Which ’80s Cultural Phenomena Are Discussed Today?

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The 1980s were a time when neon lights, cassette tapes, and big hair were all the rage. It was a decade filled with vibrant music, unique fashion, and iconic movies and TV shows. While many ’80s cultural phenomena still get lots of attention today, there are some hidden gems from that era that have faded into obscurity. Let’s explore the parts of ’80s culture that don’t often make it into the spotlight anymore. There’s so much to discover including music, television, pop culture, fashion, and some of the most popular events of the era!

Music

Let’s start off by understanding the 80s music which is long lost now!

Underground and Indie Music Scenes

During the 1980s, there thrived a vibrant underground and indie music. Many bands and artists from this scene had a profound but often short-lived impact on the musical landscape of the era. Their influence, however, has endured, leaving an indelible mark on the evolution of alternative and indie music.

Among the notable examples of bands that had a relatively brief period of mainstream recognition but a lasting influence is “The Smiths.” Active from 1982 to 1987, The Smiths introduced a unique blend of poetic lyricism and distinctive musicality to the indie music scene. Led by the enigmatic Morrissey’s emotive vocals and Johnny Marr’s intricate, jangly guitar work, their music continues to inspire countless artists and resonates with fans today.

Joy Division, another iconic band, was formed in 1976 and remained active until 1980. Their haunting post-punk sound laid the groundwork for gothic and alternative rock. The album “Unknown Pleasures” remains an enduring masterpiece of the era.

Similarly, The Pixies, though rising in prominence in the late ’80s, disbanded in 1993. Nevertheless, their groundbreaking blend of alternative rock and surf punk has left an indelible mark on the music scene, influencing bands like Nirvana and Radiohead.

An old guitar

The Enduring Influence of Certain Underground Movements

Beyond these short-lived careers, the ’80s underground music movements profoundly shaped the music culture that followed. The ethos of DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and the emergence of independent record labels during this period continue to define how artists create and distribute music in contemporary times.

Independent record labels played a pivotal role in promoting underground bands and producing some of the top songs of the 1980s. Notably, Sub Pop, founded in 1986, became instrumental in introducing underground bands to a broader audience. Sub Pop’s early releases included Nirvana’s debut album, “Bleach,” marking the label’s role in the grunge explosion of the early ’90s.

The DIY culture that blossomed in the ’80s allowed bands to self-produce records and book their own shows. This spirit of independence remains a defining characteristic of the modern indie music scene, enabling artists to maintain creative control over their work and connect with audiences directly.

New Wave and Synth-Pop Beyond the Mainstream

The ’80s were marked not only by the dominance of artists like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode in the new wave and synth-pop genres but also by lesser-known bands and songs that contributed significantly to the musical landscape.

One such example is Yazoo (known as Yaz in the U.S.), formed in 1981. Yazoo produced synth-pop hits like “Don’t Go” and “Only You.” Their influence on electronic music endures, and their tracks continue to be celebrated by fans of the genre.

Additionally, bands like Flock of Seagulls, known for their iconic hairstyles, delivered memorable tracks like “I Ran” and “Space Age Love Song” that remain etched in ’80s music history.

Subgenres and Experimentation Within These Genres

The ’80s witnessed a period of musical experimentation that resulted in the creation of various subgenres within new wave and synth-pop.

Darkwave, for instance, emerged as bands like Clan of Xymox and The Cure explored darker, moodier themes within the new wave genre. Their pioneering work set the stage for the development of darkwave as a distinct genre.

Simultaneously, the industrial music movement gained momentum, with acts like Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten pushing musical boundaries with their industrial soundscapes. Their experimental approaches contributed significantly to the evolution of industrial music, leaving a lasting impact on the genre.

The Forgotten Music Videos of the ’80s

The 1980s marked the dawn of music videos as an art form, largely thanks to the influence of MTV. While some iconic music videos from that era, like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” remain celebrated today, many others have faded into obscurity.

One such groundbreaking video is A-ha’s “Take On Me” from 1985. Renowned for its innovative fusion of animation and live-action, the video remains a landmark in the history of music videos, yet its recognition often pales in comparison to more famous counterparts.

