It’s never been cooler to be nostalgic. As many have noticed, the 80’s are everywhere right now. Film and TV grabbed onto the trend the earliest and now have monster hits like Stranger Things, IT, and the endless remake upon remake of 80’s classics (which vary wildly in quality). Music seemed to be late to the party in comparison. I guess doing covers doesn’t make as much money as making remakes of movies (but this hasn’t stopped lazy sampling though, ahem, Machine Gun Kelly). But I do think that it’s due to the way we listen to music. Music is a lot easier to digest in small bits than dedicating an hour and a half or more into a movie. In smaller more consistent doses, we remember the music from the 80’s a lot more than any other medium.
It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know the words to ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ or ‘Down Under’ no matter what age they are. If played at a party, majority of people would drunkenly sing along as if they were all experiencing the same nostalgic fondness for something that came out in their youth. The strange thing is though that anyone under the age of 30 didn’t grow up with any of it, they learnt about the songs from their parents and instead of thinking of it as their parent’s corny, old people music, they like it just as much. This may be due to millennials strong love for irony but nevertheless it means that they like to listen to it without objection.
What does this mean for music as a whole? What can music do with an audience so nostalgic for another time? Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. You don’t have to look hard to find the 80’s influence on popular music. One of the biggest hits of the last 10 years was Mark Ronson’s and Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’. It takes modern sensibilities while shamelessly paying homage to the funk music of the 80’s. Bruno Mars even continued his success by basically doing the same thing by doing his best Prince impression with his ALBUM OF THE YEAR, GRAMMY AWARD WINNING 24K Magic album. While we could discuss the worth of Grammy awards it still exhibits 80’s nostalgia as a form with artistic merit. Even Taylor Swift stated that her album 1989 was heavily inspired by pop music of the late 80’s and that was the best-selling album of 2014 (this also won Album of the Year).
All these artists are ‘inspired’ or are paying homage to the 80’s but haven’t really said anything about the decade that influenced them so much in their music. I mean that’s true of mainstream pop artists but deeper into the scene we have people like Alex Cameron. Cameron’s most recent album Forced Witness came out in 2017 and it’s brimming with cheesy 80’s synths, guitar solos and saxophones – it’s glorious – but it has a much darker side to it. The lyrics are take aim and the most toxic elements of masculinity with lines like ‘Well what’s the difference darling/Between my eyelids and a glowing white screen/When either way I’m thinking/Of the hottest barely legal age teens?’. Cameron uses the 80’s music to present a man out of his time. He juxtaposes past sensibilities to a modern audience making us feel uncomfortable and may leave a few not getting the joke. It’s a weird album in its content and delivery but one I highly recommend.
The 80’s have left their mark on pop culture as strongly as the 60’s before it had. This may simply be part of the ‘30-year cycle’ where audiences feel nostalgic for content that came out 20 or 30 years ago. The 70’s did it with the 50’s and now we’re just in a new cycle. Whatever the case is, I’m happy the 80’s are so popular now.