How an era has so consistently managed to appeal to those of us who weren’t even alive to witness its legendary fashion blunders, technological advancements and individual ascents to super-stardom is a question worth exploring in detail.
There were popular performers and big acts before the ’80s, but the actual act of being popular hadn’t quite caught on as its own phenomenon yet.
…the ’80s sensationalized the very state of popularity to bold new heights as only a handful of performers from years prior had experienced…
The shift in societal expectations from enjoying ‘music that was popular’ to yearning for more ‘popular music’ and then for somewhat more impatiently phrased ‘pop music’ began way back in the ’20s, when the term was first used. But, the ’80s sensationalized the very state of popularity to bold new heights as only a handful of performers from years prior had experienced, making the phenomenon much more commonplace than was previously thought possible.
Besides making popularity itself popular, the ’80s birthed a slew of mainstream manifestations that have stood the test of time, plus a heap more that definitely died by the end of the decade – fashion took the brunt of the blow on that front. ’80s fashion, though memorable, was and always will be a special brand of ridiculous no one needs to bring back.
Still Popular in Music
As is quite well known by now, the ’80s spawned a veritable smorgasbord of jams in almost every genre. ACDC caught fire and the world was thunderstruck. Rick James sang about super freaks and the world got on board. Joe Jackson had everyone “Steppin’ Out” in style, NWA had everyone expressing themselves, and Michael Jackson had everyone thrilled.
Human League wondered if we wanted them, baby. I did, as a kid, about 17 years after their smash hit was released. I suppose I can thank the old ’80s radio station I loved so much for that and quite a bit more. That one station taught me love could be a battlefield, avenues could be electric, and West end towns could have East end boys. There was always something there to remind me of an entire era I had never known, not least of all the Naked Eyes song with a chorus that said as much.
…music-makers have begun incorporating ‘retro’ sounds and style into their music, effectively recreating the ’80s in spirit and groove. Dubbed Vaporwave, the sound is every bit ’80s as the ’80s were…
Phenoms and one-hit wonders were a dime a dozen during this era for some reason. Today, we balance who all is popular on a pinpoint and everyone who’s not fades to obscurity in a growing tide of global releases. A few are in, many are out, without much of a trace. Yet, the ’80s endure.
Hearkening back to the golden era of synthesized sound – when synths were literally first made widely available – a number of contemporary music-makers have begun incorporating ‘retro’ sounds and style into their music, effectively recreating the ’80s in spirit and groove. Dubbed Vaporwave, the sound is every bit ’80s as the ’80s were, but softer. It’s lo-fi in hi-fi.
This trend extends well beyond Vaporwave though – most modern ‘retro’ musical movements point a finger at the ’80s for all of their inspiration. That goes for Synthwave, electroclash, post-punk revival, and more. Many of these movements in music claimed inspiration in sound not only from ’80s music but ’80s video games as well, especially the 1983 NES console. Suffice to say no one’s forgetting the NES anytime soon.
Still Popular in Film
Movie magic was shoveled out in spades throughout the ’80s. Ghosts were busted, dances were dirtied, and feet were loosed.
1984’s iconic release of The Terminator sparked more than a lucrative franchise. The dark sci-fi film made it into the memory banks of every gun/explosion-loving boy and girl who saw it. But, even before robo-Arnold traveled through time, Blade Runner had hit the scene to later claim cult classic status.
Love, hate, or just genuinely not getting the hype of The Breakfast Club, no one can deny its relevance to the era, its popularity or the catchiness of its attendant Simple Minds song. In fact, it may perhaps be the song that best describes the era of the ’80s in its entirety – “Don’t You Forget About Me.” I wasn’t alive when it came out, so maybe that’s why I can’t forget about it. That’s a real catch 22…
Back when Bruce Willis first began his expletive-laden rampage against overbearing criminals in Die Hard, his big-screen nemesis Alan Rickman had yet to don a Hogwarts cloak. How come I can distinctly recall Snape dropping MF’s from behind the barrel of a gun before he ever began sneering at little wizards-in-training? How is it possible for a single era to live on to such a degree that kids with no direct knowledge of it end up knowing everything about it?
In modernity, we continue to see nostalgic revivals of classic ’80s fare. From kids shows like the Regular Show to Netflix originals like Stranger Things. But, these aren’t the real reasons none of us can forget the era. As far as I can tell, the actual cause is far more quotidian – mom and dad.
…we continue to see nostalgic revivals of classic ’80s fare. From kids shows like the Regular Showto Netflix originals like Stranger Things.
I wasn’t around for the ’80s, but my parents most assuredly were and it’s with their generation that the period lives on strongest. It’s easy enough to underestimate the effect of an era on one’s formative years – the ways in which it may have shaped and defined your values, interests and outlook on society. For a bird’s eye view of the phenomenon and its lasting effects, we need only look to our parents. Though my dad may decry the decade’s fondness of short shorts on men, his love for the period is self-evident and deeply woven into the very fabric of his being. He and my mother lived it first hand and likely ‘sold’ me on it over the years in little doses of nostalgia. Now look at me – a hopeless ’80s addict.
I guess we all become products of our environments to some extent. I wonder what our millennial heyday will look like to future generations. Will they overlook us for the ’80s instead?