True Colors

Album: True Colors (1986)
Charted: 12 1
Play Video


  • This was written by the songwriting team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who also wrote Madonna's "Like A Virgin," Heart's "Alone," and Lauper's "I Drove All Night." The song is about looking below the surface to see what a person is really like.
  • In our interview with Billy Steinberg, the lyricist explained: "On 'True Colors' I had this verse and it was written about my mother: 'You've got a long list with so many choices, a ventriloquist with so many voices, and your friends in high places say where the pieces fit, you've got too many faces in your makeup kit, but I see your true colors shining through,' then it went on with the same chorus that the song has.

    I often employ a sort of stream-of-consciousness lyric writing style and I remember writing that verse. The verse came first. So the 'true colors shining through' came out of the line that preceded it, 'You've got too many faces in your makeup kit.' We wrote that verse and chorus, Tom and I, and Tom said to me, 'Gee, that chorus has tremendous universal appeal, it could be sung by anyone to anyone. It could be a parent to a child, a friend to a friend, could be for or about anyone. On the other hand, the lyric to the verse you've written, although it's very poetic and very interesting, it seems to be specifically about someone with friends in high places.' He thought it had less universality and I agreed with him. In spite of the fact that I had written that verse about my mom and that it led to the chorus lyric and I was proud of it, I agreed to rewrite the verse lyric and then of course the song would need a second verse lyric.

    I really got writer's block when it came to rewriting it. I remember I had something about sad eyes or something, I think Tom even said, 'Well how about 'you with the sad eyes'?' He kept encouraging me, 'Let's finish that song, it's a great song.' I said, 'Let's write something else, I can't do it, I'm stuck.' The song kind of languished because I just didn't know how to rewrite these verses. We had done a very rough demo of the song with the original verse and the chorus and I don't know how this happened, but somehow George Martin, The Beatles' producer, heard our very rough demo and Tom heard back that he loved it. Then Tom really got on my case to finish those lyrics. Tom and I sat together and I finished the lyrics with his help."
  • This was the only original song on the album that Lauper didn't help write.
  • Billy Steinberg told Songfacts about how the song came together. "Tom sang the demo, it was based on a piano and it had gospel-flavored background vocals," he said. "I remember feeling that somehow there was something incomplete about the first verse. I always felt there was something wrong with it but I was just happy to have it done. On the other hand, the second verse, the part about, 'Don't be unhappy, can't remember when I last saw you laughing...' That second verse, I remember I was very happy with that, those first four lines of the second verse. And I was pleased when the Cyndi Lauper record came out because during the solo section she speaks the lines, 'Can't remember when I last saw you laughing.' She sort of says that again and it pleased me that she grabbed a line that I liked and spoke it rather than picking out something I didn't like."
  • Lauper's good friend Gregory Natal had recently died of AIDS when Lauper heard the demo of the song. She was thinking of Natal when she came up with her approach to the vocal, particularly the soft, whispering sections. "I realized it had to be a voice that whispers to you," she told 60 Minutes. "A voice that's almost childlike so it will speak to the softest, most gentle part of a human being. It's a voice whispering to you, telling you it's going to be OK."
  • Lauper ended up being the perfect artist to record this song. Billy Steinberg explained: "One of the things that one contends with as a songwriter is that when an artist records your song, unless you're producing it yourself or somehow involved in the production, you have very little input into how the song's being arranged and structured. Sometimes an artist will copy your demo exactly as you present it. That would be the case with 'Like a Virgin' or 'Alone' by Heart - the records copied the demos. In 'True Colors,' more than any other song, Cyndi Lauper came up with a very, very creative departure from our demo. The demo was sort of rooted in the gospel ballad tradition of a song like 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', 'Let It Be' or 'Lean On Me,' that sort of thing with the piano. Cyndi completely dismantled that sort of traditional arrangement and came up with something that was breathtaking and stark. Tom and I were both elated when we heard her record of it because it was so much more adventurous than our demo, and to her credit, she produced it and did a beautiful job. That song, more than any other song I've written, has had tremendous life. I guess more than any other song that Tom and I wrote, that one seems to have the most universal appeal."
  • The song took on special meaning in the gay community, which is represented by a rainbow pride flag. Lauper, always a supporter of LGBTQ rights, was thrilled when the song resonated with that community.
  • In the UK, this was released as "True Colours." It gave the title a little more British flavour.
  • This was used in a Kodak advertising campaign to advertise their film processing.
  • Phil Collins recorded this for his 1998 Greatest Hits compilation. His version was released as a single and became very popular on Adult Contemporary radio stations.
  • This was covered by Australian country music star Kasey Chambers and used as the 2003 Rugby World Cup theme song. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Katie - Goulburn, Australia
  • Fredro Starr and Jill Scott reworked this into a song called "Shining Through," which was used as the theme song to the film Save The Last Dance. On "Shining Through," Jill Scott sings the first bit of the chorus - "I see your true colors shining through, I see your true colors and that's why I love you," and Fredro Starr adds a rap to the song. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adam - Dewsbury, England
  • In 2007, Lauper launched the "True Colors Tour" in an effort to support gay rights and fight hate crimes. The 2007 tour featured Erasure, The Dresden Dolls and Debbie Harry of Blondie. In 2008, artists included Joan Jett, Regina Spektor, and Tegan and Sara.

