Why do we love 80s music so much?

Take On Me music video by a-ha

The age of synth-pop has much to be proud of. In pop culture today we’re constantly seeing a return of the 80s aesthetic. Of recent, we fell in love with Stranger Things and Black Mirror’s season three episode, San Junipero, as it returned us to the mid-1980s setting shared by classics like Back To The Future and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. One of my favourite 80s characteristics is the unconditional love for the ugly oversized jumper – perhaps the only angle my winter wardrobe has taken this year. We’ll leave the shoulder pads where they are, though.

Why are we so attached to this era when a lot of us weren’t even there for the original experience? Why do we crave it so much, without really knowing what the 80s were like, for the good, bad and the ugly?

Cue our aesthetic nostalgia, as we’re a culture who romanticise the past - we romanticise memorabilia from previous decades in films, books and television, without fully understanding where it came from. Much of American culture seems to have been infiltrated by the 80s aesthetic. Red cups? Letterman jackets? It seems that the 80s have not, and will not, go away.

In the 90s, it was all about the 70s. Since the Noughties, it’s been about the 80s. Current students throwing house parties seem to be keeping the careers of Duran Duran alive and kicking. I’m not going to pretend to know what the 80’s were like and why the music from that decade is what it is. I’ll leave that to your folks, but from what I know of it, it seemed to be an anxious time on the brink of global catastrophe, a feeling not too different from that which undeniably provokes us to make jokes about many of the apocalyptic circumstances of 2016 - 2017. 

Maybe the personal histories, experiences and the nostalgia of those who cultivated the 80s are melding with twenty-first century minds, and together we inaccurately reminisce a time before these things we’re afraid of existed. That’s why when we watch Stranger Things we love it because the issues they face are different to ours, they’re fictional and therefore don’t threaten us. In San Junipero you get all of the neon lights, big hair and banging tunes of the 80s, but with no mention of the Cold War fears etc. (Instead you get the dark twist, like most Black Mirror episodes, that turns everything on its head: the twist is that the lesbian couple get to exist together (!)). 

So much of the depiction of the era relies on the familiar music that we love, like the memorable presence of Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me from John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club. For this reason, so many of these classic films and shows have an unbeatable soundtrack to match. When looking at the songs from the 80s that I love, I realised many of them share something in common, and once I noticed it I could never unhear it again, so I apologise in advance for doing this to you too.

Its name is the gated snare, or gated reverb. This is a sound you are most certainly already familiar with. Gated reverb is a technique of audio processing which is applied to drum recordings. It creates the effect as though the beat is absorbed, or has a slight echo, and gives it some power. It's the gated reverb that creates the larger than life effect of the 80s pop music that we love. That makes you want to dance or belt it out in the shower. Songs like... this, for example. (Vintage Kylie - indulge your senses). 

It's pretty difficult to describe, but with this short video below I have no doubt you’ll know exactly what I mean: 

Naturally, I’ve put together a playlist of my favourite 80s songs that have a palpable trend of gated reverb, which creates its larger than life, transcendental quality. Now you shall never let it go unnoticed. Enjoy.