There really isn’t a music genre Cyndi Lauper hasn’t conquered.
Of course, the singer remains iconic for her 1980s pop anthems “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “She Bop,” as well as her more emotional ballads “True Colors” and “Time After Time.” But the 62-year-old has still achieved enormous success across many genres, thanks to her dance-infused 2008 album Bring Ya to the Brink and her stripped-back 2010 blues record Memphis Blues.
Lauper is back now with her eleventh album, Detour, a collection of country music covers featuring stars like Jewel and Willie Nelson.
The music legend spoke with us about her new album, wanting to work with country star Dolly Parton, and still planning to remake What Ever Happened to Baby Jane—with none other than Madonna.
Out: In the past decade, you’ve experimented with a number of genres, including dance and blues music. What drew you to country after all these years?
Cyndi Lauper: Well it was an interesting path. It started with a meeting with Seymour Stein who is one of the greatest music guys I know. He has an incredible knowledge of music history—he is like a breathing music library. I was talking to him about wanting to put an album out and to do a covers record. I had been writing songs for a new Broadway show and hadn’t really written any songs just for me. I really wanted to go back to studio and do another covers project. He liked that idea.
At that time, I wasn’t sure which direction I was heading. But when I started listening to songs, I found that the songs I was moved by the most were those from the same era as my blues album [Memphis Blues]. Seymour starting explaining to me about the golden era of country—which all of the songs on Detour are from—was from the same era as Memphis Blues. I loved the idea of doing a companion record to Memphis Blues and to look at music from both sides of that street.
How did you decide what songs to record for the album? I read you listened to thousand of songs.
Literally thousand of songs! But I took my time and listened to each one of them. My manager and friends all sent me songs. I met with publishing companies in Nashville and they sent me songs. A great group of women publishers called Chicks With Hits all sent songs as well. It took me months to listen to all these great country classics from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. I ultimately chose the ones that I could relate to and also perform well. Most importantly, I wanted all the songs to tell a story.
Are there any country music singers working today that you admire?
I want to start with all the amazing artists that took the time out to be on Detour! Jewel who is on “Cowboy Sweetheart”—gotta love her! She can yodel like anything. She has a country heart. Emmylou Harris is a friend and her voice is just stunning. Vince Gill is one of the funniest and nicest and most talented men I know. He’s a kind-hearted, very giving guy. Just a pleasure to be around him in the studio. Willie Nelson was awesome. What an honor. He had been recording all day for his own CD and still managed to save time for me.
And I love Dolly Parton. It is still my dream to work with Dolly one day.
What is a “detour” to you? Have you experienced many detours in your life?
To me a detour is just a path you didn’t plan on taking, but turns out to be the right turn after all. My life is full of detours. I am so lucky.
What’s the hardest thing about touring these days?
That I am travelling so much and don’t get to see my family. That’s the hardest. Also packing and unpacking all the time. I love the gigs—it’s the in-between stuff that can be hard.
You were recently quoted saying that you’d love to remake What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Madonna. (P.S. We’d love for it to happen!) But if Baby Jane didn’t work out with Madge, and you could remake any other movie, what would it be?
Wait a minute! Let me make What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Madonna first! How great would that be? I think we’d work great together. One of my favorite films is The Women. I know it was remade recently but I’d love to do that movie and cast it with my favorite actresses.
You’re a regular on social media. What’s your favorite part about it? What’s the worst part?
It’s great to have that immediacy between you and your fans. But in a strange way as social media has involved it seems that we are also creating barriers. No one is actually in the moment. We always have our phones between us and our lives.
I mean when I’m on stage and look out I want to see the faces and the expressions of my fans, but now I see a sea of camera phones. It keeps us separated. I feel like saying please put down the phones and let’s connect. It would make the concert better when the cell phones are left in your pocket.
Lastly, what’s a good night in for Cyndi Lauper?
Curl up at home with my husband and watch an old movie. I love old movies. I also love to look at and collect coffee table books on past fashions, like books with old Vogue covers in them, that kind of thing.
Nathan Smith is an arts and culture writer. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Forbes. Nathan tweets at @nathansmithr.