Stranger Things and the Return of the 80s
With the premiere of the much awaited second season of Stranger Things, we thought it would be fun to explore a music trend that’s been bubbling under the surface for years now – the return of the moody, synthy sounds of the 1980s.
In the early and mid-2010s, 80s music began to creep into pop music, with mega hits like Taylor Swift’s “Style” and Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound,” as well as indie acts like Chromeo and M83. It also inspired a slew of monster hip-hop singles like Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home” and “Hotline Bling.” But the music industry moves a bit faster than TV and Film, and we’re only now seeing the 80s take over our screens (again). Here are a handful of recent shows and films that showcase both classic and modern takes on 80s music.
These days, it’s hard to walk out your front door without running into someone who wants to talk about Netflix’s Stranger Things. The first season was a breakout hit, with the 80s setting bringing viewers back to a beloved age of film exemplified by the work of Stephen Spielberg and children’s adventure films such as The Goonies. Stranger Things’ music often falls into one of two categories. First, they use a modern score that is heavily influenced by a variety of 80s composers. The Stranger Things theme is a direct homage to the music of John Carpenter (who composed much of the music to his own films), but with a sleek, clean production that channels modern electronic composers such as Junkie XL. On top of the score, the show also uses a large number of pop and rock tracks directly from the time period, such as the memorable use of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” in the pilot episode.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive is often credited with jumpstarting a resurgence of 80s music in popular media. While not set in the 80s, Drive featured an original score by Cliff Martinez that used retro synth sounds to evoke a dark 80s aesthetic that complemented the film’s striking colors and imagery. Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” and College’s “Real Hero,” which underscored the film’s opening and closing credits, respectively, became cult classics among indie music fans, and one can trace a direct line from the film to niche music trends today such as vaporwave.
Earlier this year, Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron, proved that the 80s music trend isn’t going anywhere. Unlike Drive, however, Atomic Blonde didn’t rely solely on dark, synth-heavy tracks – instead injecting energy with uses of Queen’s “Killer Queen” and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” The film’s visuals, as well as its marketing, doubled down on the 80s vibe by using vibrant neon pinks and blues. Interestingly, the trailer aimed for a sort of old-meets-new style, mashing up Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” with Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”
Blade Runner 2049
Although a commercial flop, Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049 was an effective, tasteful update to the aesthetics of the original, which was distinctively 80s yet influenced so much of the sci-fi and horror that would follow it. The film’s trailer pulls directly from the original score by Vangelis, and some of the most high-tension scenes in the film resolve around gargantuan synth sounds (composed by Hans Zimmer). The film is a perfect example of how the film industry can respectfully update beloved 80s franchises, which we’re seeing all around us, notably the upcoming Star Wars sequels.
The 80s music trend has been gaining steam for quite some time, and there seems to be no sign of it slowing down. The popularity of Stranger Things and its ilk demonstrates that viewers aren’t ready to let go of the past – in fact, they’re quite content to revel in it.
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