Article | What Fun? Whose Fun? Cyndi Lauper (Re)Covers “Girls Just Want To Have fun” by Wayne Heisler

Wayne Heisler, Jr.1

Figure 1. Lauper on Good Morning America

Poised at the beginning of a commercial and critical resurgence, 1980s pop icon Cyndi Lauper gave a free mini-concert in Manhattan’s Bryant Park in June 2002, broadcast under the auspices of Good Morning America’s “Summer Concert Series.” For an audience of adoring fans—most of whom had been adolescents and young adults in the 80s, including a sizable gay following—as well as tourists clamoring for a chance to be seen live from New York on national television, the singer performed her classic ballad “Time After Time” and one song from her then just-released Shine EP (“It’s Hard To Be Me,” a sardonically self-reflexive take on celebrity inspired by Anna Nicole Smith). Somewhat predictably, her set was headed off with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” 

In a pre-performance interview, ABC anchor Dianne Sawyer lingered on Lauper’s signature hit, inquiring, “Do you ever feel sometimes a song owns you? Do you ever feel you’re hostage to it?” Referencing the intended feminist message behind her 1983 recording of “Girls,” the singer responded, “No, … this song in particular … has been handed down from generation to generation, and I feel very proud to have been able to serve like that” (Good Morning America). Lauper is certainly not alone in asserting her agency, traces of which had surfaced in popular culture already at the time that “Girls” hit the Top Ten in early 1984. In the spirit of 1960s girl groups, as well as subsequent musicians like Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, Lauper was among the first women of the MTV generation to draw a distinct female following, one that paralleled the male fan base traditionally devoted to (male) rock stars (Lewis, Gender Politics and MTV 10). The singer’s influence on female fans was witnessed early on by a host of young “Lauper-a-likes,” who emulated her downtown thrift store chic and anticipated Madonna wannabees.2 Bolstered by its playful music video, “Girls” quickly achieved the status of an anthem. Its singer was named one of Ms. Magazine’s “Women of the Year” (Hornaday), a distinction that continues to color her legacy (for example, see Hirshey 130–31; and Marcic 93, 134 and 167). 

Lauper’s impact as a feminist has also found voice in academic circles, where she is cited as a “progenitor” of a range of more recent stars who are of interest to gender studies, including Courtney Love, Alanis Morrisette, Gwen Stefani, and the riot grrrls (Wald 192). Lisa A. Lewis’s seminal work on gender and music television is perhaps most notable in this regard. Lewis argues that, “Female address began to coalesce on MTV … around the year 1983, with the release of Lauper’s video [‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’]” (“Being Discovered” 136)—a trend that is also reflected in clips by Pat Benatar, the Go-Go’s, Eurythmics (featuring Annie Lennox), Tina Turner, Madonna, Chaka Khan, and the Pointer Sisters (see also Whiteley, Women and Popular Music). Based on the singer’s lyrical revisions to “Girls,” which was written by Philadelphia rocker Robert Hazard, and particularly her involvement with nearly all aspects of production on the music video in which she starred, Lewis concludes that, “Lauper traded in ‘ownership’ of the song for the right to be its author. … [Hazard] maintains ownership, but is robbed of authorship” (“Being Discovered” 132–33).3 (broadly) realist strategies prevent any foregrounding of problems of female representation” (128 and 132–33). Kaplan’s denial of the possibility of any real feminist agency resulting from Lauper’s videos is consistent with her view of MTV as a site of post-modern aura production. While this line of argument fits squarely in the discourse of Marxist-inspired critiques of the culture industry, her diagnosis of the “problems of female representation” is one-sided. Because Kaplan’s study was more concerned with the cultural work done by the MTV network rather than individual clips, she viewed all videos as serving master narratives (namely, capitalism and patriarchy). But as Lewis demonstrates, “female address” videos like “Girls” reveal themselves to be subversive in the context of the majority of narrative music videos from the early 1980s, which were commonly love stories marked by an “overtly patriarchal–narrative structure (active boys, passive girls)” (Schwichtenberg 123). To this I would add that Kaplan’s focus on visuals with very little attention to music comes at the expense of ignoring the liberating circumstances surrounding Lauper’s cover of the song.] This focus on Lauper as a video artist is justified by several circumstances, not the least of which being that “Girls” was literally seen as it was being heard for the first time (that is, rotation on MTV preceded radio play). Indeed, the singer’s early albums (1983’s She’s So Unusual and its 1986 follow-up True Colors) were released with an eye towards the video medium, and the role that representations of her persona on music television played towards making her an icon cannot be overstated. Twenty years later, images from the “Girls” video continue to surface in print and on television, such as the segments where the singer (along with her girlfriends) dances in the New York streets sporting her trademark look: a red vintage party dress and asymmetrically cut orange hair.4

Figure 2. From “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” video

Nevertheless, Lewis’s emphasis on authorship as a category by which to champion Lauper is problematic given the ways in which musical practices are coded along gender lines. This is familiar terrain: composers and songwriters (the “authors” of music, at least in one sense) have traditionally resided on the hierarchically privileged masculine side of the gender divide, as their productive activities fit within the framework of phallogocentrism that “defines women and femininity as the ‘others’ of western metaphysics’ most privileged terms” (see Gilbert and Pearson 85). Obviously, this territory is fluid, as many women have treaded into it. Equally fluid, if not treated equally, is the (reproductive) realm of interpretation and performance, arguably coded as feminine. A fantastic incident in Lauper’s early career serves to illustrate this point.

Figure 3. Lou Albano and Cyndi Lauper duking it out

In the video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” brutish professional wrestler Captain Lou Albano played the father—a role that evidently went to his head.5 Some months later, in an outburst that exposed the connections between theater and sport, Albano falsely claimed authorship of “Girls” and her then-current hit single “She Bop,” and therewith credit for Lauper’s success (see Albano and Ricciuti 55–65). Such posturing might elicit laughter, given the fiction of professional wrestling. Yet the clichés regarding gender roles and music are so ingrained that Albano’s claim of writing pop songs to “make” a female singer—not out of place alongside the exaggerated masculine behaviors that are unleashed in the ring—arguably carried weight in popular and critical consciousness. 