    In 2008, Lauper also launched the True Colors Fund (later rebranded True Colors United), which advocates for LGBTQ youth, working with communities to make sure their shelters and youth centers are inclusive. The organization also provides a voice in Washington, advocating for legislation that supports and protects the LGBTQ community.
  • Justin Timberlake teamed up with actress Anna Kendrick in 2016 to cover this song for the soundtrack of the movie Trolls. Timberlake voices grey troll Branch in the film, while Kendrick plays a troll called Popp.

Comments: 28

  • Katrubie from CaMy son, was born in 1987, 4 years after I graduated from High School. As early as high school I had begun to see the value in being myself instead of following the crowd and trying to be someone I wasn't. So, when Cyndi Lauper sang this song, it had already had a significance to me that I deeply understood. We all tend to wear various masks in life depending on who we're with and where we are, and I was struggling as a young adult to be myself without having to don the prescribed masks. It's not an easy path to follow, because we live in a world full of insecure people who only want to be accepted and loved and they put on those masks in order to feel this way. The irony is that everyone around you ends up approving of, and liking, someone you're pretending to be, rather than the real you. So, I dedicated this song to my son early in life to remind him to always allow his true colors (self) to shine through in spite of the pressure he would find all around him to be someone he wasn't. He's marched to the beat of his own drum in life pretty successfully and has found "his people" (people who love and appreciate him for him). I still struggle to find my people, but I think it is harder for my generation than for my son's. In my son, and his generation, I hold hopes and dreams that people will learn to be themselves and accept the differences we all have as only another color variation in life's rainbow.
  • Left Low Leg from Middle Class Usa Really good song by the New Yorker. Kind of underrated. I think of my girlfriend with this song. Back at my old townhome, not the one I have now but the one before that. She used to tell me in bed : “you have strong colors Franco.” She would look right at my chest and she would say “you have strong colors, they are clear.” I would ask her what are bad colors and she told me if “they’re murky.” Yours are never murky.” Nobody ever talked to me like that before. I’ll never forget that.

    She used to read this book for me called “1001 Arabian nights”. I think we were about halfway through. I still have that book. I never finished it. I can’t. Part of me says she has to finish it. I can’t read it. She started it.
    I know that won’t happen, but my spirit says she has to finish that book.

    We had a different relationship.

    I would always want her to touch me. She had a different kind of touch. It was warm, it was affectionate, it was comforting, it was loving, it was sexy. It was healing, at least to me. I would put her hand on me all the time.

    She told me a long time ago : “sometimes you appear sad Franco. I can see it and I can feel it. I feel so much.” She told me she’s able to feel other people’s energy more so than normal. Like a clairvoyant. She was different.

