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Guide to ‘80s Music

Music in the 1980s was all about image. When MTV became popular, the images that go together with the artists became more important than ever. When it came to music during the 1980s, nothing was modest, not the sound and not the fashion. The decade reflected the beginning of an era of great income inequality and as well as a focus on privileged circumstances, which were all reflected in the music. In addition to that, there were also several new genres that emerged in the 1980s, which are Hair Metal, New Wave, and Hip-Hop, which all have influenced the music we have today.  

The 1980s are also usually remembered for an increase in the use of digital recording, associated with the use of synthesizers, with synth-pop music and other electronic genres featuring non-traditional instruments becoming more popular. Also, based on a survey conducted by the digital broadcaster Music Choice in 2010, the 1989s was the most favored tune decade of the last 40 years. If you’d like to learn more about the music in the 1980s, read on as we’re giving you a guide to ‘80s music. 

The Most Popular Musical Genres in the 1980s

The most important event to influence music during the ‘80s was the emergence of the cable network Music Television or MTV in 1981. It was the very first network to exclusively show music videos, and the first music video to be played on the channel was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. 

There are also many different genres in the 1980s when it comes to music. Here are some of them:

Hip Hop and Rap

rapper on stage

Hip Hop and Rap music came from African American communities in New York City during the 1970s, but it became more mainstream and included in pop culture in the mid to late 1980s. Did you know that this genre had a difficult time entering the mainstream due to the reluctance of MTV to show music videos of black artists? However, after much criticism, the network began to embrace black musicians, and these include Michael Jackson. His videos were among the most popular, and these paved the way for hip hop artists like LL Cool J and DMC to enter the age of commercialized rap music. 

As the genre becomes more popular, it gave the white middle class a glimpse into the inner-city culture. A lot of conservative parents at that time were judgmental of the genre, and it had been referred to as the “new rock n’ roll.” Some of the key elements of hip hop or rap music are sampling old records, rapping lyrics, adding fun sounds, electronic sounds, and beat-boxing. Hip-hop music sounded very unique. That’s why the late 1980s was called the Golden Age, as everything seemed ground-breaking and original. By the end of the decade, MTV released the program “Yo! MTV Raps,” which made hip hop and rap music a global phenomenon. 

New Wave

The new wave music genre started in the 1970s but was more popular until the mid-1980s. This type of music focuses on artistic themes. Its sound used punk rock, dance music, synthesizers, and other electronic instruments. Eventually, it became tied to pop music as music videos from the genre was deeply promoted on MTV. 

The term “new wave” meant as an all-around term that enables different highly diverse artists to fit in the same category. Some new wave artists have futuristic sound, while others are closer to punk rock. In addition to music, new wave bands and artists also had an impact on fashion. Their unique clothing and hairstyles were adopted by the youth culture back in the ‘80s. There were also lots of one-hit wonders that fell into this genre. Some of the conclusive new wave bands include Billy Idol, Blondie, the Talking Heads, Duran Duran, and Culture Club. 

Hair Metal

The hair metal music genre came from the 1970s Glam Rock. Popular bands in this genre were usually from the L.A. Sunset Strip music scene and the United Kingdom. This genre’s influences include heavy metal, punk rock, and traditional rock music when it comes to developing their sound. Lyrically, the songs had catchy hooks and a pop receptivity. 

Hair metal songs were usually party anthems or power ballads that were focused on themes of drugs, women, and being an outlaw. The groups that belong in this genre were called “Hair Bands” as the members of these male-dominated bands would often have long and big hairstyles and would wear makeup and spandex clothing, which creates an androgynous look. They were also associated with a hard-partying lifestyle, drug use, and groupies. Some of the notable hair bands from the 1980s include Van Halen, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and more.

If you’d like to learn more about 80s music stories, check out the following links:

Artists in the 1980s

There are lots of talented artists in the 1980s when it comes to music. In fact, these artists have a great influence on the music we have today. To learn more, here are just a few of the top artists in the 1980s:

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson is among the most famous superstars in the world. Aside from shaping the sound and style of 80s music, he also became an iconic figure for the pop culture of the 20th century. He is referred to as the King of Pop. He is the artist behind big hits like Thriller, which is the best-selling album in history. He was also the most awarded recording artist in the history of pop music. 


Madonna is also an iconic figure in the 1980s music scene and beyond. She became popular by pushing the boundaries in terms of musical and lyrical content. In addition to that, she also released oft-provocative and innovative music videos, which became a fixture of MTV. Some of her popular hits include Crazy for You, Live to Tell, Like a Virgin, Take a Bow, and more. 

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is a unique kind of musician who became commercially successful on a large scale while earning lots of critical approval at the same time. He was able to launch top-selling concerts and singles. Some of these include Dancing in the Dark, Cover Me, Born to Run, My Hometown, and more. In addition to that, he also won 19 Grammy Awards.

