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Pop music is acting like a time machine

Pop seems to be a genre that’s in a constant war with critics and consumers.

At one moment, pop is a genre that is both inventive and cool, and the next, it’s simplistic and tired.  Through my growing up, you were seen as an embarrassment if you enjoyed listening to pop, but after what feels like a long time in the dog house, pop seems to be the genre yet again. What’s interesting about the genre, is not only that it seems as though it’s finally considered cool again, but that it’s overall sound seems to have changed, which of course could be the reason why critics and audiences alike are finding themselves as fans again.

Have you noticed that as consumers, we love things that are “vintage” or “retro?”  Consider your mum’s jeans from the 80s.  There was probably a point in your childhood or young adult years where you looked through old photos of your mom and made fun of her for wearing high-waist “diaper” jeans.  She’d tell you, “but they were the style” and you’d just roll your eyes.  But something tells me that within the last couple of years you’ve gone up to your mum and begged her to borrow those same jeans you teased her for, have picked yourself up a pair or two from a local thrift store, or spent a small fortune on a pair from a name-brand store so that you could look “cool” when going to lunch with your friends (I’m wearing mine right now, actually – sorry I mocked you, mum).

This idea of loving what’s retro or vintage seems to hold true in music as well as it does in style.  Though the 80s have made a comeback in fashion, the 80s seems to be influencing much more than your day-to-day wardrobe; the sound of the 80s is back, and it’s taking over the charts.

80s pop can be described as heavily synth-based and danceable, even if the song’s lyrics are that of heartbreak and despair.  This seems to be a way to define this generation’s brand of pop.  Though pop has been historically upbeat, heavy synth and clearly defined melodies seem to be what has set 80s pop apart from the rest of the pack, and after spending a couple of decades trying to shy away from this, it seems as though artists are embracing the very thing that once made pop so, well, popular.  Though 80s pop was never truly out of style, the genre evolved, and computers seemed to become the primary instrument of choice.  This technological takeover seemed to make the genre feel less authentic to its critics – think of the reviews for The Chainsmokers’ most recent album, and though evolution is never a bad thing, the genre may have departed too far from what made pop so pop.

But not all artists fully bought into this new sound.  While modernised, HAIM and Bleachers borrowed from the 80s when making their debut records, and not just 80s pop, but 80s alternative/indie rock as well. Their added use of synth and reverb set their sound apart as nostalgic and unique, and showed the industry that newer audiences still responded well to the sounds that made songs like ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and ‘I Melt With You’ so classic.  As time progressed, more and more artists began to embrace this old sound and give it a twist and with The 1975’s release of their sophomore album last spring, it seemed as though the 80s were officially back on everyone’s radars.  Now, it seems as though artists from all across the spectrum are adapting to this new and improved pop sound.

What was once just a few artists with 80s influences became the lot, and now, it seems as though listeners just can’t get enough.  While current pop artists are borrowing, not only from 80s pop but 80s rock as well, modern alt/rock artists are doing the opposite, and borrowing from 80s pop to make their music more upbeat and excitable, causing a blending of genres.  Take Paramore’s newest record as example.  They traded heavy guitar for synth, and have made themselves danceable.  Though their lyrics are often solemn, they’re packaged in bright melodies and even brighter colours, and though they’ve genre-jumped, it worked well for them, and critics and fans are loving their transition.

It seems as though, at least for now, the 80s are back.  With artists such as Paramore and The 1975 dominating the charts both present and past, and with the comeback of bands such as HAIM and Bleachers, it can be expected that 2017 will be a year of sweet, nostalgia-filled fun.


Sara Santora

Words by HQ

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