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You’re in the backseat of your parent’s car driving down the road on your way to school. The radio is on and the music playing sounds almost like a fantasy. It’s full of synth, it has a nice beat, the vocals are echoey and dreamy. If it could be connected to a color it would be bright blue with hints of pink and purple, and a touch of glitter.
If you grew up with a parent that was young in the ’80s, then you’ve definitely heard an ’80s song or two in the backseat of their car. Some ’80s music might include a classic rock type sound, while other ’80s music has a more unique sound to it.
John Hughes, director of Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, included ’80s songs in his films. If you’ve seen any of his films, then you’ve definitely heard some ’80s classics such as, “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds and “If You Leave” by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. These songs have that synthy (sometimes a bit cheesy) sound that is so connected to the decade that was the 1980s.
The notorious 80s sound included synthetic drums and piano, drone progressions, which are chord progressions played over one long droned out note in the background, and an introduction to autotune. This autotune is different from what we experienced in the 1990s and the early 2000s, however. In the 70s and 80s, autotune was fairly new but very well received. Songs like “Mr. Roboto” by Styx and “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins included small bits of autotune through synthesizer and vocoder. In 1998, Cher’s iconic song “Believe,” was released, and autotune took off. According to FSU.news, the song “set the precedent for what early 2000’s music would become.” It was intense and strong, (and very, very electric) which was quite different in comparison to the dreamy, elongated, synthesized version of autotune present in the 80s.
But this very particular 80s sound didn’t fade away as the decades continued. We’re now in 2021, about to enter 2022, and the music of today, while vastly different, takes some inspiration from the 1980s. In 2020, Dua Lipa and The Weeknd dominated the charts with their albums Future Nostalgia and After Hours.
The title of Dua Lipa’s album, Future Nostalgia, is exactly what it sounds like. She released a single from the album, “Physical”, which has the same title as the Olivia Newton John song from the 1980s. The Weeknd’s song “In Your Eyes” features a sultry saxophone over a synth beat which screams ’80s. It’s reminiscent of the likes of “Careless Whisper” by George Michael or “True” by Spandau Ballet- ’80s songs with a mean saxophone included amongst the rest of the synthy sounds.
Where does this 80’s sound come from? According to the Megan Lavengood writing in the Journal of Popular Music Studies:
“The ’80s sound is tied to the electric piano preset of the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer” but it is also important to note that there are two crucial aspects along with this instrument that created that very distinct 80s sound “one, technological associations with digital FM synthesis and the Yamaha DX7 as a groundbreaking ’80s synthesizer; and two, cultural positioning in a greater lineage of popular music history.”
The different elements of synth, reverb and layer sound created a whole different sound- one that’s futuristic (we can thank the electronic contribution for that) yet also, nostalgic. There’s something very “coming of age” that goes well with the sound of the ’80s, perhaps it was all the coming of age movies being released at the time.
But why do music trends, similar to fashion trends, make their way back to us after some time? According to Zeefeed.com, “everything is cyclical.” The article mentioned Laver’s Law, which was created in 1937 by the British author and fashion historian James Laver. This law states that a current trend will take about 150 years until it is considered beautiful again (to a different generation of people, of course).
Trends go through a cycle that goes as follows: introduction, increase, peak, decline and obsolescence. Even though most trends will end in obsolescence at one point, it doesn’t mean that it will remain obsolete forever. Over the past months, several trends have been adapted back into society. The use of 2000s merchandise and clothing style is coming back (who knows if that was a good choice or not, do we really want to wear a skirt layered over thick low rise denim jeans?). Many people have started wearing “old school” headphones, which vary from the chunky headphones of the 2000s and 90s to the late great 2010 era Apple wire headphones that we’ve since replaced with AirPods. It’s similar to how a love of vintage records was popular around 2014. The aesthetically pleasing and well edited Tumblr record player pictures could not be ignored no matter how hard we tried.
Music has experienced a similar moment with trends. Obscuresound.com acknowledges the rise of the ’80s and ’90s, in both fashion and in music. With television shows like Stranger Things, Pose, and Glow, the ’80s can also be seen on the screen. These shows include music and fashion from the time period, elevating its status today.
Just as history repeats itself in fashion, it also repeats itself in music. The nostalgic yet futuristic sound of the 80s is not gone in the annals of history, but is being reborn through the musical artists of today.
Listen to the curated playlist below, which contains both modern music that has an ’80s twist as well as ’80s classics.