    I could drop my guard with her and be more loving, affectionate and carefree. She gave me a card one time that said “I still appreciate your packages and cards you sent my way. It still makes me smile inside. Forever Young Franco.” I still have it on my dresser.
    I felt that way with her especially when we were on our outings. I felt loving, young, and carefree with her. I felt like I could be safe with her. Like I could act like a kid again. Like I could be real affectionate with her because she was real affectionate with me. To me, she is a loving person and a very affectionate person and she wants someone to kind of unlock that within her and let her be that in return. She’s a goddess. She’s different, and she has a gift. I was real affectionate with her and felt good. That never stopped.

    She would tell me stuff like “Franco you’re very gentle with me, you’re very patient with me. “ I wonder if she was telling me that as a words of affirmation, or if she was saying that just a statement. Does it matter? Not really, same message.

    She knew me and I never forgot that comment about the colors.

    I felt safe with her at times. I have to feel like seven or eight things at once to feel comfortable with someone and come inside them. She knew how to talk to me.

    I screamed at her real bad once and I feel bad about that. I know we had frustrations from other problems before that, but that’s no excuse on my part. She’s a good lady and she deserves to be happy. I’m pretty selfish and I know that. I always have been. It’s always been me watching out for me, kind of my own best trait vs worse trait. I think about that kind of stuff when I’m high on weed, or I’m up at 3 AM in the middle of the night with the coyotes and the rabbits and no one else around, or when I’m drunk once a week.

    Her and I had a totally different relationship. I think about her often.
  • Heavy D from Middle Class UsaReally good lyrics. “ don’t be unhappy, I can’t remember when I last saw you smile.” I look at pictures from me and my ex, and I see we were smiling a lot. Smiling a lot different than how we used to smile before. She’s the only person that made me smile the way I did. A love like no other. Sometimes when I get drunk, I’ll look at old pictures of us. There is one picture I have that I actually think she’s almost “live” in the picture. She can hear me and I talk to her. during the pandemic I was worried about her even though we weren’t together anymore and I started sending her care packages. It was one of few things that actually made me feel good during this year of 2020. We wanted different things and honestly, I couldn’t give her what she wanted. Very beautiful lady, very special. I miss her and those times we had together because we were very free and affectionate with each other. But happens. It’s called life.
  • The Tiny Pyro From Pa from Scranton PaI identify with this song because of my list of mental illnesses. I had just been diagnosed with Impulse Control Disorder, Pyromania, which is the rarest and most dangerous disorder in that category (and, yes, and I am a convicted Arsonist--I did a year in prison even though my intent was NOT criminal but because of my mental illness where I can't control the urges to set fires) and this song reminds me that I can still be myself. My family loves me regardless and are there for me.

    That's how I identify to this song.
  • Mandy from London UkJ C Chasez did a lovely version for a charity event a few years back. You can see it on Youtube search his name and the title. Truly one of the most beautiful voices ever. I must be one of the few who have not heard the Phil Collins version must check it out soon.
  • Roger from Spokane, WaI've done some thorough research and a few of you have your facts wrong. The rainbow was adopted by the Gays in the mid 70's and has been a theme for all things gay since then. This began LONG before Cyndi's version of the song was released.
    The gay culture does not OWN the song, nor do they want to. They "identify with it and it's meaning/message" and it's obvious that it's appropriate here with some of the comments that I've read that folks on here have posted.
    It still amazes me that folks can identify with a song that has such universal appeal and still think that's it okay to act/write/speak or talk in a fashion that is the focus of the song it's self. I just will not ever understand how people can say they are one way and then act another.
    I think the song belongs to the Universe and frankly I'm in awe of the two men who wrote it as well as Cyndi who made it popular they are all genius in their own right!
    I believe that this song CAN AND DOES apply to any group or individual who is looked down upon by another group or individual and that it reinforces the right that each of us has to live and be who and what we are without shame.
    But, the bottom line is basically about acceptance.....
    "I see your True Colors shining through.
    I see your True Colors, and that's why I love you,
    So don't be afraid to let them show,
    Your True Colors,
    True Colors,
    Are beautiful, like a rainbow."

    The song simply means, I see who you are, what you are, and I love you and accept you because of or inspite of ALL of your Colors.
    You Are Beautiful, Like A Rainbow!
  • Megan from Sydney, AustraliaWhy does this song have to be categorised gay or not? Isn't it kind of patronising to make the distinction? (do gay people need special songs? Can't they just be humans going throught the same kinds of turmoil and pain that some humans go through for one reason or another?)