While acknowledging the fact that Lauper (not Albano) was the focus of her videos, one might rightly question the value of reclaiming traditional (and gendered) notions of authorship for her. Why take on the Captain Lous at their own game? In this essay, I expand on Lewis’s arguments regarding “female address,” first by re-examining the backdrop to Lauper’s 1983 recording of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Since she was mainly concerned with the visual component of MTV, Lewis does not address musical aspects of the song in any detail. But central to the singer’s reception of “Girls” are the musical arrangement and her vocal interpretation, both of which can be regarded as an “oppositional reading” of Hazard’s misogynistic original. Exploring the intertexuality between different versions of the same song, I draw on the work of Lori Burns and Mélisse Lafrance who, in their book Disruptive Divas: Feminism, Identity and Popular Music, distinguish between two related but discrete terms: feminist consciousness as an awareness of male power and control, and gender consciousness as the exploration of individual gendered identities and making them more visible (228-29 n. 4).6 Burns and Lafrance analyze songs written, performed, and recorded by women (namely, Tori Amos, k.d. lang, Courtney Love, and Me’Shell NdegéoCello) against the “dominant discursive regimes of meaning in popular music [that] marginalize, disarm, and/or efface their subversive potential.” As regards “Girls,” one circumstance that could provide ammunition for disarmament is the fact that Lauper did not originally write the song. Her act of opposition, then, is located in various multi-authored and interpretive performances: her calculated lyrical revisions, set down to a new arrangement by musicians and singers in a recording studio (a process in which Lauper played a decisive role), not to mention subsequent renditions in concert and on record.

These include Lauper’s minor hit from 1994, “Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun),” to which I devote the latter part of this essay. “Hey Now” offers a commentary on earlier versions of “Girls” (Hazard’s, as well as Lauper’s own) by revisiting issues of feminism and gender, but also sexuality. Significantly, the singer’s re-cover addresses another aspect of the song that has been perceived as weakening her feminist agency: its preoccupation with “girls” instead of “women.” This is clearly what journalist Joyce Millman had in mind when she dismissively declared that, “Ms. magazine did not have the guts to make [Madonna] its token rocker in its 1985 Women of the Year roundup, favoring instead the nearly presexual and less explicitly feminist Cyndi Lauper” (232).7Curiously, the title of Lauper’s signature song has become something of a catch phrase in the feminist backlash against pop music, as opposed to rock: Elizabeth Sneed, for instance, announced in 1992 that “Feminist Riot Grrrls Don’t Just Want to Have Fun” (50). The pitting of riot grrrl musicians against Lauper is overstated, but it is also understandable given the recent appropriation of the singer’s anthem in post-feminist contexts.7 When singer-songwriter Jewel—“an earnest woman with a message and a guitar”—re-emerged with a musical and marketing makeover for her 2003 release 0304, the headline in Billboard magazine read, “Jewel Just Having Fun These Days. After Three Serious Sets, Singer Embraces Pop, Plays Up Sexuality.” The article goes on to report that, “The 14-song … set finds the heady singer/songwriter relinquishing her folk/pop roots to explore electronic beats and uptempo melodies, taking her out of coffeehouses and onto the dance floor” (Taylor). With that, a new lineage is implied, linking Lauper to other girls (albeit not presexual) of the past several years—Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Shakira—all of whom could be characterized as “less explicitly feminist.” 

In a recent article, Gayle Wald complicates the notion that “girliness” can only function as symbolically redundant, or that it necessarily signals a forfeiture of agency. Wald argues that,

An emphasis on girliness has enabled … women performers to preempt the sexually objectifying gaze of corporate rock culture, which tends to market women’s sexual desirability at the expense of promoting their music or their legitimacy as artists. … [The] strategic reversion to girlhood not only rests on an ability to imagine girlhood outside of patriarchal representation, it also presumes cultural entitlement to “womanly” subjectivity (199 and 201).

Recognition of the fact that female performers often manipulate visual imagery in order to place emphasis on their music provides a bridge between earlier academic writings on Lauper’s videos and further consideration of her as a singer and musical artist. Such a renewed perspective is timely, given that Lauper’s artistry on recent projects—including 2003’s At Last, a collection of covers ranging from standards to 50s and 60s pop and rock—have been widely received as something of a revelation. 

As Susan McClary instructs in relation to Madonna, the agency of any popular musician is never “hers alone: even if she wrote everything she performs all by herself, it would still be important to remember that her music and personae are produced within a variety of social discursive practices” (150). There is, however, a tendency when writing about popular music to freeze sound in a specific discursive moment, as both McClary and Lewis do. By exploring “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” as a dynamic song with a history, I aim to recapture the discursiveness of musical meaning across time, and thereby to gain a wider perspective on the life of a song, its singer, and her fans. Ultimately, “Girls” emerges as an essential pop text for demonstrating the ways in which interpretation and performance constitute a site of creative agency, power, and authority, if not authorship in a traditional sense.

1984

In an interview for VH1’s Behind the Music, former CBS Records executive Lennie Petze described his initial impression of Cyndi Lauper from a live show in the early 1980s: “From the first note I knew that I had to sign her. We had a vision of her being a star by her name and her persona. Didn’t need a band, it could be anybody playing behind her” (VH1). Petze’s bowled-over reaction seems to have stemmed primarily from the singer’s vocal capabilities: a range that exceeds three octaves, command over varied stylistic terrain, and a rich interpretive pallet. In 1983, shortly after the performance in question, Lauper signed with Portrait Records, a subsidiary of CBS. With her voice providing a ticket to success, the singer was quickly caught up in the star system that is part of the machinery of any major record company. The strategy for Lauper’s fledgling career was consistent with Petze’s account. As sessions began for the singer’s debut album She’s So Unusual, its producers (Petze, along with Rick Chertoff) set out to recruit said “anybody” from a pool of accomplished studio musicians. At the same time, they also compiled tunes by reputable songwriters to fill the record’s requisite ten-or-so tracks. 

Prior to going solo, Lauper had sung with a handful of New York–area cover bands. Her first big break came, however, with Blue Angel, a rockabilly outfit that she fronted, and who released a self-titled album on Polydor Records in 1980. In addition to providing lead and background vocals, Lauper co-wrote the majority of Blue Angel’s material.8 Thus, the subsequent solo deal at CBS as she recalled it was bittersweet: “I wanted to write [but] I made the compromises and took other people’s songs. But then the task at hand was to make other peoples’ songs sound like mine” (VH1). Of course, Lauper was far from the first musician to experience the tension between art and commerce in the music industry. Such truisms do not need to be rehearsed in detail here, except to point out that the surfacing of pop music’s gendered institutional history was not “so unusual” as far as this singer was concerned: male executives and producers brought a portfolio of songs written by men (Prince, Jules Shear, Tom Grey) to a female ingénue, one divested of her previous status as a songwriter.

