The 1980s were all about image in music. With the popularity of MTV, the images associated with the artists became more important than ever. Nothing about music in the 1980s was modest, neither the sound nor the fashion. The decade marked the start of an era of great income inequality, as well as a focus on privileged circumstances, all of which were reflected in music. In addition, several new genres emerged in the 1980s, including Hair Metal, New Wave, and Hip-Hop, all of which have influenced music today.
The 1980s are also remembered for an increase in digital recording, which is associated with the use of synthesizers, with synth-pop music and other electronic genres featuring non-traditional instruments becoming more popular. In addition, according to a survey conducted by the digital broadcaster Music Choice in 2010, the 1989s were the most popular music decade of the previous 40 years. If you want to learn more about 1980s music, keep reading for your ’80s music guide.
The 1980s’ Most Popular Musical Genres
The emergence of the cable network Music Television, or MTV, in 1981 was the most significant event to influence music during the 1980s. It was the first network to show only music videos, and the first song played on the channel was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.
When it comes to music, there are also many different genres in the 1980s. Here are a few examples:
Hip Hop and Rap
Hip Hop and Rap music originated in African American communities in New York City in the 1970s, but it only became more mainstream and accepted in pop culture in the mid to late 1980s. Did you know that this genre had a difficult time breaking into the mainstream because MTV refused to show music videos by black artists? After much criticism, however, the network began to embrace black musicians, including Michael Jackson. His videos were among the most popular, paving the way for hip hop artists such as LL Cool J and DMC to enter the commercialized rap music era.
As the genre gained popularity, it provided a glimpse into inner-city culture to the white middle class. Many conservative parents were critical of the genre at the time, and it was dubbed the “new rock n’ roll.” Some key elements of hip hop or rap music include sampling old records, rapping lyrics, adding fun sounds, electronic sounds, and beat-boxing. Hip-hop music had a distinct sound. That’s why the late 1980s were dubbed the “Golden Age,” because everything seemed groundbreaking and unique. MTV had launched the show “Yo! MTV Raps” by the end of the decade, which popularized hip hop and rap music worldwide.
The new wave music genre began in the 1970s but gained popularity in the mid-1980s. This music is centered on artistic themes. Punk rock, dance music, synthesizers, and other electronic instruments were used to create its sound. It eventually became associated with pop music as music videos from the genre were heavily promoted on MTV.
The term “new wave” was intended to be a catch-all phrase that encompassed a wide range of artists. Some new wave artists sound futuristic, while others sound more punk rock. Aside from music, new wave bands and artists had an impact on fashion. Their distinct clothing and hairstyles were adopted by youth culture in the 1980s. There were also a lot of one-hit wonders in this genre. Billy Idol, Blondie, the Talking Heads, Duran Duran, and Culture Club are among the definitive new wave bands.
Hair metal music evolved in the 1970s from Glam Rock. The majority of popular bands in this genre originated in L.A. Sunset Strip music scene as well as the United Kingdom. When it comes to developing their sound, this genre draws on heavy metal, punk rock, and traditional rock music. The songs had catchy hooks and a pop receptivity in their lyrics.
Hair metal songs were typically party anthems or power ballads about drugs, women, and being an outlaw. The groups in this genre were dubbed “Hair Bands” because the members of these male-dominated bands wore long and big hairstyles as well as makeup and spandex clothing, giving them an androgynous appearance. They were also associated with a wild lifestyle of partying, drug use, and groupies. Van Halen, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and others were among the notable hair bands of the 1980s.
10 Music Videos From The 1980s That Rocked The World
The 1980s were a magical time for music, and MTV played a role in fueling the massive movement. Though music videos were a relatively new concept at the time, there were a few forerunners who understood the task.
From bizarre imagery to over-the-top visual storytelling, each video tells a unique story and provides insight into the bands’ and artists’ visions. Although it’s nearly impossible to list every single influential and groundbreaking music video from the 1980s, there are a few that stand out from the era.
1. The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star (1981)
The song’s topic is ironic yet fitting for the art form’s new movement, as it was the first music video ever aired on MTV. The video’s worth is evident, as fans still get butterflies just seeing the opening shot, which reminds them of the music channel’s early days.
