From Jackson to The Weeknd: How the 80s Influenced (and Continue to Influence) music

Today, many modern artists are inspired by the music of those years. They manage quite well, but they are still far from the level of the legends.

Canadian R&B and pop performer The Weeknd has entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most popular artist on the planet. He became the first musician to garner over 100 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Nearly 15 years into his career, Abel Tesfaye has made a colossal contribution to the genre’s development and has become a role model for younger colleagues. The Weeknd himself was inspired by the 1980s—his songs feature synthesizers, disco motifs, and the overall aesthetic of that era. Why is that decade considered the greatest in the history of popular music, and how did the 80s influence contemporary artists? Let’s explore and indulge in nostalgia.

The 80s – The heyday of MTV and diverse genres

In the 60s and 70s, the music industry was, if not owned, then occupied by rock music representatives. At that time, charts were dominated by Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and others, while disco and occasionally pop stood out among other genres. The situation changed at the beginning of the next decade—a wave of new pop performers coincided with the start of MTV broadcasts, which aired music videos and special programs about musicians around the clock.

Thanks to successful rotations, the channel helped launch the careers of a whole host of iconic performers: MTV showcased works by Cyndi Lauper, Boy George, Wham!, Whitney Houston, and Prince. With the advent of music television, artists realized that winning over an audience required not only quality releases but also well-thought-out images and videos. Michael Jackson and Madonna, the future king and queen of pop music, were the most successful in this regard.

Bright costumes, intricately choreographed performances, meticulous work by producers, and support from MTV—all these factors influenced the popularization of pop performers. Meanwhile, other directions also gained momentum: Depeche Mode, who balanced on the edge of electronics and rock, the heavy-sounding Metallica, the electropop A-ha, the progressive Brits from Duran Duran, and dozens of other legends emerged.

The 80s – A new sound

The 1980s were the most diverse decade in music history. British sound engineer Tim Dunphy is confident that this was possible due to a new approach and unusual sound solutions. It was during this time that musicians began using rich arrangements and sound effects (the 70s favored minimalism), synthesizers, and other electronic musical instruments like drum machines. Meanwhile, the vocals were clean but not overly polished, which added charm to the compositions.

British bass guitarist Guy Pratt, who worked with Pink Floyd, Iggy Pop, Madonna, and Jackson, believes that the 80s were the peak of the pop genre, brought to ‘mechanical perfection’. Above all, this was influenced by significant investments from music labels, technology, and, of course, global stars. According to Pratt, that was the moment when pop music concluded: ‘There was nowhere to go from there. Afterward, everyone turned back and embraced the British pop sound of the 60s.’

And yes, the 1980s were indeed a unique time for music. Thanks to technical capabilities, genres like breakbeat, industrial, post-punk, and techno emerged. But if these innovations helped them, pop music, on the contrary, stalled by the early 90s. Genre icons maintained their status, and new heroes either did the same or delved deeply into related directions.

The 80s – A treasure trove of references for modern artists

In the 2000s, pop music did not change much and rather perfected earlier developments, shifting the focus from disco to R&B and even hip-hop—earning genuine respect from Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Beyonce, and other great women. Nevertheless, modern musicians prefer to use old-school artists as references. The main conduit to the 80s among them is The Weeknd.

Abel actively uses synth-pop motifs, straightforward dance beats, and disco elements, combining them with dark lyrics. A prime homage to the bygone era is the track ‘Blinding Lights’ from the album After Hours (named after the 1985 Martin Scorsese film), which blends electropop and synthwave. The song and video are thoroughly infused with the neon atmosphere of those years. However, such a pull to the 80s is not surprising: the artist has been a fan of Michael Jackson and Prince since childhood.

Pop diva Dua Lipa, born at the end of the nineties, also skillfully utilizes the aesthetics of those years. The disco release Future Nostalgia incorporates new wave and disco, and it was produced by Stuart Price—the frontman of Zoot Woman, which plays in the style of the 80s. Dua Lipa is a big fan of Madonna, and Price had worked on her dance album Confessions on a Dance Floor.

Overall, the 1980s are an endless source of ideas. Artists such as Taylor Swift (album ‘1989’), Carly Rae Jepsen (EMOTION), and occasionally fashionable Russian bands like Cream Soda have turned to the music of that decade. Music figures assert that such obsession can be described with nostalgic feelings, but it seems much simpler—was there another decade with such a plethora of global pop stars? We can’t recall any.”

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