In the end, Lauper struck middle ground on She’s So Unusual, choosing from the tunes that her producers had gathered, but also sharing songwriting credits on four of the album’s ten cuts, including “Time After Time” and “She Bop,” that infamous celebration of masturbation. One song that she initially refused to cover, however, was Robert Hazard’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Anecdotes regarding her first confrontation with the song circulated already in the mid-80s. At that time, Lauper recalled that, “[Rick Chertoff] played me ‘Girls…’ and I said, well I ain’t doing that song … because it wasn’t what it ended up to be. … It was basically a very chauvinistic song” (The Meldrum Tapes). Hazard and his band The Heroes had enjoyed local success in Philadelphia in the late 1970s and early 80s (see Loder), and were on the verge of a national breakthrough when they signed with RCA in 1982. While their “Girls” was never released commercially, a partial demo version from 1979 is available through the Robert Hazard and the Heroes web site.9 Hazard’s song articulates the familiar adolescent male fantasy about hormonally charged girls—why else would they be placing an after hours call? The boy’s answer to the query of his father signals that he has discovered his male “birthright” (“father dear you are the fortunate one/girls just want to have fun”), and his bonding with dad on this count contrasts with the obligatory appeasement of mom, who scolds him for staying out all night, later in the second verse (“don’t worry mother dear you’re still number one”). Such macho sentiments find expression in rock’s musical storehouse: Hazard’s arrangement (two guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums; 4/4 meter with a heavy backbeat) is obviously standard and conforms to the signs of normative masculinity in rock. Moreover, his half-spoken, half-sung swaggering vocal delivery makes the lyrical and musical posturing unambiguous.10

Hazard’s “Girls” poses as a man’s song, and bluntly so. Then again, such banal misogyny has a scripted feel about it, lending a (probably) unintended self-parodic quality to the Heroes’ earnest performance. From this perspective, it is not difficult to imagine a woman critiquing the song through an ironic appropriation of it, precisely what Lauper did when she eventually compromised and recorded her version of “Girls.” Paraphrasing the singer, she re-imagined it in order to make another person’s song sound like her song. It is significant that she credits producer Rick Chertoff for helping her to glimpse this possibility; in the 2002 interview with Dianne Sawyer, Lauper recounted that “[‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’] was a good pop song … I edited it because my producer said ‘Think about what it could mean’” (Good Morning America). That she freely acknowledges being encouraged to change the song by her male producer exposes the superficiality of such binarisms as male executive/female artist, misogyny/feminism, or songwriter/singer, and thus the necessity of overturning them. 

Lewis points to Lauper’s revision of Hazard’s lyrics as “a cornerstone for the song’s video interpretation,” crediting the singer with “an extraordinary political intervention” (“Being Discovered” 132–33). One can grasp the full extent of this act of agency by considering the lyrical changes in tandem with the overhauling of Hazard’s musical arrangement, also spearheaded by Lauper. Indeed, a closer look (and listen) to her relatively familiar rendering of “Girls” makes her approbation of this “good pop song” seem like qualified praise. From the start, the singer reverses the order of events vis-à-vis the original, first being confronted by mom as she returns home at dawn, then interacting with dad regarding a late night telephone call in the second verse. At the same time, she exchanges Hazard’s response to each of the parental figures, altering them accordingly: forging sympathy with the mother (“we’re not the fortunate ones”), and playing up her role of daddy’s little girl (“you know you’re still number one”) in a condescending tone, thereby according him a status that is, however, not assumed. By placing the mother-daughter exchange in the first verse, Lauper frames the song from its outset in terms of an awareness of male power and control, and the desire to make her own gender more visible.11

Recalling the process of recording “Girls,” the singer states that she had suggested to musician Eric Bazilian (of The Hooters) to play the bass riff from the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” as the foundation of the new arrangement.12 Next, she proposed to keyboardist and background vocalist Rob Hyman (also of The Hooters) to play “the chord progression as if it’s a reggae song.” From here, Lauper’s cover of “Girls” came together: “And I said, ‘Ok, let’s try it.’ And we did, and it worked” (Lifetime, 1998). More to the point, the pastiche of Motown soul and reggae-flavored accompaniment in Lauper’s version inflects the song with the generic attributes of 80s dance pop, arguably coded as feminine in relation to Hazard’s masculine-oriented rock original.13 Thus, the genre/gender bending evident in Lauper’s cover reflects a shift in the music’s vantage point that parallels her lyrical changes. 

Furthermore, the new arrangement is rounded off with another instance of genre appropriation: the background vocals, beginning in the first chorus and bridge and continuing in the repeated proclamations of the final chorus, are plainly evocative of girl groups. (“Girls Just Want to Have Fun“) Patricia Juliana Smith characterizes “girl group” as

a particular genre of early 1960s pop/rock that was usually … performed by ensembles composed of adolescent female vocalists who neither played instruments nor, in most cases, composed the material they performed. Accordingly, their function was interpretive and performative rather than creative (118 n. 2).

The division of labor at New York’s legendary Brill Building (where many girl group songs were born) should ring familiar from my account of the mandate in Lauper’s early career to cover other people’s songs. Such self-reflexivity calls into question the mutual exclusivity of categories like “interpretive,” “performative,” and “creative,” not the least of reasons being that the association of girl groups with youth or adolescence is affected in the background vocals to Lauper’s “Girls”: that is, these singers are playacting at being teenagers, although one of them, Ellie Greenwich, is, of course, an authentic singer (and songwriter!) from the girl group era. The remaining “girls” are Krystal Davis, Maeretha Stewart, Dianne Wilson and Lauper herself, who was thirty years old at the time the recording was made. It is telling that girl group music reached the height of its popularity when Lauper (born in 1953) was growing up, most likely providing the soundtrack to her own bourgeoning gender consciousness. But given that typical girl group songs were “boy-fixated confections” (Smith 93), their recall in Lauper’s version also bespeaks an intense feminist consciousness. It is a tongue-in-cheek response to Hazard’s original—a boy’s account of boys’ fixation on girls, who now mockingly sing it back. Even more subversive are the social implications of Lauper’s evocation of the girl group experience. Smith argues that in girl group songs,

the background singers … abet and advise their enamored and afflicted sister … [serving] semiotically to convey an inarticurable if not unspeakable empathy. By extension, the backing vocalists represent the commercial audience of girl group music: primarily female adolescents who interact and identify with other girls by exchanging male-centered fantasies (93–94).

Herein lies the heart of Smith’s revisionist reading of the girl group, not as collective self-subjugation, but as the empowering soundtrack to “the homosociality of a female adolescent subculture existing within a larger social ethos of compulsory heterosexuality” (93). Lauper and company are not, however, singing about a particular boy who is “absent, in love with someone else, dead, merely fantastized, or otherwise disembodied.” Rather, they collectively announce their independence from such boys, an appealing sentiment to many women and girls who came of age during and in the wake of second wave feminism. 

