What is the secret behind the popularity of retro music from the 80s and 90s

It’s impossible not to notice the fantastic growth in attendance at concerts focused on retro music. First and foremost, there is the invariably sold-out “Disco of the 80s” festival, hosted by the “Autoradio” station at stadiums. Acts like Modern Talking, C.C.Catch, Ottawan, Eruption, Joy, Bad Boys Blue, Arabesque, Boney M, Sandra, Alphaville, Secret Service, Ricchi e Poveri, Savage, Pupo, and many others are featured.

Audiences aren’t deterred by anything. Neither the fact that these retro festivals often play to 30-year-old backing tracks, nor the fact that under famous names, it’s often young musicians or even current housewives-pensioners performing. Even the music style—whether disco, rock-n-roll, or chanson—is enthusiastically received.

This phenomenon, it must be admitted, is particularly Russian or Eastern European. In the US and the UK, which are flagships and monopolists of the global show business, there is nothing similar. There, the top charts are dominated by stations playing the most current fashionable tracks.

It’s well known that everything moves in cycles and that past decades take turns being sources of inspiration. In the case of the 1980s, the difference is that they have become a constant. In 2013 we danced to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” in 2015 to Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen,” in 2017 to LCD Soundsystem’s “Call The Police,” and last year to Vampire Weekend’s “Harmony Hall.” Such an amount of 1980s-style music was only heard in the 1980s. It seems we will never tire of the taste of the “great tasteless decade.” At least when it comes to pop culture. Why?

“The reason we keep coming back to the 80s? Dance music was brought to a pinnacle, to mechanical perfection,” says Guy Pratt, a Grammy-winning musician who played for Michael Jackson, Roxy Music, and Madonna. Now he shares his crazy bass playing techniques (you can hear his parts on “Like A Prayer” and “Earth Song”) by recording video tutorials. “Pop music is finite, and in the 1980s it reached its peak—there was nowhere else to go. After the 1980s, everyone went back—Britpop simply took the sound of the 1960s. And 1980s music can still be heard on the radio—it sounds modern.”

It turns out that the last full-fledged global music genre was rap music. And that was back in the 1980s. After the advent of rap, music critics and musicians themselves invented and justified thousands of other genres, but none of them stuck as a global phenomenon. Everyone can recognize a rock-n-roll track, but identifying something like new speedcore or four-to-the-floor garage is often beyond even specialists. Many have talked about a crisis in musical ideas, that everything in music has already been invented, that it’s time for a crossover of styles and sub-styles. There is some truth in this, yet the mass listener finds himself in a deadlock. He has heard Frank Sinatra, and they offer him singers who sing “like Sinatra,” at best pale imitations. The mass listener has chosen a quite reasonable way out: until something worthy of attention appears, to listen to good old music.

It’s curious to speculate how long this trend, this conscious look back by a huge country, will last.

Arithmetically, it seems simple. Those who were 15 years old in 1990 will become pensioners in 2030. In our country, retirement means a complete loss of financial power. It can be assumed that the retro-euphoria will decline precisely by 2030. However, the artists of the 80s, who are now the mainstay for festivals and shows, are not getting any younger either. In 2030, they will be around 60-80 years old, and they are unlikely to be able to perform on stage.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that promoters will use the nostalgic charge and artistic power of the eighties to the very end, until the mass audience itself retires.

What we listened to in the 80s and 90s

Ace of Base. The band’s album “Happy Nation/The Sign” is the best-selling debut album in history. In the US, the album was certified Platinum nine times. It was the first debut album in the world where three songs (“All That She Wants”, “The Sign”, “Don’t Turn Around”) reached the number one spot on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 charts.

Take That — an English pop-rock band that dominated the national charts for five years. Their distinction from other “boy bands” of the 1990s was that the members composed their own songs. The BBC channel called Take That “the most successful British band since The Beatles”.

Scooter — a German musical group focused on dance and energetic music. The group is known in many countries around the world, thanks in part to English-language lyrics (with few exceptions) and song and music titles. Along with bands like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Modern Talking, Rammstein, Scorpions, Boney M., Scooter is one of the most successful musical groups in German history, as evidenced by more than 30 million albums and singles sold worldwide, and more than 80 gold and platinum records.

No Doubt — an American ska-punk band formed in 1986 in Anaheim, California, USA. They gained fame after the release of their album Tragic Kingdom in 1995.