Similarly, Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” video, released in 1981, featured David Byrne’s eccentric performance and experimental visuals, aligning with the band’s avant-garde approach to music and imagery.

The Impact of MTV on Music Culture

MTV, launched in 1981, revolutionized how music was consumed and promoted during the ’80s. It played a pivotal role in shaping the music culture of the era, introducing viewers to new artists, and influencing fashion trends.

Music video pioneers emerged during this period, showcasing their creativity visually and often collaborating with top directors. The channel gave rise to legendary directors like David Fincher and Spike Jonze, who started their careers creating iconic ’80s music videos.

Furthermore, MTV played a significant role in popularizing ’80s fashion trends, from Madonna’s provocative outfits to the edgy punk style of bands like The Clash. It became a visual platform for artists to express themselves and connect with their audience on a whole new level.

Fashion

Fashion

Fashion of the 80s? Bizarre yet awesome. Let’s start!

The Quirky and Bizarre Fashion Trends of the ’80s

The 1980s were a time of unique and sometimes strange fashion choices. Many of these trends have faded from the spotlight today, but they were an essential part of the decade’s culture.

Some of these ’80s fashion trends include shoulder pads, leg warmers, and neon colors. People wore oversized blazers with padded shoulders, making their silhouettes look broader. Leg warmers were popular, not just for exercise, but as fashion accessories. Neon colors like bright pink, green, and yellow were everywhere, from clothing to accessories.

The ’80s fashion choices were often bold and unconventional. They reflected the spirit of the era, which was marked by economic prosperity and a desire for self-expression. People wanted to stand out and have fun with their clothing, which led to these eccentric fashion trends.

The Influence of Punk and Glam Rock Fashion

Punk and glam rock were influential music genres in the ’80s, and their fashion styles were just as iconic. If you are interested to learn more about Mick Ronson and his contributions to rock music, you may read our article, How Did Mick Ronson’s Underrated Genius Shape Rock Music? 

While names like David Bowie and Sid Vicious are well-known, there were lesser-known punk and glam rock icons who made significant contributions. Artists like Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Mick Ronson, known for his work with David Bowie, played vital roles in shaping the style and attitude of these genres.

Within the punk and glam rock scenes, various subcultures emerged. Punk gave rise to goth and new wave subcultures, each with its unique fashion elements. Goths embraced dark, dramatic clothing, while new wavers favored bold, futuristic looks.

Retro ’80s Fashion Revival

In recent years, ’80s fashion has made a surprising comeback, with designers and fashion enthusiasts revisiting the iconic styles of the era.

You might have noticed the resurgence of ’80s-inspired fashion on runways and in everyday clothing. High fashion brands and fast-fashion retailers alike have reintroduced ’80s elements like power suits, oversized blazers, and animal prints.

Today’s fashion revival doesn’t replicate ’80s fashion precisely but reinterprets it with a modern twist. Designers and stylists blend ’80s elements with contemporary aesthetics, creating fresh and exciting looks that pay homage to the past while embracing the present.

Television and Film

A vintage tv

Perhaps one thing that’s truly lost today is the television and film industry. Back then, the TV and film industry was starting to rise, and we could see all sorts of genres. But now, it’s delusional, one-sided, and not even that entertaining. 

Overlooked ’80s TV Shows

The 1980s were a golden era for television, with many popular shows that are still celebrated today. However, there were also hidden gems from the era that are often forgotten.

While shows like “The A-Team,” “Cheers,” and “The Cosby Show” are well-remembered, there were lesser-known gems like “The Equalizer” and “Moonlighting.” “The Equalizer” featured Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence agent helping ordinary people, addressing themes of justice and morality. “Moonlighting,” starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, was a clever mix of comedy and detective drama.

These overlooked shows often explored cultural and social themes of the time. “The Equalizer” delved into the complexities of justice and ethics, while “Moonlighting” played with gender dynamics and office romance, challenging traditional TV tropes.

Lesser-Known ’80s Movies

The ’80s were also a vibrant period for cinema, producing iconic films as well as top movie stars that are still celebrated. However, there are hidden cinematic gems from that decade worth discovering.