    It may have become a gay anthem, but perhaps because it gives light and hope to people who feel "this world makes you crazy and you've taken all you can bear" and may be made to feel ashamed by society, as well as the link between rainbows and the Gay pride flag.

    Like Rick, I clung to this song as an anthem in my teens, but in my case it was because I have a mental illness that made me feel similar feelings of being discouraged and overwhelmed by "the darkness inside you makes you feel so small" and societies lack of understanding of my situation.

    The song was written by one lot of people, Cyndi did a brilliant interpretation of their lyrics when she recorded it, and many others have performed it too. Personally, I don't think any other covers and performances I have seen can match Cyndi's so to me hers is the "true" version, but even that doesn't make it about one particular situation.

    Its about telling someone that they are beautiful whatever the world makes them feel. We've read above that the writers thought it could be "sung to anyone by anyone" and maybe when Cyndi has performed it over the years it has come to mean different things to her, and she has aimed it at different people.

    It doesn't seem relevant to me WHEN the rainbow flag became a gay symbol - even if when the song was recorded by her, the rainbow flag wasn't a well known symbol, over the years the song could have come to represent that to some people, and to Cyndi herself.
  • Jo from Sydney, Australiacyndi lauper wrote a song called boy blue please check out the live version in paris on you tube.
    The song is about a good friend who is gay and got kicked out of home by hes mum he tried to find love but ended up geting aids.
    Of course cyndi and her gay friend did not understand what aids was in 1986 and how it is transmitted.
    So cyndi wrote boy blue for her dieing friend. As he wanted a song. Unfortunatly the beautiful song was overlooked and the true colours track seem to take its place for her gay friend.
    As cyndi said true colours became bigger than her and is song for everyone to feel good.
    A lot of cyndis songs are about her life.
    Salleys Pigeons is another cyndi song about a friend who died of illegal abortion.
    Its pity that being one of the few independent
    artists means a lot of people miss out on her 90s
    and current music.
  • Renee from Bloomington, MnI have to say, masso, your comment is uncalled for and shows extreme prejudice and lack of sensitivity to a group of people. Not to mention, in no way conducive to loving people for their true colors.
  • Mirna from Portoviejo, Ecuadorthe name and official song of my english books..
  • Masso from Cleveland, OhIf the song's writers say it isn't about being gay, it isn't about being gay. Not everyone finds fondling one's own sex hip. You've got to grow up and become mothers and fathers some day. And for God's sake get off the drugs. It's probably the only reason you have gay sex. It would take a pound of cola to make me kiss a snake....
  • Rick from Kent, WaRojellio, Marie and Tyler, Although I don't necessarily think this song is only about being gay, the "rainbow" flag was introduced in by 1986, it was a well-known gay symbol. Even if there was no gay intent, I recall as a closeted high school student being drawn to this song as an anthem. Coming from a very small town in Idaho, I grabbed onto anything I could! It's now incredible to see her perform it live draped in a rainbow flag.
  • Tyler from New Orleans, LaFor Rojellio and Marie, I think this song, over time has come to be sort of a gay anthem, but it was not nessisarily written for that purpose. Her song "Shine" could be considered the same way. But when she performs this live she usually takes out a rainbow flag and drapes it over herself and then before the last chorus or at the end she?ll put her fist up in the air, (I?m assuming this symbolizes gay pride, along with the flag), but anyway at that point the crowd goes nuts, haha its really fun seeing her perform it live.
  • Neal from North, NjThe figure skater Russ is referring to is most probably Sasha Cohen when she was 15. As young as she was, she was highly praised and lived up to it during the demonstration... I have yet to hear anyone remake this song anywhere close to Cyndi Lauper's. I think even Phil Collins fell well below the mark. Cyndi Lauper's live performances of this song are amazing, as well.
  • Jeanette from Elkridge, MdThis song was covered by the Harlem Boys Choir for the Kodak commercial and they also sang the jingle for Stetson cologne which is usually seen around Christmas time.
  • Rojellio from Fruita, CoI disagree with Marie. This song is not about being gay. This song was released long BEFORE a rainbow had nothingl to do with anything else. Back in those days a rainbow was an optical phenomena that happens after it rains and the sun comes out. Even in this day and age, I think that she is refering to the optical phenomena.
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnThis really is a beautiful song. A little repetitious maybe, but that was the nature of pop songs in the coked-out late-70s-early-80s era. (Writers often didn't notice that they were doing the same thing over and over.) .... But Cyndi was such a beautiful singer. I wish she was more active today. She had great artistic instincts, FAR beyond Madonna. If any of you music industry people out there writing these comments with fake names (you know who you are!)see her, talk her into making a comeback. She could do it.
  • Ydur from Knoxville, TnThere's a pretty funny Elmer Fudd cover/parody version out there somewhere. I haven't heard it in about 20 years though...
  • Pete from Nowra, AustraliaJo from newcastle...think Tara Morice, did Time after Time
  • Catherine from London, EnglandWhat a beautiful song! Eva Cassidy also recorded a cover of this before her death. It is gorgeous, am actually listening to it.