The radicality of Lauper’s musical statement lies in the way in which she turned the tables on the hegemony of the author/songwriter from a creative perspective. As witnessed by the genesis of her recording of “Girls,” the singer treats Hazard’s song as a mere template—a melody, some riffs, and a series of chord progressions that require filling in, like lines in a coloring book that form the basis of an incomplete picture. The song that “has been handed down from generation to generation” reflects a creative process (songwriting, rewriting, arranging, singing, recording, listening) rather than a single originary creative act (Good Morning America). Thus, it really does not matter who the author is, because it is the relativization of authorship in Lauper’s version that is most subversive. Absconding from the pitfalls of covering other peoples’ songs, the singer turned the terms of her artistic and gender suppression into a means of rebellion.

Figure 4. Ad for the Philadelphia nightclub, Sisters

Still, attributing creative agency to Lauper alone is problematic. For example, she is credited with all arrangements on She’s So Unusual, but shares credit with producer Chertoff, associate producer/engineer William Wittman, and musicians Hyman and Bazilian. Moreover, the meanings that I have attached to lyrical and musical signs in the singer’s remake of “Girls” are not automatic; their resonance is intensified by familiarity with Hazard’s original (which was not widespread), as well as fluency with the references and their contexts that Lauper’s cover evokes, such as girl group. Thus, the subversive potential of “Girls” is subjective and discursive, dependent on a host of factors that Jayson Toynbee characterizes as “social authorship”—the interdependency of musicians, the music industry, audiences, technology and genre (Toynbee). Then again, it is the mechanisms of social authorship that make possible even more radical readings than the singer might have intended. That homosocial girl culture has claimed Lauper’s anthem for its own is witnessed by a recent ad for “Sisters,” a lesbian nightclub in Philadelphia.

Having considered the musical arrangement of “Girls,” I return now to where my discussion of Lauper’s solo career began: her singing voice. This voice arguably stands out above all else on the recording, and constitutes a critical site of the singer’s agency. From the opening lines, Lauper punches out the melody in full head voice. The agility of her instrument comes to the fore as she utilizes her range to whip about the tune, its generally high tessitura sounding markedly high by pop music standards. At moments, Lauper’s ringing tone bears traces of Ronnie Spector on “Be My Baby,” making her the lead singer to the affected girl group. Occasionally sprinkled with wordless hiccups, the singer’s urgent delivery is not without a sense of play, of fun. Of course, the dominance of the singing voice on this track could be seen as utterly typical of pop songs; as Sheila Whiteley has pointed out, the masculinism of rock, stereotypically signified by instrumental (i.e. guitar) power, has been defined against music that (stereotypically) foregrounds the voice (Sexing the Groove xvii). Thus, the forcefulness and suppleness of Lauper’s singing has not succeeded in drowning out detractors. An example from one popular music history book is representative: making a connection between the lyrics and video imagery of “Girls” (but not addressing it musically), the author disparagingly relegates this singer’s music—all of her music—to the category of “squeaky-voiced girl pop” (Johnston 27). 

But what strikes me as more interesting is the sense that there is a disconnect between the lyrics and music on the one hand, and the singer’s vocal interpretation on the other. In early 1984, when the song relentlessly lingered on the charts, Greil Marcus contemplated why, 

The saturation airplay given “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is beginning to get on people’s nerves. Maybe it’s the froufrou sexism of the lyrics (written by a man); maybe it’s the squeaks and blips in the mix and the vocal; maybe its that there’s so much pathos and desire secreted in this piece of squeaky blippy froufrou sexism it calls for a redefinition of the word “fun,” if not “girls,” if not “just” (254).

Marcus uses signifiers that are unambiguously suggestive of “girl pop,” sharing terminology with the previously cited writer, but going one step further with the predictable allignment of excess and female eroticism (“secreted”). Still, while not acknowledging the extent to which the lyrics or arrangement had been changed (perhaps he did not know), Marcus was perhaps the first commentator to seize on Lauper’s expressive vocal interpretation of what otherwise seemed to be a negligible pop confection. In his reading, the words and music are not simply upstaged by an able-voiced singer—commonly understood as “elevating the material.” Rather, Lauper ups the ante on the song’s superficial meaning, exposing the deeper implications of singing this song.

In a study of rave dance music, Jeremy Gilbert and Ewan Pearson asserted that a disjuncture between lyrics, music and vocal performance can result in an “eschewal of verbal meaning, [which is] problematic for the dominant discourse” (see chapter four). Bringing this to bear on Marcus’s reading of “Girls,” it might be said that Lauper turned pop song expectations on their heads. Like a good girl, she delivers the song that she was given, and even conforms to cultural notions of what girls sound like. At the same time, her tinkering with the song as well as her way with it—too high, too serious, too passionate—could be heard as doing her gender wrong. Once again, Lauper can be credited with appropriating the terms of her suppression by exploiting stereotypes and thereby transgressing how girls “should” sing.

For his explanation of the unnerving effect of “Girls,” Marcus deferred to another rock singer and musician, Elvis Costello, who once reportedly said, “My ultimate vocation … is to be an irritant. Someone who disrupts the daily drag of life just enough to leave the victim thinking that there’s maybe more to it all than the mere humdrum quality of existence” (254). Such provocation is a central tenet of punk (and post-punk) rock, a genre that Marcus has championed due to a conviction of its agency towards social and political change. But while obliquely registering a position on Lauper’s intentions, Marcus had still not fully accounted for the provocative sound that she produced. I quote his subsequent discussion at length because it reveals the extent to which writers (including him) have attempted to identify a precedent for this singer’s unique voice. Immediately following Costello’s statement on the virtues of being “an irritant,” Marcus questions, 

Is [this] why so many people are happy to dismiss Lauper as Betty Boop, Olive Oyl, Ethel Merman, or Pia Zadora? Criticism in rock ‘n’ roll is generally compartmentalized as criticism anywhere else; thus Lauper is only talked about in terms of other women. No, she isn’t much like Joni Mitchell/Carly Simon/Pat Benatar. She shares more than a bit with London punk Lora Logic, but the singer she brings to mind most is Buddy Holly. … [Holly’s] silly/violent vocal shifts from midrange to high to low and back again were never set up, were never called for by the song, never seemed to make musical or emotional sense; in 1957 they made people laugh, and since then they’ve brought forth every response from delight to fear. In pop music high and low voices signify different emotional languages, and it’s the clear transition from one to the other that signifies the signifiers, that allows them to communicate in an orderly way. Holly leaped over the process and confused the categories; so does Lauper. Her music doesn’t wake people up because her voice is scratchy and piercing, though sometimes it is. She wakes people up because, in the context of arrangements that are as reassuring in their familiarity as Buddy Holly’s glasses were, she so relentlessly demolishes the expectations that would seem to follow from whatever it is she’s just done. … The reassuring composite of [an] arrangement works as the anchor necessary to translate Lauper’s free speech, her instinctive version of the Futurist parole in libertà (254–55 and 257).