While movies like “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” and “The Breakfast Club” are cinematic classics, lesser-known gems like”Brazil ” and”My Dinner with Andre” offer unique storytelling experiences. “Brazil,” directed by Terry Gilliam, is a dystopian satire that explores bureaucracy and conformity. “My Dinner with Andre” is an intellectual conversation film that engages deeply with philosophical and existential themes.

The ’80s also saw the rise of niche genres and cult classics. Horror fans cherish movies like “The Evil Dead,” which birthed a cult franchise, and “Re-Animator,” known for its dark humor and gore. Cult classics like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” continued to thrive, drawing devoted audiences to interactive screenings.

The Impact of VHS Culture

The ’80s witnessed a significant transformation in how people consumed television shows and movies, largely due to the rise of VHS culture.

VHS tapes became a cultural phenomenon, allowing people to watch their favorite shows and movies at home. It also gave rise to the rental industry, with video rental stores like Blockbuster becoming ubiquitous. This accessibility to VHS tapes played a pivotal role in the widespread dissemination of ’80s pop culture.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in VHS culture. Collectors and enthusiasts are revisiting VHS tapes, appreciating their nostalgic value and analog charm. Even modern filmmakers have experimented with VHS aesthetics, seeking to capture the unique visual quality of the format.

Pop Icons

Pop culture of the 1980s was by far one of the most entertaining and cool ones. All sorts of vibes were on their rise, with pop icons taking the lead. 

Iconic Figures 

While the ’80s produced several mega-popular celebrities, there were also lesser-discussed pop icons whose contributions to culture and society deserve recognition.

One such icon is Grace Jones, known for her bold fashion, avant-garde music, and distinctive presence. Her boundary-pushing music and style made her a true trailblazer. Jones’s unique blend of disco, new wave, and reggae influenced not only music but also fashion and the LGBTQ+ community.

Another notable figure is Annie Lennox, the lead singer of Eurythmics. Her powerful vocals and androgynous style challenged gender norms. Eurythmics’ hits like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” are still celebrated today for their innovation and impact on music.

Impact on Culture and Society

Grace Jones and Annie Lennox not only entertained but also challenged societal norms. Jones, as an openly bisexual artist, helped break down barriers for LGBTQ+ representation in the music industry. Lennox’s gender-blurring style challenged traditional ideas of femininity and masculinity. These pop icons expanded the boundaries of creativity and identity in the ’80s, leaving a lasting legacy.

Some ’80s stars, while not as famous as others, have continued to influence popular culture and shape subsequent generations of artists.

Adam Ant, known for his distinctive New Romantic style and hits like “Goody Two-Shoes,” has maintained a dedicated fan base. His flamboyant fashion and catchy tunes continue to inspire musicians and fashion designers.

Kim Gordon, the bassist and vocalist of Sonic Youth, played a vital role in the alternative music scene of the ’80s. Her experimental approach to music and fashion challenged conventions. Sonic Youth’s influence can be seen in countless alternative and indie bands that followed.

Adam Ant’s bold fashion choices and genre-blending music have influenced artists like Lady Gaga and the Scissor Sisters. His fearless creativity paved the way for future pop icons who embrace uniqueness and individuality.

Kim Gordon’s pioneering work with Sonic Youth contributed to the development of alternative and indie rock. Bands like Nirvana and Pavement have cited Sonic Youth as a major influence, demonstrating how ’80s stars continue to shape the musical landscape.

Category What Was Popular in the ’80s
Music Underground and indie music scenes, new wave, synth-pop
Fashion Quirky and bizarre trends, punk and glam rock fashion, retro fashion
Television and Film Overlooked TV shows, lesser-known movies, impact of VHS culture
Pop Icons Iconic figures overshadowed by bigger celebrities, enduring legacy

Final Words

The 1980s were a vibrant decade filled with unique music, fashion, television, film, and pop icons. While some cultural phenomena from that era remain well-loved and celebrated, others have faded from the spotlight. Yet, these lesser-discussed aspects of ’80s culture have left a lasting impact on the way we enjoy music, express ourselves through fashion, and consume entertainment. As we reflect on the ’80s, we can appreciate not only the well-known classics but also the hidden gems that continue to inspire and shape our modern world. The ’80s, with all its quirks, continue to influence our culture today.

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