Way back in 1984, before fans had blogs and Internet forums to express their hunches about career longevity and artistic redundancy, I told anyone who would listen that Lauper could sing the pants off her rival if Ms. Ciccone didn’t so readily drop trou first.

I also proposed that the higher quality of hooky songwriting on Lauper’s 1983 release, She’s So Unusual — which spawned three consecutive No. 1’s and five Top Tens, guaranteed her staying power. In contrast, Madonna would be a lucky star if she stayed around as long as Alicia Bridges.

For a while, the stats bore out my claim, but once Lauper won the kiss-of-death Best New Artist Grammy, all that changed. Before the year ended, Madonna hit No. 1 for the first time with “Like a Virgin.” I’ve received each of her career peaks since then as a personal insult, like Hillary Clinton defending her hubby before Monica’s blue dress showed up.

It’s hardly been a level playing field over the years. But recent developments have made me think the tables may have finally turned in an unlikely arena, the growing-old-gracefully department.

1984: Madonna tries to pass herself off as “shiny and new” with the wishful thinking “Like a Virgin.”

Lauper tries to pass herself off as “whore” and “tramp” with the impure thinking “She Bop.”

1985: Madonna enjoys a primo slut, I mean slot, at Live Aid.

Lauper checks her ego at the door at the USA for Africa session for “We are the World.” Gets shunted between Huey Lewis and Kim Carnes.

Madonna plays herself (sort of) in the box office smash, Desperately Seeking Susan. Steals the movie from legit actors like Rosanna Arquette and Aidan Quinn.

Lauper plays herself (sort of) in Wrestlemania, making people wonder if her Betty Boop voice is as fake as Captain Lou Albano and the Junkyard Dog. She also infuriates wrestling fans by getting “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” stuck in their heads.

1986: With her new album True Blue, millions of Madonna’s enrapt fans drop last year’s boy-toy fashions for her new short blond, James Dean look.

With her new album True Colors, Lauper’s fans draw the line with her new look — cadaverous blue lipstick and a skirt made out of hundreds of shredded concert flypaper posters.

1988: After starring in two box-office flop screwball comedies, Who’s that Girl and Shanghai Surprise, Madonna decides to stink up Broadway in a David Mamet play, Speed the Plow.

Lauper finally gets around to starring in her first film, Vibes, a (yawn) screwball comedy with Jeff Goldblum, in which she plays a psychic, with predictable results.

1989: Madonna gets a cool million from Pepsi for shooting a commercial that airs only once as a result of its blasphemous undertones.

You want blasphemy? Lauper tones down the Krazy Kat voice and punk look for A Night to Remember, her first album not to sell.

1993: Madonna tests the patience of her audience with a show-all book, Sex; a lukewarm dance album, Erotica; and a sappy S&M thriller, Body of Evidence.

Lauper achieves underappreciation with her more mature Hat Full of Stars album and by playing Michael J. Fox’s secretary in My Life with Mickey.

1995: Trying to make over herself as a mature performer, Madonna compiles all of her forgettable ballads on the Something to Remember album, then lobbies hard for the title role in Evita (which she gets) and an Oscar for her performance (which she doesn’t get).

Lauper’s guest stint on Mad About You playing a wealthy contessa wins her an Emmy.

2002: Madonna’s performance as a wealthy contessa in Swept Away wins her a Razzie.

Lauper’s second co-headlining jaunt with Cher cements her reputation in the gay community and with fans of VH1’s Divas. Sony, which dropped her just after 9-11, signs her back. The album Shine, was eventually released and contained a track titled “Madonna Whore.”

2003: Madonna’s attempts at being a protest singer result in her reviled American Life album, which contains “Hollywood,” her first commercially released single to miss The Billboard Hot 100 since 1982.

Lauper’s album of standards, At Last, is her first to enter Billboard’s Top 40 since 1988.

2005: Madonna has gone full circle, making nearly anonymous disco hits with Confessions on the Dance Floor. Wire services report husband Guy Ritchie is distancing himself from her infatuation with Kaballah.

Lauper ventures further in the heir apparent role by making over her chirpy earlier hits into acceptable adult contemporary entertainment on The Body Acoustic. And while having a full guest roster to prop up the hits, the participants (Shaggy, Sarah McLachlan, Ani DiFranco and Jeff Beck) are hardly big box-office guarantees. But they do lend class to the proceedings. And it’s actually a relief to hear “She Bop” as a blues song and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as a ska tune. Unlike Ms. Reinvention, Luper seems more comfortable with her past, her age and her acoustic guitar playing.


Cyndi Lauper performs Friday, Dec. 2, at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-668-8397.

Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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