28th Aug2017

Are We Ready to Part Company with ’80s Pop Culture?

by James Smith

The 1980s. What a decade. The assassination of John Lennon, the marriage of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the deadly Chernobyl power plant explosion all hit the headlines during this tumultuous decade. However, when you picture the 1980s, is it any of these things which leap to mind first? Or are you picturing permed hair, shoulder pads, shell suits and retro computer games?

Without question, 80s popular culture left its mark. The decade’s fashion was a law unto itself, blending bright colours with an array of fabrics and outrageous trends. It was a time for the fashion industry to enjoy playing with shape as well as colour, hence the popularity of the aforementioned shoulder pads, particularly when it came to power dressing for the office.

Looking back, much of our 80s fashion sense (or lack thereof) can comfortably be consigned to the annals of history. However, the decade’s entertainment – from music to video games – certainly can’t be dismissed. This is where we struggle the most with leaving 80s pop culture behind. After all, who doesn’t still experience a thrill of excitement when faced with an original Pac Man arcade machine, as launched in 1980?


Image credit: Pixabay

The 1980s was a golden era for arcade games. Donkey Kong (1981), Bomb Jack (1984), Balloon Fight (1984), Outrun (1986) and Street Fighter (1987) were just a few of the offerings that had us queuing up in poorly lit arcades, eagerly awaiting our turn on the machine.

Later in the decade, home console video games took the world by storm, from the addictive Boulder Dash in 1984, to Super Mario Bros. in 1985 and The Legend of Zelda in 1986. As the decade drew to a close, Populous and SimCity held many of us in thrall, as video games producers sought to capitalise on technological progression to bring us ever better graphics and more immersive gaming experiences.

Music also played a huge role in the popular culture of the 1980s, the legacy of which we are still enjoying today. MTV’s launch in 1981 opened up music to fans like never before. At the same time, artists were producing some truly outstanding albums, many of which still stand out today. Michael Jackson gave us Thriller in 1982, then delighted fans by moonwalking for the first time at the MTV Music Awards in 1984. We were also treated to The Joshua Tree courtesy of U2, Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction, Prince’s Sign ‘O’ The Times and True Blue from Madonna over the course of the decade, to name but a few.

In fact, music from the 1980s is one of the decade’s features that we find hardest to let go, meaning that the trend for 80s pop culture is still alive and well to this day. 80s club nights are hugely popular, while many radio stations still feature the best of the 80s musical offering. The legacy of musical inspiration such as synthpop, which rose to prominence in the 1980s, can also still be seen in our contemporary culture. A new wave of synthpop artists is currently washing over the music scene, with bands like LANY and Shy Girls proving that the 1980s sound is still very much alive and well.


Image credit: Pixabay

80s culture continues to pervade our society in other ways too. The hit TV series Stranger Things, starring Winona Ryder, launched in 2016 and quickly gathered a significant following. Set in 1980s Indiana, the show follows the investigation into the disappearance of a young boy, with supernatural events complicating the search for him. The superbly immersive 1980s environment was one of several factors that contributed to the show’s success, which saw it rise to the position of third most-watched original Netflix content in the US. The video game scene is also still honouring the spirit of the 80s, with games allowing us to indulge in the wonders of a 1980s aerobics class – thankfully the donning of brightly coloured leg warmers in order to truly enjoy the 80s vibe while playing is entirely optional! Let’s not forget current cult video game hits such as 2012’s indie hit Spelunky, which is still popular with a very loyal following it has created. It’s reminiscent of 80s games both in its pixelised visual style and its notorious difficulty level.

Wherever we look, 1980s pop culture is alive and well. We’ve left behind the dodgier fashion moments and kept the gems of the 80s all to ourselves to honour in new and innovative ways. Long may the 80s legacy last!


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