videos, she's stuck around.

The album was released a scant two years after MTV's debut, so videos were incredibly important. Fighting with Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince for airplay, Lauper fashioned a somewhat bizarre image -- layers of bright colors and giant hair -- that proved to be iconic.

She eventually became a gay icon, touring for the Human Rights Campaign recently. As an aside, I don't really understand who the gay community lauds as icons. Obviously, the "gay community" assumes that all gay people move as one, which is obviously not true. Nevertheless, individuality seems to be a big part of gay icon-ness, but I'd be lying if I said I understand what that means. Prince, for example, is quite the individual and wrote much better songs. Plus, you know, he's omnisexual. But, he's not a gay icon. But, Cyndi Lauper is?

As such, Lauper probably has the single most annoying speaking voice in the history of humanity (barely edging out Fran Drescher). The version I own of "She's So Unusual" has a few live tracks on it, and as Lauper introduces "She Bop," her ridiculous New York-via-nursery-school accent makes me want to stick a fork in my ear. Someof that comes through in her singing voice, but it mostly gets lost in the 1980s production.

"Campy" would be a fine word to describe much of the album. The album is over-the-top and pronounced, with the most famous single being a nod to femininity ("Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"). Only "Time After Time," a gorgeous ballad, remains understated. The backbeat keyboard from "All Through the Night" sounds like something out of a German disco, "Money Changes Everything" is yet another in the genre of "I hate the music industry" songs. "When You Were Mine" is a Prince-penned song that Lauper nearly ruins with her screech.

(Of course, "She Bop" is one of the more famous songs about masturbation. The video has Lauper dancing around the topic. That this video got airplay years before "I Touch Myself" really confounds -- and delights -- me.)

This album is probably the sneakiest 6x platinum album. Other than myself, I do not know a single soul that owns this record. Crazy, eh?


Anonymous said...

The thing about "It sold millions but I don't know anyone who owns this album" is you have to factor in the format shift from vinyl to cassette to cd (and now to digital file).

As the years have passed, lots of pre-cd artists have been able to re-sell their catalogs in new format--lots of my early music from the 70's and early 80's I purchased twice or 3 times. But some music, as much as you maybe liked it the first time around, you're not really looking to replace it--everybody remembers "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", but it's not an essential part of a music collection like "Zeppelin II" or something--I guess that is illustrated in your point about how this album made the list because of sales, not actual quality.

R.J. said...

Yeah, that's a good point. My parents have tons of records on both vinyl and CD.

But, right. My point is that this record sold 6 million copies, but unlike artists of a similar vintage (Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, etc.), her music hasn't held up. At all.

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Anonymous said...

OMG after a waste of time reading this article I realized any brainless hater person can post on the Web. Bad compressed drums and crazy keyboards? That's just your opinion. The keyboards and drums were fine as young people liked at the time. Just because you don't like it now doesn't mean others don't like it. And the album IS AWESOME and if it sold millions it means the people liked it. "Money changes everything" is one of the best songs ever. Based on your hate article I suppose you would say Lady Gaga's music is the best music in the world... Pleaseeeee. You say you don't know anybody who owns this record, well, I don't think you'll ever know 9 million people in all over the world.