Originally published here in July 2015.
Sometimes, you switch on the radio and you wonder if your car turned into a DeLorean without you noticing.
Pop music is undeniably built on the practice of recycling of hooks and riffs, and the past five years or so show that pop artists have been tipping their hats to the jams of the 1980s in particular. We’ve seen infectiously catchy love songs, smooth jams, and the occasional tribute to Motown-style R&B. Taylor Swift even wrote an entire album based on the sounds of 1989 alone, for crying out loud.
Want proof? Here’s a list of 10 songs that came out within the last five years — but sound just like jams from the Reagan Era.
Here, Jepsen takes retro love to the next level. There's synth! There are drums that sound straight out of Miami Vice! And there’s something about the chipper persona she’s giving off that’s so Tiffany, so Debbie Gibson. I could totally see her performing this song in a mall. Plus, the video features 80s funny-man/90s drama-man Tom Hanks and contains certain sly references to some of his most iconic roles, including a dance move that looks a little like he’s playing “Chopsticks” with his feet.
The first time I heard this song, my immediate thought was, “This is so 1987.” I don’t know why I landed upon 1987 specifically, but there is some definite throwback influence here. It sounds a little bit like “U Got the Look” or even “Freedom” (which is technically from 1990, but George Michael is totally an 80s artist). Actually, Neon Trees’ entire 2012 album Picture Show sounds like it could be the soundtrack to an 80s movie. This song would play during a scene where the protagonist and her friends are teasing their hair in anticipation of a night on Sunset Boulevard.
Absolutely everything about this song is 80s-inspired. The funky bass-line, the danceable guitar riff, the breathy vocals. The soft lighting, the big hair, the synchronized choreography of the video. I’m certain that when Blood Orange (AKA Dev Hynes) wrote this song, he intended to make something that would have been perfect for early MTV.
A vintage sound is something we’ve heard from La Roux before — I’m talking about their 2009 hit “Bulletproof,” which sounded like the music you’d hear coming out of an arcade game. But this song, with its distinct Duran Duran vibes, is more suited for the ultra-rich 80s types who live their lives in linen suits and convertibles. Think James Spader in almost anything. Also, bonus retro points for how Bowie Elly Jackson looks in the “video.”
This song screams Say Anything… to me. This is 100% what John Cusack would be playing out of his boombox at Ione Skye’s window if that movie came out next month. There’s something about this song that begs to be played during cinematic shots of cars driving down rainy roads, headlights blurred, or during the climax of a movie when the couple you’re rooting for is miles apart, and suddenly they both realize how much they love each other. Cue boombox.
Jason Derulo is upset, y’all. He’s upset that a smoking hot, big-haired lady of the 80s is hurting his heart. Or, at least that’s what I assume based on the sound of this song. Constant drum track, well-utilized falsetto, an unhappy storyline that you can still dance to — what’s more 80s than that? This song is like “Billie Jean” for a new generation (though chances are it’ll never be quite that iconic).
It’s been stated that Little Mix’s forthcoming album will have an ’80s feel and that’s super obvious given the album’s first single. Once the verses start and that bass line comes in, it wouldn’t be out of place on the Footloose soundtrack. Plus, Entertainment Weekly pointed out that the chorus sounds surprisingly similar to a song from the 1997 animated gem Anastasia, and the video is inspired by 1996 classic The Craft. Throwback vibes all around.
The 80s were a haven for cute British boys with silly haircuts, so The 1975 would have fit in just fine. And their song “Girls” — with its plucky guitars reminiscent of Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days,” as well as its tongue-in-cheek video complete with Robert Palmer reference — could have totally been an 80s summer jam for guys with shaggy hair and girls in high-cut suits splashing around on the beach.
The kicky drumbeat and synth-orchestra sound mixed with those pleading lyrics gives this song a real end-of-a-John-Hughes-movie feel. After all the trials and tribulations our heroes have faced by being in love in high school, they’d finally come together to choose each other over societal expectations and kiss in the rain as this soft played softly in the background.
No list of this nature would be complete without this inescapable hit. Every second of this song and its video pays loving tribute to the funk acts of the late 70s and early 80s, like The Gap Band, Kool and the Gang, and even early hip-hop acts like The Sugarhill Gang (“c’mon, dance, jump on it”). There’s a reason that, following the recent verdict of the Marvin Gaye/Robin Thicke lawsuit, Ronson and Mars chose to go ahead and give The Gap Band songwriting credits. It’s a fun, flashy retro song with a campy video to boot. I mean, how Morris Day is that scene with Ronson and Mars in the beauty shop?