Style vs. Substance in the 1980s





Oh, the 80’s…The 80’s were one of those decades, musically speaking, that people either roll their eyes over or get really excited about. Being a “child of the 80’s” is like a badge of honor to my generation. But the baby boomers are quite honestly horrified that the 80’s ever happened. So controversial! It’s comical to me. But the controversy makes it a fantastic decade to explore musically. I think the 80’s are arguably where we saw the strongest shift in the idea of style being more important that substance. To be clear, there were absolutely phenomenal musicians as well, but we start to see spectacle held at a higher level of respect.




Take David Bowie, for example. I first encountered Bowie in the famed movie “Labyrinth.” Which I hated, but that’s neither here nor there. David Bowie was made famous by his showmanship and spectacle through songs like, “Fame” and “Space Oddity”….and odd he was. Underneath his bizarre look was actual talent and creativity. But he wasn’t relying on tone alone to be an artist. I honestly don’t prefer his music overall but I definitely respect his approach. He is a prime example of this shift I was talking about. He USED creativity and progressive artistry to hook in an audience, but he was a gifted musician and singer as well. The shift is in gear now, and over the next few decades we will see the progression of artistry as a SUBSTITUTE for quality, play out of the precedent laid here in the ‘80s.




Now don’t hate me but I’m going to throw in 3 iconic artists together here…Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. These people, in their own style, did the same thing Bowie did. Quality strung throughout, but seriously ground breaking artistry like we’ve never seen. Like it or not, “Like a Virgin” blew everyone’s mind because it was so dangerous. Yet the melody, hook, and chord progressions ring superior to a trained ear, over the tulle and pearls, the stone washed denim and sacrilegious music video. I can’t even begin to open up the song “Smooth Criminal” or “Purple Rain” but I will say this, love them or hate them…I bet you respect them.




Why? -Because their creativity was a support to their musical brilliance and interesting, yet quality vocal tones.




Like I said, the 80’s were full of crazies. This bold and dynamic forging into musical creativity really opened the door for future artists to carry on. But it was dangerous because so many have just taken to the quirky within and focused their efforts entirely on spectacle, or Style over Substance.




…Y’all ready for the 90’s?