No other decade had a more metamorphic time in history than the 1980s, especially when it came to the music industry. Between a variety of genres popping up and becoming wildly popular to the desire to hold on to some of the past, music in this decade was vastly different than the ones prior.
The 1980s were a time where individuals had influences from pop music superstars like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and Madonna. This was mixed with the rise of electronic music that was fun to dance to along with hip-hop, rap, synth-pop, new wave, and not to mention hair metal that all became influential.
Significant Additions to the Music Industry in the ’80s
The decade of the 80s came with many changes and welcomed additions to the music industry much of which was brought on by transitions in the technology world. Since new things were possible, many musical groups pushed their creativeness past boundaries that once existed.
While the beginning of the decade was ripped with grief over the death of the legendary John Lennon, many artists moved forward creating new ways to entertain fans. From the introduction of synthesizers to the seemingly new rise of music videos, the music industry had definitely taken a turn.
1981 brought with it a whole new way to experience music with the founding of MTV, or Music Television. Music fans around the world were able to not only enjoy music from their favorite artists but also watch music videos that showcased the meanings behind the songs.
While older decade artists such as Paul McCartney, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, and Cher brought with them the experience of their past stardom, they also were able to bring fresh, new styles that kept them in the spotlight.
Additionally, new styles of music seemed to pop up at an increasing rate, but in a way that showed fans, they were here to stay. Music such as Hip-Hop and Rap became more and more popular with artists and groups like Public Enemy, NWA, and the Beastie Boys releasing chart-topping hits.
New Wave and/or electronic dance music also came on the scene with artists such as The Cure and Depeche Mode taking some of the top spots on the charts as well.
This new era of music had fans not only entertained but also had them expressing an interest in a wide variety of music genres instead of just sticking with one.
Genres of the ’80s
Just as common as the leg warmers, neon colors, and hair so big and bold it seemed like it took an entire can of hairspray to hold it together, the genres that made up the 80s were completely diverse and versatile.
While some music and artists could clearly be classified into one genre or another, many were not so easy to peg into a specific genre. This led to music fans that were glad to boast that they were interested in a wide variety of music styles.
Some of the most popular types of music took the forefront at the tops of the charts and in the boom boxes of many people. The genres and artists below were considered some of the most influential and often topped the charts.
Pop Music of the ’80s
With the modern changes to pop culture during the eighties, artists that fell under the pop music genre also seemed to change. Having a greater focus on public appearances, since the creation of such things as MTV, many of these talented artists took the stage and the charts by storm.
Here are some pop artists that had some of the biggest hits in the genre throughout the 80s and are still well known today:
With more than 300 million records sold throughout her career, Madonna became one of the most influential artists during the 1980s. She has been known for her bravado and sometimes rebellious behavior, fashion, and songs that took feminism to a whole new level.
- “Like a Virgin”
- “Papa Don’t Preach”
- “Like a Prayer”
Coming out on his own after the success The Jackson 5 had during the 1970s, Michael Jackson hit his stride with many great hits during his career. While still revered today as one of the greatest musicians of all time, he was known to take risks and test the boundaries on many occasions.
- “Beat It”
- “Billie Jean”
Known for a style that was all his own, this artist, born in Minnesota, was often seen as brilliantly diverse and dazzling on stage. Prince’s songs took him to the tops of many charts with his vocal ability to hit a wide range of musical notes. There is no question why this singer and songwriter was one of the greatest musicians throughout his career.
- “Purple Rain”
- “When Doves Cry”
- “Little Red Corvette”
Other singers and songwriters that had some of the number one songs in the pop music genre during the eighties also worth mentioning are:
- Cyndi Lauper
- George Michael
- Lionel Richie
- Tina Turner
- Whitney Houston
- Billy Joel
- Hall & Oates
While the 1980s were full of many more talented artists, most people agree that these are the most notable within the pop music category. These are the artists that, along with many others, helped to change the music industry forever.