Spice Girls — an English female pop group formed in London in 1994. On July 8, 1996, the Spice Girls released their debut single “Wannabe”, and shortly thereafter, the music video premiered. The single instantly became a hit, and the song was played 502 times a week on rotation. The group made their first TV appearance on the LWT channel. In July 1996, the group had their first interview with Paul Gorman, the chief editor of “Music Week,” who acknowledged, “the Spice Girls are about to revolutionize and turn the music world upside down.” The song remained at the top of the British song chart for seven weeks and propelled the group to global popularity, topping the charts in 21 other countries by the end of the year. The Spice Girls released three studio albums, which sold over 75 million copies worldwide. The group is the most popular (commercially successful) female group in the history of pop music, as evidenced by high sales of albums and singles, chart positions, concert attendance, and merchandise sales.

La Bouche — a project by the famous German producer Frank Farian. Its original lineup included Americans Melanie Thornton and Lane McCray. The first single from the debut album Sweet Dreams in 1994 climbed to 13th place on the US Billboard Hot 100 and to 1st place on the US Dance Chart. The second single, released in 1995, “Be My Lover,” was in the top ten in 14 countries, including first place in Germany, and sixth in the US (US Billboard Hot 100), and earned an ASCAP award “as the most performed song in America.” The group’s debut album Sweet Dreams went five-times platinum and nine-times gold worldwide.

Bad Boys Blue — a Euro disco group formed in Cologne in 1984, which over its history has released about 30 hit singles that charted in many countries around the world, including the USA.

Depeche Mode — a British musical group formed in 1980 in the town of Basildon. This group created its own style in the genres of electronic and rock music and is one of the most successful and long-lasting groups in the world. On November 2, 2006, Depeche Mode won the “Best Group” award at the MTV Europe Music Awards. By 2011, about 115 million copies of Depeche Mode albums had been sold, and 44 singles had hit the British charts. Q magazine called Depeche Mode “the most popular electronic band the world has ever known” and included them in the list of “50 bands that changed the world!” In 2010, the music channel VH1 ranked Depeche Mode 98th on the list of “100 greatest artists of all time and peoples.”

2 Unlimited — a Dutch musical group formed in 1991, performed in the style of Eurodance. The project was conceived by Belgian producers Jean-Paul DeCoster and Phil Wilde and gained worldwide fame with performers Ray Slijngaard and Anita Daniëlle Doth. Over five years of performance, the group achieved global success, with total disc sales exceeding 18 million.

E-Type. Bo Martin Erik, stage name E-Type — a Swedish singer-songwriter in the Eurodance style, born on August 27, 1965, in Uppsala, Sweden. In the summer of 1994, he released the song “Set World On Fire” with Nana Hedin, which soared in the Swedish charts (No. 1 on the dance chart and No. 2 on the sales chart) and soon went gold. The next single, “This Is The Way,” reached the top spot on the sales chart. In November 1994, his debut album “Made In Sweden” was released, reaching second place on the music charts in Sweden.

Mr. President is a German dance group from Bremen in the style of Eurodance, most famous for the composition “Coco Jamboo” (1996). Before 1993, the group was known as Satellite One. In 1996, the group moved away from its original dance sound in favor of a lighter, more exotic sound. This new sound was reflected in the reggae hit Coco Jamboo. The song reached the highest positions in the group’s history on the charts in Germany, Australia, and Switzerland, and also became the only successful single in the UK charts (#8 place) and in the United States (#21 place on the Billboard Hot 100). The full-length album We See the Same Sun, which included the composition as well as the songs “I Give You My Heart”, “Show Me The Way”, was also largely successful in Europe.

Mo-Do. Fabio Frittelli — an Italian singer and disc jockey. His first single “Eins, Zwei, Polizei” co-written with Einstein Dr Deejay (real name — Fulvio Zafret) took the top position in the Italian music chart, and a month later repeated this success in the charts of many other European countries. The composition was based on two German songs: “Der Komissar” (Falco) and “Da Da Da” (Trio).

Dr. Alban — a Swedish musician of Nigerian origin, working in the style of Eurodance, owner of his own record label Dr. Records. His debut album “Hello Afrika” was distributed worldwide in a million copies and brought Alban global fame. The composition “No Coke” was the main theme of the Swedish anti-drug program. A year later, Alban’s second album, “One Love”, was sold in more than 1.6 million copies. The same album released the track “It’s My Life,” which nearly became Dr. Alban’s business card and was used as a commercial background for Tampax female hygiene products. “It’s My Life” held leading positions in the charts of Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Following this track came the single “One Love.” The number of albums sold was 1.7 million copies.