In placing Lauper in line with avant-garde precepts, the closing reference to Futurism is indicative of Marcus’s dedication to rescuing this singer—at the time, written off by some as cartoonish and schticky, or, at best, subjected to an essentialist category like “woman in rock.” Lauper’s music is pop with a punk heart, a heart that beats from her voice. And although Buddy Holly is not commonly thought of in such terms, the thread that Marcus draws from Costello, Logic, and Holly to Lauper exposes a dialectic between the simultaneously banal and alluring qualities of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” 

Given the circumstances surrounding this particular song, settling on a precedent for Lauper’s voice in Holly might justifiably give one pause. In short, Marcus swerved around essentialism by giving license to Lauper’s transgressions vis-à-vis one of rock’s canonical men. Perhaps a more fitting (although not necessarily more authoritative) explanation for the sound of her voice comes from the singer herself. Supplementing her account of co-arranging “Girls,” she stated, “If you’re singing loud, then the sound that you’re making is kind of a trumpet. That’s how I was thinking. So what if you took this sound, you made your voice really high” (Lifetime, 1998). This high trumpet-voice, purposefully distorted, shares something with instruments like piccolo trumpet or soprano saxophone, effective because of their unusual, even uncanny sound, which can also be achieved by unusual uses of “ordinary” instruments and voices (for example, treble notes on a string bass, Nina Simone). In the end, the way that Lauper sings “Girls” does not sound any more like a trumpet than it does like Buddy Holly. But her instrument of choice serves as a final metaphor of why (and why it was important that) it got under people’s skins. Lauper’s voice can be heard as trumpeting against what Judith Butler described as women’s constraint “to choose against their own sense of agency” (“Gendering the Body” 256), a situation that lurks behind this singer’s cover, and her ability to recover the song for girls and for herself. 

1994

One decade, four albums, and ten American Top Forty hits after Lauper’s breakthrough, Sony Music (which had since taken over CBS and its subsidiary label Portrait) released her career retrospective, Twelve Deadly Cyns…and then some (i.e. “Sins” playfully misspelled). The collection included a revamped version of the singer’s signature tune, now entitled “Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)”—a re-cover that retains her previous lyrical revisions to Hazard’s song, while glossing on Redbone’s 1974 hit “Come and Get Your Love,” penned by the group’s front man Lolly Vegas, as well. Apropos Vegas’s song, Lauper (now co-producer) also took the tempo of “Girls” down a few notches, from approximately quarter note=120 to quarter note=102. The singer recalled that, “the record company asked me to remake the song” (MSN), most likely to capitalize on 80s nostalgia with one of that decade’s iconic hits, thereby moving copies of Twelve Deadly Cyns. Ostensibly with an eye towards reclaiming a place on mainstream radio (Lauper had not had a Top Ten hit in the U.S. since 1989’s “I Drove All Night”), the updated production of “Hey Now” reflects the generic standards of dance pop in the 1990s; not surprisingly, the single was most successful on the club charts, and also in the English and European markets, which were dominated by dance music at that time. Whereas the arrangement of “Girls” for She’s So Unusual included guitars, keyboards, bass guitar and drums—albeit with a different effect than Hazard’s demo—the latter two instruments were replaced on Lauper’s retooled version with synthesized bass and digital percussion. Furthermore, the slower tempo of “Hey Now” amplified its reggae-isms over the frenetic new wave stylings of her 1983 recording.14 Assumedly an expression of this reggae appropriation, Lauper’s singing on “Hey Now” is more relaxed than her earlier high trumpet; she wraps the notes around the melody, assuming an invitatory, almost seductive tone. 

What might seem like a clear case of commercial opportunism was not without another raison d’être, explicitly revealed in the bridge when the background singers (here, Kay Dyson, Lauper and Catherine Russell) chant, “and the boys they want to have fun, and the girls they want to have fun” (my italics). No, the new lyric was not a post-feminist reversion to Hazard’s sentiments. Rather, Lauper was acknowledging her male fan base, specifically her longstanding status as an icon for contemporary gay culture, in which dance music crucially constructs and reflects collective identity and experience. As Brian Currid demonstrates, house music (and, arguably, by extension all club sub-genres) can represent “the continuity of community in sound, [revelling] in a celebration of the provisional, in the performativity of family and community as wider categories” (166). In this light, the girl group references in both Lauper’s “Girls” and “Hey Now” can be characterized as examples of “camp pastiche of sixties girl-group style and sensibility,” a phenomenon that Smith ponders:

Who, besides the present-day queer audiences…can allow themselves to engage in what would seem adolescent sentiments more than those to whom society would deny the full rights and privileges of adulthood, those whom society would leave stranded in permanent adolescence? … As long as social mores situate anyone in a subject position analogous to the unseemly, disempowered, and, indeed, feminized one endured by adolescent females in the early 1960s, we can be sure that girl-group music will continue to exist, if only to express the everyday distress of that condition (117–18).

Just as Lauper had read Hazard’s “Girls” oppositionally, gay male culture interpreted her version against the mainstream. And, like the advertisement for the lesbian club “Sisters,” this re-appropriation attests to the fluidity of intended meanings in popular music—particularly as regards lyrical content—when it comes to fan identification (see, for example, Stein). Moreover, the queer reception of “Girls” counters the truism that music videos necessarily impose a single interpretation of a song (see Straw 3), for it arguably derived from the camp appeal of the earlier video, and coexisted with the feminist message inscribed through that medium. That Lauper openly validated the song’s being handed down to an alternative generation became clear when she gave the first public performance of “Hey Now” at Yankee Stadium for the closing ceremony of the 1994 Gay Games, backed by some fifty drag queens—an instance of “girl-group music in a world in which girls are not necessarily girls, or biologically female, or, for that matter, straight” (Smith 117). This staging inspired a new music video, which the singer directed, and was the basis for live appearances during the Twelve Deadly Cyns tour.15

