Modern 80s style music is gaining popularity again as artists from all genres look back to the decade that made them famous, incorporating elements of it into their latest releases. From pop to rock to dance, we are seeing musicians re-discover an old sound pallet that was popular some forty years ago. What is it about this style that makes it so catchy and why are current artists gravitating towards it?
One of the most distinctive features of 80s style music is the liberal usage of space and effects. Everything needed to feel big and grandiose in order to stand out from the other music that was coming out at the time. This was achieved by the use of massive amounts of reverb and delay, which were used to create cavernous patterns that swell up over the listener. This type of production is still widely used in modern music, however, more subtlety and nuance are starting to be introduced.
The decade saw a resurgence of hard rock, with bands such as Guns N Roses and Aerosmith dominating the charts. In addition to this, it also gave rise to the glam metal sub genre with bands such as Kiss and Motley Crue becoming hugely successful.
There was a strong influence from American music in the 80s too, with hip hop acts such as Run DMC and LL Cool J making it commercial, while Salt-n-Pepa and Joan Jett helped pioneer female power-pop. There was also a large amount of country in the decade, with artists like Roy Orbison and Merle Travis being very popular.
Another key aspect of 80s music is the drum machine. The rise of this technology meant that more complex rhythms and time signatures could be created without having to rely on an entire band to play them. This enabled musicians to develop more creative and experimental sounds in their music, resulting in some truly iconic songs.
A good example is Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which has a square four-beat drum pattern that underpins strings of synths that pulsate with an almost mechanical intensity. The lyrical story is also very reminiscent of the era, as it centres around a man being pursued by mobsters and henchmen.
The video for this song is also very evocative of the era, with a circus theme and lots of colourful costumes being used throughout the visuals. Another classic example is the 1987 New Order promo for True Faith, which has a mix of political commentary, dancing and melodramatic acting.
Artists such as Gaga, Dua Lipa and Miley Cyrus are all embracing the 80s sound too, with Gaga’s Chromatica album bringing a sense of urgency back to pop music, while Lipa’s and Cyrus’ albums are infused with classic rock influences. For example, Cyrus has teamed up with singers such as Stevie Nicks and Joan Jett to perform duets on her albums.