DJ BoBo (real name Peter René Baumann) — a Swiss singer, composer, and producer. From 1992 to 2007, DJ BoBo had 27 singles that charted in Switzerland and Germany, and 10 World Music Awards, making him the most successful Swiss artist. Over 15 million copies of the performer’s albums have been sold worldwide. DJ BoBo’s style is defined as dance rap and Italian house direction, and he borrows his movement plasticity from rap performers, combining it with his unique technique.

Backstreet Boys — an American pop group (boy band) formed on April 20, 1993, in Orlando. Along with Led Zeppelin and Sade, Backstreet Boys are one of the three groups whose first 7 albums debuted in the top ten of the US album chart. Starting with their self-titled debut album in 1996, the group has sold about 130 million copies of their records.

’N Sync was formed in Orlando in 1995. The group’s name was composed of the last letters of the members’ names — Justin, Chris, Joey, Lansten, and JC. A breakthrough in the charts occurred four years later, when they went to a producer who had been promoting their main rivals — Backstreet Boys. The release of the debut single “I Want You Back” took place on October 7, 1996, in Germany, it made the top ten of the German chart and stayed there for several weeks, after which two more successful singles were released. Their debut album “*NSYNC” was released on May 26, 1997, in Germany and reached the top of the charts within two weeks. Teen hysteria around ‘N Sync peaked in March 2000, when their new album No Strings Attached sold 2.4 million copies in the first week alone, becoming the fastest-selling album in the history of popular music.

Aqua — a dance-pop group consisting of one Norwegian girl, Lene, and three Danish men. Gained worldwide fame in the 90s thanks to songs like “Barbie Girl”, “Roses are Red”, “Doctor Jones”, “Turn Back Time”, “Lollipop (Candyman)”, “My Oh My”, and others. During its existence, Aqua released three studio albums and, by approximate estimates, sold 33 million copies of albums and singles, thus becoming the most successful musical group in Denmark.

The musical history of Prodigy began in 1990 when their first single “What Evil Lurks”, consisting mainly of the young Howlett’s early works, was released. The single did not go unnoticed by the rave scene and immediately entered rotation in various clubs. Even today, this disc is considered almost a cult hardcore thing, the original of which is practically impossible to get anywhere. When “Firestarter” was released in 1996, Liam said it was an experimental track, but it turned out to be a significant breakthrough for the group. The single took first place in charts around the world. Then a less commercial “Breathe” was released. Even better! When “Music For The Jilted Generation” was released, it was a phenomenal success for the group both financially and from the point of view of music critics. As soon as the album appeared, it immediately topped the hit parades. Almost all British tabloids burst into a storm of praise. “NME” called Liam “Robocop and Beethoven of our days in one face.” “Select” stated that “Music For The Jilted Generation” was the best thing you could hear on the music scene that year, while “Melody Maker” called the album “damn magnificent.” Listeners also agreed with everything. Two weeks after the release, the album was already “gold,” and more than a million copies had been sold worldwide. A merciless hail of awards rained down on the group: “Mercury Music Prize,” “MTV Best Dance,” “Best Dance LP,” “Best Dance Act.” Prodigy started non-stop touring.

Nirvana — a legendary American rock band from the late 80s and early 90s. The songs of the group’s vocalist Kurt Cobain are still in demand by the global music community to this day. The rock band was founded in 1987 in the small American town of Aberdeen (Washington state). At the origins of the group were guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. Another famous member, drummer David Eric Grohl, joined the group in 1990. All three, in 2014, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as performers who made a significant contribution to the development of rock music. Nirvana’s first album — Bleach was released in 1989. The group relied on a sound built on dynamic transitions between quiet verses and loud heavy choruses. Massive success came to the group in 1991 with their first single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from their second album Nevermind. Nirvana’s songs popularized grunge (a subgenre of alternative rock) combining elements of heavy metal and hardcore punk. Nirvana’s rock with lyrics addressing themes of social alienation and rejection brought them global popularity. Kurt Cobain became, in the eyes of the mass media, not just a musician, but “the voice of a generation.” In 1993, their third and final studio album In Utero was released. The album received high praise from critics and topped the charts in the UK and the US. Nirvana’s albums are among the best-selling in the world, with more than 75,000,000 records sold, including 25,000,000 copies in the US.

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