The video for “Hey Now” is an important text for fleshing out the intertextuality of Lauper’s versions of “Girls,” and my examination of it here offers an epilogue to Lewis’s discussion of the singer’s video persona circa 1984. As cover songs often do (see M. Butler), “Hey Now” constitutes a commentary on its predecessor and begs the question of authenticity. More to the point, the singer’s incorporation of drag for a song covered twice over symbolically foregrounds the theatricality and artifice of gender roles that has been argued for cross-dressing (Whiteley, Sexing the Groove xvi), as well as the ways in which covering a song can be analogous to drag performance. In “Hey Now,” an elevator door opens to the introductory chorus, and from it emerge a number of girls, identified only by their shoes as seen from ground level. They make their way down a corridor while the camera takes advantage of its power to control the gaze, toying with ambiguity by leading viewers’ eyes upward to knee height (with at least one suspiciously muscular set of legs) and finally to full body shots. The scene is backstage, and the girls are dressing for a performance. Thereafter, verses one and two of the song serve as a non-diegetic soundtrack to primping, and the lyrics and images inflect one another. For instance, corresponding with “oh mother dear we’re not the fortunate ones,” one of the girls is pursued by wardrobe personnel trying to accessorize her outfit with a scarf, a cheeky take on the urgency with which this line was rendered in Lauper’s earlier recording and video. Beginning with the first refrain, the song becomes diegetic music as the singer leads the girls onto the stage for a performance of “Hey Now” within the video. 

Figure 5. From the video to “Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun)”

Regarding this performative context, Lauper stated that, “the drag queens … happened [because] I realized about the discrimination going on [and] I had the power to show them on camera. I don’t think it changes the message, it opens the door for all of us” (MSN). This ultimate sentence seems defensive, as if the singer were aware of the fraught status of drag in feminist thought, and thus the potential to betray the message behind her first cover of “Girls.” After all, the replacement of real women with bodies that are biologically male is a potentially dangerous move when considered against a larger historical and critical backdrop. Female-to-male cross-dressing has been variably criticized as essentialist, and as “gender tourism,” a term that describes, “men who [toy] with experiences of ‘femininity’ without having to deal with the dirt, danger and desperation of actual womanhood … partaking of feminine pleasure while indissolubly colluding with a society oblivious to women’s actual pain and oppression” (Gilbert and Pearson 107). Some writers have even viewed drag as a distortion of femininity, because it “quite literally en-genders differences that support man’s illusion of wholeness through a fantasy of woman’s lack,” ultimately mocking the possibility of a phallic woman (see Tyler 41). Moreover, Lauper’s idealism does not succeed in quelling objections to drag raised by queer studies, particularly an insistence on the separation between gender identification and sexuality.16 The “discrimination” to which the singer was responding arguably refers to homosexuality in general, rather than cross-dressers specifically, an elision that was echoed in the targeted marketing of “Hey Now” for gay audiences; in fact, the release of Twelve Deadly Cyns was marked by record company sponsored parties at queer clubs, where Lauper’s music and videos were featured throughout the evening, and posters as well as copies of the cassette single for “Hey Now” were raffled off.

But while the singer’s claim of upholding and expanding the message of “Girls” is problematic, her updated hit is not necessarily at odds with feminist or queer concerns. As Carol-Anne Tyler argues, the subversive (or counter-subversive) potential of drag is best evaluated by examining specific sites of performance, rather than in deference to universalizing theories (62). In the video for “Hey Now,” essentialism is complicated by the mingling of “real” girls (Lauper, backstage personnel) with androgynous ones. As in Lauper’s 1983 video, the chorus line for the first refrain of “Hey Now” showcases stylistic and racial diversity, but here the plurality of representation is extended to age, biological gender (male and female), and body type (height, weight, degrees of masculinity and femininity). The message that gender roles are constructed and akin to a costume is hit home with the appearance of a guitar-playing nun in the bridge. Her performance is drag to the second power; first, because a woman with a guitar is always already an appropriation of rock music’s most fundamental masculine sign (Bayton); and secondly, because she is a biological woman, guitarist Felicia Collins, dragging a nun. 

Figure 6. From the video to “Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun)”

The disruptiveness of such imagery can be located in the power of cross-dressing and androgyny to undermine “the discursive systems which fix sex and gender according to the binary oppositions man/woman, masculine/feminine, gay/straight” (J. Butler, Gender Trouble 127). Thus, privileging feminine experience, consciously constructed through drag and transvestism, can serve to combat misogyny from both inside and outside the gay community (Tyler 62). Furthermore, the potential liberation accorded to drag might be imagined to extend beyond women (straight and gay) and queer men to straight men, whose participation in such androgynous genres as heavy metal, but also dance music cultures, can be experienced as “a tremendous relief from the rigidity expected … of men” (Walser 133; see also Gilbert and Pearson 96–97). 

Returning to Lauper’s video for “Hey Now,” her claim of “[opening] the door for all of us” is pointedly enacted in the third verse. Punctuating the ultimate line, the singer effortlessly holds the note on “sun” for fourteen beats, the most marked departure from her earlier vocal interpretation, and one that causes a blip on the screen given her generally low-key delivery on this re-cover. Lauper flaunts this moment of virtuosity by brutishly flexing her muscles along with her vocal chords. Like the guitar-toting nun, this exhibition of machismo has less to do with a desire “to emulate and assimilate” than it does with the ability “to invade men’s exclusive realms of privilege and freedom” (McDonnell 68, quoted in Nehring 220); that is, calling to question their exclusivity through the power of the singing voice. It is significant that the focus on Lauper as she belts out “sun” is diverted with shots of the girls falling into line and “singing” along, even though there are no background vocals at this juncture of the song; the singer literally puts her words into other peoples’ mouths. As Lewis observes, “In narrative videos, the soundtrack provided by the female vocalist can operate like a narrator’s omnipotent voice-over to guide the visual action.” Thus, when dad (wrestler Captain Lou Albano) lip-synchs along in Lauper’s earlier video, the daughter/singer is effectively putting words in his mouth, a gesture that “parodies and undermines the authority of the father, and by symbolic extension, patriarchy itself” (“Being Discovered” 131). But unlike her ventriloquism of an irate patriarch, the singer’s sharing of her spotlight is not an attempt to harness these girls’ power. Rather, she is extending her own empowerment to them through a voice that is biologically female, a reminder that voice as a site of identification knows no biological gender lines (see Moore). Here it is important to call attention to the obvious point that the performance of the girls in the video for “Girls” is no more real than in that of “Hey Now”: as is conventional in music videos and drag shows, the real girls—Lauper included—were lip-synching, too.