Many fans agree that this video was a great way to start MTV’s career, from the fun beat to the unique visuals. The Buggles would also be relieved to learn that the video did not, in fact, kill the radio star, but rather elevated them to new heights.
2. Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf (1982)
While the video itself is quite tame and simple in comparison to others, the single’s iconic nature is quite shocking. The song was huge, with a staggering 23-week run on the charts, so the video was played a lot on the MTV channel in 1982.
Given that music videos were still popular at the time of the video’s release, the visual story didn’t need to be particularly compelling, as any music video was exciting to watch in the beginning.
3. Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At The Moon (1983)
Though Ozzy has been a controversial rocker in the past for his many wild antics, his music video for “Bark At The Moon” was undeniably Ozzy. His first music video, the rockstar got his video career off to a good start, as it was perfectly creepy in true Ozzy fashion.
Many fans consider this song to have one of the best guitar riffs of all time, while others believe the imagery alone is iconic.
4. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1983)
Fans can only guess how many times this video was shown on MTV at the height of its success, with nearly one billion views on YouTube alone. Michael Jackson was a major musical pioneer of the 1980s, with numerous chart-topping hits, and this perfect Halloween anthem is no exception.
Jackson also received rave reviews for other popular videos such as “Beat It” and “Billie Jean,” but nothing compared to the terrifying yet entertaining 13-minute adventure that was “Thriller.”
5. Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (1983)
The simplicity of the video, which takes viewers through an upbeat and fun day in Cyndi’s life, is exactly what fans love about it. Many fans loved Lauper’s quirky fashion and vocal quirks when she first appeared on the pop scene, and they fell in love with her energy right away.
Cyndi happily put her own spin on the girl power anthem, which was originally written to be more of a dreary idea, and ’80s fans will never forget the first time they heard the classic.
6. Madonna – Like A Virgin (1984)
The pop star is no stranger to controversy, with songs like “Like A Prayer” depicting burning crosses and various versions of Jesus airing on MTV. However, with the release of “Like A Virgin,” Madonna officially shook the world by referencing sex during a much more conservative time.
Madonna quickly rose to prominence as a pop icon, with her songs appearing on television and in films. Regardless of how people felt about her provocative nature, there is no doubt she was a pioneer of the 1980s.
7. Dire Straits – Money For Nothing (1985)
This trailblazing video, which is still one of the most captivating music videos to this day, paved the way for out-of-the-box music videos when it comes to unique design concepts. The almost trippy computer-animated style drew fans in right away, and it allowed future videos to combine new technology with pre-existing lyrical meaning.
Though the aspired 3D animation appears dated today, the overall concept inspired many artists and bands to follow, and some may argue that this video set the tone for creative music videos in general.
8. A-Ha – Take on Me (1985)
This one-of-a-kind animated video is one that ’80s fans will never forget. This pop anthem achieved a comic book-style story with pencil sketch animations using the new and exciting technique of rotoscoping.
The video has received over one billion views on YouTube alone, so its overall success should speak volumes, as there are few music videos like it today.
9. Aerosmith and Run DMC – Walk This Way (1986)
Aerosmith agreed to collaborate with hip-hop group Run DMC to remix their hit “Walk This Way.” Though the song was primarily a hit in the mid-1970s, it was a good move for Aerosmith to work their way back onto the scene and show their acceptance of the ever-changing music scene.
Though rock music is very different from hip-hop, the two groups seemed to mesh well, and the music video was also entertaining to watch. In the video, the two groups pretend to be bothered by the other’s noise, but eventually come together after breaking down the literal and metaphorical walls that separate them.
10. Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer (1986)
As the most watched video in MTV history, this legendary music video undoubtedly set trends. The captivating stop motion storytelling style opens up a whole new conversation about artistic abilities.
Stephen R. Johnson, the music video’s director, went on to create other stop motion pieces of work, including the animated film Wallace & Gromit. The music video proved that a song is only as good as its execution, and the visuals could even get people talking if done well enough.
Even though it has been 30 to 40 years since the ’80s, music from that era continues to resonate with listeners of all ages.
Music from the 1980s has its own distinct flavor. A large part of this is due to the improved equipment available to bands in the 1980s versus those in the 1970s.
Synthetic drums, VOX (voice-operated exchange) and auto tuning, drone chords, and better amps became increasingly popular in the 1980s. They all contributed to the distinct characteristics of the sound at the time.