Why you should care
Because these pop pioneers brought a meaning to the decade of excess and definance. And big hair.
Their 30-year-old killer song ”Cities in Dust” is as relevant as ever. Teasers for the current Game of Thrones season paid homage with The Everlove’s stripped-down cover version to set the musical backdrop for impending doom in Westeros. But it just doesn’t match the thrill of the original version by the post-punk, avant-garde Brit band. From its opening electronic notes evoking the trickle of water — or is it lava? — Siouxsie lures us into a haunted world of synthesizers, layered percussion, urgent drums and her signature powerful vocals.
He had a face that fooled us. Back in 1978, when he and the band Japan hit with Adolescent Sex, there was no way you’d have guessed that 50-some odd releases and over 30 extremely odd collaborations later, we’d still be looking back and wondering how David Sylvian did it. But all of the makeup, chiffon-y clothing and teased hair got in the way. His record Brilliant Trees changed our lives in the way that great art can: by getting you to think about life well beyond its previously understood boundaries. “It’s an easy record to get obsessed with.” Still.
By 1982, when Prince released 1999, we were primed for what would become the definitive rock/R&B/funk/New Wave/erotic album of the decade. The album 1999 catapulted him into the mainstream, reaching multiplatinum status in record sales, and establishing him as a pop icon. Why was the record so popular? Prince tapped into the angst of a subgeneration, those sandwiched between the real boomers and Gen Xers. He became the voice for all that early ’80s defiance looking for a target — and he set it to a booty-shaking beat.
Remember “Cars”? In 1979 Gary Numan rattled cages when he burst onto the scene with the dark, offbeat Top 10 hit. The song about finding refuge in a safe, personal space was an instant hit; its now-iconic album introduced synthpop to both sides of the Atlantic, feeding nascent musical genres like industrial and hip-hop. His synthpop trailblazing also fueled industrial greats like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, whose connection with Numan 30 years after “Cars” resulted in the singer’s musical U-turn. And some much-needed self-respect.
In the 1983 album She’s So Unusual , Cyndi Lauper’s message was that it’s OK to be different, to be unusual. And not just OK, but also fun. It’s no exaggeration to say that the album was a pop explosion, igniting a devoted following and instant commercial success; it was one of the best-selling albums of the ’80s. Thirty years later, Lauper’s mantra to embrace and express our differences still rings true in her work. Under all of her true style-icon colors is an outspoken soul who’s willing to take people to task, and give others — from youth to the LGBT community — a voice.