By casting her feminist anthem as a drag anthem, the singer invokes the notion that gender identity is performative; in short, that everyone (women, men, girls) is literally in drag all of the time.17 Nonetheless, the preachy tone that this platform could take is avoided by the self-reflexivity of Lauper’s argument. Nonetheless, the preachy tone that this platform could take is avoided by the self-reflexivity of Lauper’s argument. Dianne Sawyer’s seemingly benign inquiry as to whether the singer ever felt “hostage” to “Girls” is apt here, for signature songs—especially one written by someone else when you would rather be writing your own—can be experienced as a form of confinement. So, too, can culturally-defined gender roles and identities. In the words of Michael Coyle, the discourse of authenticity surrounding pop music conditions fans to “expect that … artists live the life they represent in song” (Coyle 142), an expectation that is arguably even more restrictive for women (Evans ix). Thus, while there is no reason to doubt that Lauper believes in what she sings, being the girl who just wants to have fun comes with a price. 

One can, however, break such typecasting. By calling attention to performativity, the meaning of both song and gender are opened up to exploration, interrogation, and self-definition, a process that I have already recounted regarding “Girls” and which is extended to Lauper’s own image as a woman and pop star in her re-cover. At the beginning of the video for “Hey Now,” a girl sporting bright yellow hair and a red dress can be spotted inconspicuously hanging out in the wings, only to be revealed in the second verse as the singer herself, sitting in front of a mirror and touching up her makeup along with the other girls. 

Figure 7. From the video to “Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun)”

With that, the identity of Lauper and the girls is revealed as a masquerade, whimsically showing how “femininity itself … is constructed as a mask” (Doane 48–49), no less changeable than shades of lipstick or eyeshadow. Such constructedness is obviously not gender specific, and also applies to other areas of identity performance, such as persona. Viewed in this light, the singer’s almost unreal look in the video for “Hey Now,” complete with an impossibly manicured bob, is a glamorized version of the day-glow hair and eye-catching clothing for which she became a household name in 1984. Through such imagery, Lauper exposes her own earlier image as a construction, created (or at very least enhanced) with an eye towards commercial success.18 Ultimately, the girl who once danced in New York’s streets is revealed to be just as much a construction as the one in the drag show. If covering a song can be thought of as analogous to drag, in “Hey Now” the singer is not only dragging Hazard’s “Girls” once more; she is dragging Cyndi Lauper. 

Conclusion

Figure 8. Album cover to True Colors

The cover for Lauper’s 1986 album True Colors, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, is, in part, a gesture of intimacy, suggesting that viewers/listeners are embarking on the next stage of their relationship with this unusual girl. The shot is lifted from Jean Cocteau’s Orphée (1949), just before the star poet awakes the morning after his first encounter with Death and her minions. Such quotations from classic cinema are ubiquitous in post-modern popular culture, and the relative obscurity of a Cocteau reference for 1980s Top Forty audiences marks Orpheus-Lauper as an instance of “blank parody” (see Jameson 16) because, detached from its original context, its symbolism is largely lost. 

Figure 9. From Jean Cocteau’s Orphee

But here it is worthwhile to try to account for it given the trajectory of Lauper’s career prior to and since True Colors. In Cocteau’s film, Orpheus’s acquaintance with Death is preceded by a creative crisis. Death then introduces him to a remedy in the form of a radio signal that transmits “poetry,” which Orpheus feverishly dictates. Lauper’s self-identification with Cocteau’s version of the myth (she is credited with art direction on the album) might be interpreted as an expression of her post–Blue Angel anxiety regarding her compromised authorial voice, not fully recovered until Hat Full of Stars and Sisters of Avalon (1993 and 1996 respectively), the first albums on which she uncompromisingly co-wrote and co-produced every track (albeit to little commercial avail). Unlike She’s So Unusual, the singer did co-produce True Colors; still, all three of its hit singles—the title song, “Change of Heart” and a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”—were penned by other songwriters. 

Had Lauper internalized the value placed on authorship, despite the “extraordinary political intervention” she had carried out with Robert Hazard’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”? If so, the two decades that have passed since demonstrate that she need not have second-guessed this feat. Subsequent covers of “Girls” inevitably defer to Cyndi Lauper’s recording, over twenty at the time of this writing,ranging from novelties (Dame Edna, 1988) to international versions (“Les filles ne veulent que s’amuser” by 80s French pop group Barbie, or Latin teen sensation Amber Rose’s 1997 “Chicas quieren gozar”) to grunge rock (Pearl Jam’s live version in 1993) and rap (T-Black’s “Hoes Just Wanna Have Fun” from 1999).19 It may be cliché to observe that Lauper made this song her own, but given the song in question, as well as the circumstances surrounding her doing so, it is no less of a triumph. Ironically, one way that the singer exercises her control over “Girls” is by occasionally omitting it from her concerts. For example, during a performance with the Boston Pops Orchestra in 2001, she announced, “OK, here’s another one that’s … fun,” then quickly pointed down to the front row where some fans were holding a “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” banner, adding dismissively, “no, not like that” (Pop Goes the Fourth!). More often than not, however, Lauper does opt to sing her signature song. Her recent live takes are hybrid versions of “Girls” and “Hey Now” (usually transformed into an audience sing-along at the end) that invariably retain one aspect of the latter: the virtuosic, sustained note at the end of verse three (on “sun”), now given the full spotlight as the instrumental accompaniment drops out entirely. In 1984, Marcus mused that, “When [Lauper] holds a note … you can’t tell if she’s showing off or [if she’s] possessed by the song” (257). But the history of this particular song suggests that she has once again taken possession of it. The setup of the third verse as an unabashed climax is utterly calculated: it is the singer’s insistence on her discursive terms—“I want to be the one to walk in the sun”—because “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” contains within it the threat of eclipse, and thus the need to constantly affirm the possibility of making other people’s songs one’s own.

Works Cited

Books and Articles

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Currid, Brian. “‘We Are Family’: House Music and Queer Performativity.” Cruising the Performative: Interventions into the Representation of Ethnicity, Nationality, and Sexuality. Eds. Sue-Ellen Case, Philip Brett and Susan Leigh Foster. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. 165–96.

Doane, Mary Ann. “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator.” Issues in Feminist Film Criticism. Ed. Patricia Erens. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. 41–57.

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———. “The Popular Music Industry.” The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock. Eds. Simon Frith, Will Straw and John Street. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 26–52.

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hooks, bell. “Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister.” Chap. 10 in Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992. 157–64.

Hornaday, Ann. “Cyndi Lauper.” Ms. Jan. 1985: 47.