    On the BBC a young woman sang this for her mother's birthday (featured on a tv show 'facing the music'). Her family had suffered greatly due to the young womans father abusing them all, so much that they went into a domestic violence refuge in london. I tohught the song was very apt and had me in buckets
  • Candice from Vancouver, CanadaThis was also used in another commercial about the differences of girls or something.
  • Marie from Los Angeles, CaI am going to analysis this song a little bit more after seening Cyndi's At Last DVD. I think this song is actually about being gay. I say that because if you look at the lyrics it is about not being ashamed, people understanding you, and the whole rainbow reference should be considered as well.
  • Robert from Puyallup, WaKodak aired a commercial during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, which had this song sung by a boys choir.

    Also, a Methodist minister down in Texas was persuaded by his kids to take them to see Cyndi Lauper in concert. At first, he objected because he believed popular music was a bad influence on children. But he relented and took them anyway. He was pleasantly shocked and surprised by this song, which is message of true love, acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness. He later wrote about this experience in his church's newsletter.
  • Logiguy from Dublin, Italycant really believe that that was written by execs. doesnt sound like it, although back then they probably had more respect for the intelligence of the listening public. nowadays however...i wont start.
  • Rob from Santa Monica, CaI'm more a heavy rock kinda guy, but I have to admit this is one well-written song. Every version I hear of it is cool; its one of those songs that is seemingly impossible to screw up.
  • Benjamin from Davenport, FlFrom 1994 to 2003, a version of this song (with different verses) was used in the preshow for "Honey I Shrunk The Audience", an attraction at Epcot (part of Walt Disney World), which also happens to be sponsored by Kodak.
  • Russ from Gore, New ZealandI once seen an amazing figure skating demonstration to this song, very nice indeed.
  • Jo from Newcastle, AustraliaThe girl from the Baz Lurhmann movie "Strictly Ballroom" also did a version (Tara Morice).
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Chris Tomlin

Chris TomlinSongwriter Interviews

The king of Christian worship music explains talks about writing songs for troubled times.

Tom Waits Lyrics Quiz

Tom Waits Lyrics QuizMusic Quiz

Pool balls, magpies and thorns without roses - how well do you know your Tom Waits lyrics?

Bob Daisley

Bob DaisleySongwriter Interviews

Bob was the bass player and lyricist for the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums. Here's how he wrote songs like "Crazy Train" and "Mr. Crowley" with Ozzy and Randy Rhoads.

Sam Phillips

Sam PhillipsSongwriter Interviews

Collaborating with T Bone Burnett, Leslie Phillips changed her name and left her Christian label behind - Robert Plant, who recorded one of her songs on Raising Sand, is a fan.

00s Music Quiz 1

00s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

Do you know the girl singer on Eminem's "Stan"? If so, this quiz is for you.

Kristian Bush of Sugarland

Kristian Bush of SugarlandSongwriter Interviews

Kristian talks songwriting technique, like how the chorus should redefine the story, and how to write a song backwards.