It’s 10.01 pm. The lights are low and casting red and green shadows up the walls. Through a speaker, a singular synth note starts softly pulsing. It’s joined by a reverberating percussion line, and finally by a dreamy but crisp female vocal. Everything is swaying and floating and pulling you into a saccharine city nightscape filled with unnecessary aerobics gear, pastel-coloured everything, and so much blusher.
But this isn’t an 80s music video you’re in.
It’s actually 2020, and you’re dancing around your room on your own thanks to a pandemic-issued lock down, listening to a shiny new pop single that’s just been released.
Back in the 80s, again
The 80s was a truly influential musical decade, across so many genres, that it’s not surprising for us to still be hearing 80s inspired music today. However, 2020 saw some of the biggest pop artists of the moment indulge in synthy soundscapes, splashy snares, and floating vocals that feel like a shamelessly direct throwback – despite most of these artists not even having been born in the 80s.
From Dua Lipa’s leggings and headbands-filled video to ‘Let’s get physical work out’, to Lady Gaga’s Mad Max on Mars moment in ‘Stupid Love’, and maybe most popularly The Weeknd’s neon-filled drive through a city in ‘Blinding Lights’. Pop seems to be looking back through rose-tinted glasses at the whole aesthetic of the era.
We’re still pulling inspiration from this time of technological advancements, a boom in radical music subcultures, and pre-financial crash glitz and glamour. But something feels different this time.
Why are the 80s capturing our imagination right now?
A simpler pre-tech, pre-covid time?
My theory is that the answer is actually simple: reality has been a little too miserable lately, so we’ve all got our head in the clouds.
The 80s was a time before smartphones, before everyone had a home computer, never mind an internet connection. But right now, that technology is our best bet at communicating with our loved ones, doing our jobs, and feeling connected to the world. The number of hours we’ve all spent in front of screens in the last year is a little bit terrifying, making it even more easy to see why people would rather dream about an 80s-style offline adventure.
That messy time of creativity, money, and self-reinvention feels far from what most of us are capable of achieving this year. We currently find ourselves stuck at home, disoriented by the lack of human contact with those we care about, endlessly doomscrolling through pandemic and political news while wearing the same ‘loungewear’ for days on end.
Pretty far from a Madonna music video.
New generation, same daydream
If you’re a young person right now, you’re probably turning to places like YouTube and TikTok for some sense of escapism, something fun and lighthearted to break your boredom and coronanxiety. That’s where the 80s soundtrack and bubblegum-toned music videos step in.
Or maybe this is where pop music has always stepped in? Simple, rhyming life lessons and easily relatable emotions punctuated by saxophone solos and coordinated dance moves. Easy and entertaining.
I’m not sure whether it’s irony or just the natural order that we’re engaging with this airy pop of a past era through our phones and TVs, through objects mostly missing from the music video scenes and lyrical content. We’ve all been tuning in and turning up as an alternative to enduring the pandemic. Either way, it seems to be working.
Eventually, we must go back to the future
This latest trip back in time probably isn’t a trend that will stick around for long. The 80s have been gone over so many times. As we move into the next decade, the Retromania theory that we’re on a 20-year loop means that we should start to see some early 2000s repeats appearing soon – and with people like Paris Hilton seeming to hold an influence over us once again via mediums like TikTok, that trend probably isn’t far off.