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Kearney, Mary Celeste. “The Missing Links: Riot Grrrl, Feminism, Lesbian Culture.” Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender. Ed. Sheila Whiteley. New York: Routledge, 1997. 207–29.

Lewis, Lisa A. “Being Discovered: The Emergence of Female Address on MTV.” Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader. Eds. Simon Frith, Andrew Goodwin and Lawrence Grossberg. New York: Routledge, 1993. 129–51.

———. Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

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Marcus, Greil. “Free Speech, #1.” Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-92. New York: Doubleday, 1993 [1984]. 253–57.

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McDonnell, Evelyn. Rev. of The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, by Simon Reynolds and Joy Press. Village Voice July 18, 1995: 68.

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———. True Colors. Portrait RK-40313, 1986.

———. Hat Full of Stars. Epic EK-52878, 1993.

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———. Sisters of Avalon. Epic EK-66433, 1997.

———. Shine. Oglio OGL82015-2, 2002.

———. At Last. Epic EK-90760-S1, 2003.

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  1. An earlier version of this article was read at the Twenty-Ninth Annual Conference of the Society for American Music, Tempe, Arizona, February 26-March 2,2003. I wish to thank Susan Cook, Joanna Demers, Scott Deveaux, Tony Devincenzo, Britta Gilmore, Nicole Koepke, Simon Morrison, Kristina Muxfeldt, Scott Paulin and Laura Tunbridge, as well as two anonymous readers, for suggestions and encouragement at various stages.
  2. On style imitation as a distinct “girl culture” practice, see Lewis, “Being Discovered” 140–45.
  3. Lewis was reacting, in part, to E. Ann Kaplan’s 1987 monograph Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture. As regards Lauper, Kaplan pinpointed the character of the mother (played by the singer’s real-life mom) in the videos for “Girls” and especially its follow-up “Time After Time” as problematic: “The mother is presented in realist codes that cannot conceal her powerlessness. She comes across as an oppressed figure, pathetic, weak even. Peripheral to the narrative as usual, she cannot help her daughter, merely commiserating rather than taking control or bringing about change. … [Such
  4. Although music videos might seem to be more transient than recordings because their releases are limited, I would maintain that images from many videos persist in pop culture memory and are recalled by later hearings of a song. Clearly, the shelf life of videos has been extended by nostalgia-oriented programming on MTV’s sister station VH1, like Behind the Music, and the seemingly never-ending barrage of countdown lists: “The 100 Greatest Dance Songs,” “The 100 Greatest Videos,” “50 Greatest Women of the Video Era,” as well as the coordinated release of greatest hits CD’s with home video/DVD collections, and the projecting of excerpts from music videos on large screens at arena concerts.
  5. Lauper’s own biological father abandoned the family when she was a child.
  6. For her video analyses, Lewis pointed to “two interrelated textual sign systems”: “access signs” (referencing “the differences girls experience as a result of gendered social inequalities” and that argue “in the language of role-reversal and utopianism for equal rights and recognition”); and “discovery signs” (which “reference and celebrate distinctly female modes of cultural expression and experience”) (“Being Discovered” 136–43). “Access signs” and “discovery signs” can be thought of as growing out of feminist and gender consciousness, respectively, as defined by Burns and LaFrance.
  7. Although not mentioning Lauper specifically, Kearney (208 and 213) argued for the influence of women in both punk and mainstream pop on musicians associated with the riot grrrl movement. One anecdote serves as a case in point. During a tour stop at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theater (August 31,2002), the band Le Tigre (whose members include Kathleen Hanna, formerly of the oft-regarded Ur-riot grrrl band Bikini Kill) presented a slide show to accompany the song “Hot Topic” from their self-titled debut album. The verses feature a catalogue of names—mainly musicians and writers, mostly women and/or queer—who provide the band (and their audiences) with artistic sustenance. In live performance, the lyrics were supplemented by images projected on a screen, including a still of Lauper taken from the jacket of her 1986 single “True Colors.” See also the joint interview with Lauper and Hanna (Vivinetto).
  8. The twelve tracks from Blue Angel, as well as live versions and several demos for the band’s uncompleted second album, can be heard on the “Fearless Cyndi Lauper” website.
  9. RCA released three albums by the group: Robert Hazard (1982), a revamped version of an earlier, self-released EP that includes “Escalator of Life” (the Heroes’ biggest hit, peaking at no. 53 on the Billboard Hot 100); Wing of Fire (1984); and Darling (1986).
  10. Hazard’s performance on “Girls” invites comparisons to other new wave male singers of the moment, such as Ric Ocasek of The Cars, but also earlier singers like Bob Dylan or the legendary swaggering of Mick Jagger.
  11. Here it should be noted that when covering other male-authored tunes for She’s So Unusual, Lauper did not alter the original lyrics; rather, she shifted the narrative perspective by simply singing them as they stood, but as a female subject, claiming the prerogative to dump her man for a richer one in Tom Grey’s (of The Brains) “Money Changes Everything” (rather than telling the story as a victim), and turning the tables on the sexual ambiguity in Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” For a discussion of Lauper’s cover of “Money Changes Everything,” see Marcus.
  12. Bazilian, credited with guitar, bass, hooter, saxophone, and background vocals on She’s So Unusual, is a member of The Hooters, a Philadelphia-based band that had a brief moment in the national spotlight in the mid-80s.
  13. While peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, Lauper’s “Girls” reached the number one position on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. Incidentally, the Japanese release of Lauper’s version was re-titled “Hai Sukuru wa Dansuteria” (“High School is Danceteria”).
  14. Indeed, prior to the release of Twelve Deadly Cyns the singer had been tinkering with “Girls” in concert, first performing a so-called “reggae version” on May 26,1993 at the Irving Plaza in Manhattan. Concert information is compiled on Lauper’s official website.
  15. These included New York’s 1995 Pride Parade and a spot on Late Night With David Letterman that same summer. In the fall of 1995, the remade song was also featured in the cross-dressing comedy To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar.
  16. For a portrait of cross dressers that problematizes the alignment of drag with homosexuality, see Peter Schwarz’s 1996 documentary All Dressed Up and No Place to Go.
  17. The locus classicus for this argument is Butler, Gender Trouble.
  18. For several high-profile media appearances in 1984, Lauper strained her speaking voice to make it sound higher, playing up her New York accent as well as the cartoonish Betty Boop–like image of her She’s So Unusual days. These appearances include: presenter (with Rodney Dangerfield) at the 26th Annual Grammy Awards (February 1984), interview with Dave Clark on American Bandstand (March 1984), and her acceptance speeches at the first MTV Video Music Awards (September 1984).
  19. Lauper’s official website has a list of covers of the song.
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