Rock Music of the ’80s
With the era of MTV leading the way, many artists became known for their stage presence and ability to perform for their fans. Not only during concerts but also through their music videos, artists in this category had their fanbase on their feet rocking out to the beat.
Some notable artists within this category are:
- Bruce Springsteen
- Tears for Fears
- Peter Gabriel
- David Bowie
- Phil Collins
- Rick Springfield
- John Mellencamp
Many of these singers and songwriters were known for experimenting with various ways of entertaining crowds. With their synth-pop sounds, styles referred to by Bowie fans as glam rock, Springsteen and Mellencamp bringing in the arena rock fad all took center stage when it came to performing.
Hip-Hop/Rap Music of the ’80s
Hitting the pop culture scene in the mid-1980s, hip-hop and rap music gave the music industry and its fans a taste of inner-city culture with rapping lyrics, beat-boxing, and a whole new way to embrace music.
Some of the hip-hop/rap artists that had the biggest influence in the 1980s were:
- LL Cool J
- Run DMC
- Beastie Boys
- Public Enemy
The genre of music seemed new and innovative and had fans asking for more so much so that MTV gave rap music credence by introducing “Yo! MTV Raps.”
New Wave Music
The stylings of what came to be known as New Wave music was a somewhat all-encompassing genre of musicians that either did not fit into other categories or fit into multiple categories depending on the album and/song. Some of the music in this genre was known to use electronic sounds such as synthesizers, others were more punk rock or provided dance music to fans.
Here are some of the chart-topping favorites in the category:
- The Police
- Culture Club
- Duran Duran
- The Go-Go’s
- The Smiths
- The Cure
- Depeche Mode
- Soft Cell
- The Bangles
Many fans of this genre found the fashion and hairstyles especially intriguing sometimes even to the point of copying them. This music brought the feeling of being outside the box in a way that other genres of music did not provide.
Hair Metal Music
Based on the music known as heavy metal, punk, or classic rock music, this genre group, commonly also referred to as Hair Bands, made their way on the music scene with their loud tunes and sometimes outrageous styles. Many of these bands were known for their big and long hairstyles, makeup, and party scene personas that made them seem more like outlaws.
Hair Metal groups that received the most attention during the 1980s were:
- Guns N’ Roses
- Bon Jovi
- Van Halen
- Def Leppard
While much of the music that came out of this genre was known to be loud and heavy, they also were known from time to time to mix in a ballad or two. Despite their rebellious nature and reputations, they made a huge impact on the music industry during this time period.
Charitable Events by Artist in the 80s
Though the 1980s were filled with transformations and new ways to create music and get the music out to the world, many artists focused their influence on worthy causes. During this decade, there were several events that brought musicians and the world together as one.
After the famine in Ethiopia became top of news stories in the mid-80s, musicians all over the world not only took notice but came together to make a difference. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, who were musicians in Great Britain, pulled together a group of British musicians to sing a song that would benefit the cause.
This group, consisting of some well-known British musicians such as Boy George, George Michael, Bono, and many more, worked together to produce the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” This song, to raise money for the Feed the World campaign, ended up raising more than $24 million dollars.
Following the success of the Band Aid campaign, a concert called Live Aid took place at Wembley Stadium in London on July 13, 1985. Some of the same artists from the previous campaign also performed in this live concert, along with many other musicians.
This 16-hour concert, designed to benefit the victims of famine in Ethiopia raised more than $125 million in proceeds. The concert featured 75 different artists such as Madonna, Elton John, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger.
USA For Africa
Inspired by the British artists who put on events for the cause, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie got together to create USA for Africa. This was an event that also pulled many musicians together for a performance to raise money for those affected by the famine.
“We Are the World” was performed during the “Hands Across America” event on May 25, 1986. This song featuring artists such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, and Tina Turner raised more than $44 million dollars.
This musical charity event was created by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young was performed on September 22, 1985, in an effort to raise money for struggling farmers in the United States.
Musicians featured were of course the creators of the event as well as artists such as Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, and many more. This event was able to raise more than $7 million dollars for U.S. farmers.