It was the decade of shoulder pads, rollerblade discos, spandex and perms, where Cold War tensions were at an all-time high and employment was at an all-time low. Thirty odd years later and this iconic decade still seems to be clinging onto today’s pop culture with as strong a hold as the hairspray George Michael used to keep the volume in his mullet.
The second season of Netflix’s Stranger Things was released last week, bringing with all it’s gore and chills a glimpse into 1980’s sci-fi with it’s references to Stephen King and cheesy soundtrack featuring songs by The Clash and Toto. The nostalgic style of this ‘extra-terrestrial’ series makes you feel more like you’re watching the episodes from a dusty old VHS tape than watching it from a streaming website. (Although I highly doubt you would have been able to binge watch a series back in the Eighties). Stranger Things isn’t the only TV show that’s recently drawn on this decade for inspiration- just look at the ‘San Junipero’ episode of Black Mirror which takes us back to the era of the Back to the Future trilogy or The Goldbergs featured on Amazon Prime, which is based on comedian Adam Goldberg’s childhood in 1980s America. There haven’t been as many 80s themed TV shows since the decade itself.
TV shows aren’t an anomaly though- nostalgia for the 1980s has fully infiltrated pop music too. While artists from the Eighties overstuffed their tunes with synthesizers and funky beats to create an iconic, mellow sound, today more and more artists are combining music with modern synths and guitar riffs to create a hybrid, 80s/millennial sound. Just look at the 1975’s latest album, I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It. (I promise the band title betrays their real influences!) This album features songs thick with synthesizers and 80s drive time rock influences my parents would have listened to in their youth. In 2014, Taylor Swift released her album 1989 featuring a feel good peppy track-list which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Eighties radio station. 2015 saw the release of ‘Uptown Funk’ by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson which contain powerful vocals that fuel the 1980s funk-filled pop jam and give it an overall vintage vibe. Earlier on this year, Bruno released his popular single ‘24K Magic’ which was described by Billboard as “Stranger Things in single form,” while Kendrick Lamar asks ‘Annie are you okay?’ a lá Michael Jackson in his single ‘King Kunta’. There just seems to be no escape from this iconic decade in our culture.
But why is this? Have we not reached peak 80s infiltration by now? I don’t think so. To the generation of millennials who grew up in the dawn of the internet, smartphones and tablets, there is something alluring about the last decade before the internet staged a coup on our concentration levels and social graces. We perceive the 80s as a more carefree time when the music was good and the fashion was a bit crazy, but more importantly, when people had fun. I’m not saying that young people don’t have fun nowadays, they do, but everything just seemed a lot simpler thirty years ago. If you wanted to listen to music you’d buy a record or a cassette and play it on your ghetto blaster or wait for it to come on the radio. You couldn’t just listen to it at the touch of a button- this meant you appreciated the music you liked even more when you heard it.
People weren’t bombarded with images of stunning, successful models on social media flaunting the sleekest new fashion styles on a daily basis- people were inspired by what their friends were wearing or what they’d seen on TV. I’m sure they felt pressurised by the media to some extent but at least they weren’t living in the reign of social media in which narcissism knows no bounds and where people are constantly comparing themselves to successful stars. Back in the day, celebrities were so much more removed from everyday society: they were the ones basking in the sun and sipping cocktails in Beverley Hills or Club Tropicana or wherever 80s society perceived them to be, and then there was the ordinary people living in their own ordinary world with their ordinary jobs living in ordinary houses. They weren’t sharing the same platform with global stars and their glossy, idyllic lifestyles like our generation does, but that didn’t mean they didn’t know have to have fun. The 1980s seems to have been all about people with quirky, individualistic personalities where people could just be themselves and not pretend to be someone else. This is exactly what appeals to a lot of my generation who have become somewhat numbed by all the Kim Kardashian selfies they’ve been exposed to at this stage.
Millennials’ fixation with 90’s culture is most obviously reflected in their choice of clothing. Bomber jackets, oversized sweaters, high-waisted ‘Mom’ jeans and acid wash denim jackets are just a few style choices among many of a generation, particularly students, who are very taken with a by gone era of fashion. Could it be a rebellion against all the couture clothing they grew up seeing being modelled on flawless, doll-like models in the Noughties? (I know whose side I’m on if it is).
A lot of Millennials were the so-called guinea-pigs in the era of downloading and streaming music that was dominated by Apple a decade ago. Their introduction of the iPod in the mid Noughties which boasted to be able to hold up to 1,000 songs drastically shaped how you could listen to music. People no longer needed to carry around ugly, cumbersome walk-mans or cassette players as you could now listen to your favourite songs from a slim device that could fit in your pocket. This was a major breakthrough for the parents of kids growing up at this time- however, the kids themselves nonchalantly took this invention for granted, as they did with the internet, the laptop and so many other technological advances of the era. They simply didn’t know anything different. So it really is of no surprise that so many young people nowadays are turning away from digitally streaming music and instead are embracing physical formats of music, like vinyl. More than 3.2 million LPs were sold last year, a rise of 53% and the highest number since 1999. This was the first year that spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads. More and more vinyl stores are opening, and music stores are continually extending their choice of records.
Will our 80s obsession ever end? Who knows. But in a world where we’re constantly being updated on Brexit, Trump’s latest blunder or the increasing tensions with North Korea, sometimes it’s nice to have an escape route to a different era. Then again, neither Thatcher and Reagan’s relationship nor the crises of the Cold War that dominated news headlines in the Eighties were a walk in the park. Every decade has it’s own challenges- what’s important is having the right attitude to deal with them.