Billy Joel

Billy Joel is a popular pianist and as well as a singer-songwriter. He is popular for the hit classics like The Piano Man, She’s Always a Woman, and Just The Way You Are. In the 1980s, he made other hits like “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me, Uptown Girl, and We Didn’t Start The Fire. His songs are multimillion and platinum-sellers. He is one of the legends of pop music history.

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was a singer, actress, film, and record producer. It was in the ‘80s music era when she first became famous, and her fame extended to the 1990s. She is known for her megahits, including Saving All My Love for You, Greatest Love of All, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, How Will I Know, One Moment in Time, and her most famous song, I Will Always Love You. 

Phil Collins

Phil Collins is a singer-songwriter from England. It was in 1981 when he launched his solo career while being the drummer of the band Genesis. In 1984, he scored his first solid hit, Against All Odds, which also became the soundtrack of the movie with the same title. He also created other big hits, such as Take Me Home, Another Day in Paradise, Do You Remember, and more. 

Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie was once a member of the R&B group the Commodores. In the early 80s, he left the group and embarked on a successful solo career. He launched big hits, such as Truly, My Love, You Are, Stuck on You, and more. He is one of the most sought-after balladeers in his era. 

Tina Turner

Tina Turner is one of the most iconic singers in the world. She made some of the hit songs like Proud Mary, What’s Love Got To Do With It, A Fool in Love, and more. She was able to sell more than 200 million records throughout her career. She also won 12 Grammy Awards, and as well as a Grammy Hall of Fame Awards, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She is very popular for her energetic stage presence, leg dance, and powerful vocals. 

These are only a few of the top artists in the 1980s. If you’d like to know who the others are, check the links we have below:

Bands of the 1980s

There were also lots of amazing bands in the 1980s, which have influenced the types of bands that we have today and the ones that will be emerging in the future. Here are just a few of the top bands in the 1980s:

Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden was the defining metal band of the 1980s. Though Metallica is a bit bigger than them when it comes to record sales, they were still able to release twice as many albums as Metallica back in the ‘80s, and they still continue to release albums. Even though they experienced some line-up changes, they were still able to become successful during the 1980s. Iron Maiden is considered one of the most successful heavy metal bands ever. 


The Pixies are an alternative rock band. They may not be the first-ever alternative rock band, but they are the biggest pioneers. The band was formed in Boston in 1986. Throughout their career, the band achieved modest popularity in the United States but was more successful in Europe. 

The Cure

The Cure is an English rock band, and they emerged to be one of the greatest bands in the 80s and beyond. They were actually one of the few bands that started in the 70s and made their way to the 80s. With that, they had to change genres from gothic rock to punk rock. One of the songs they popularized is Friday I’m In Love. 

The Smiths

The Smiths were formed in 1982 in Manchester, and they were hailed as the most influential artists in 2002. They are also included in the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by the Rolling Stones. They had several songs that made it to the top twenty of the UK Singles Chart. All of their albums also made it to the top five on the UK Albums chart. 

Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode is a band formed in Basildon, Essex, in the 1980s. It was a very popular band in the ‘80s that sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. It is an electronic band that had more than 50 songs that entered the UK Singles Chart and a total of 17 albums that made it to the UK chart. They were also included in the list of the 50 Bands That Changed the World. 


Metallica is a heavy metal band that was formed in Los Angeles in 1981. The band has made a total of 10 studio albums, 37 singles, and 39 music videos. They have also won nine Grammy Awards and were named as one of the most commercially successful bands of all time. 


U2 is an Irish rock band that became an international success in the 80s music era with their album The Joshua Tree. This band is popular for its deliberate incorporation of many genres, including rock, alternative rock, post-punk, and dance. Their songs also have spiritual and sociopolitical lyrics. It is one of the most commercially successful rock bands of all time. 

These are just a few examples of the top bands in the 1980s. If you want to learn more about them, you can check out the following links for interesting articles about the top bands of the ‘80s:

Impact of ‘80s Music on Pop Culture

The 1980s played an influential role in shaping the music industry that we have today. Advancements in digital technology made it possible for the artists and bands in the 80s to produce better music in studios. In addition to that, the success of MTV also meant that images became necessary for music. With this, artists and producers began making high-quality videos to add visuals to the artists’ and bands’ singles. No wonder every song we have today comes with a music video. The 1980s also has some of the strangest songs ever made. If you want to find out what these are, read our article about the weird songs from the 80s.

Many legendary artists that we’ve mentioned earlier all rose to the top in the ‘80s, and their legacies live on today. We are able to appreciate their songs through MTV and Top 40 radio stations that were essential listening during the decade. 

The 1980s pop culture had indeed revolutionized a lot of things, most especially music, long before the internet gave us instant gratification. Its music scene paved the way for the music industry that we have today. We hope that this helps you learn a lot about 80s music.

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