What is it about the 80's that feels nostalgic for a mid-90's kid? Throughout my childhood, I would always get drawn towards the music, movies, fashion, culture, and overall vibe of the 80's. When a show like Stranger Things comes out I get excited beyond reason. Seeing an episode of Black Mirror like "San Junipero", and feeling a sense of nostalgia always ends up with listening to a lot of The Cure, Genesis, Joy Division, and Depeche Mode and rewatching Footloose and the Breakfast Club (in the same night). As a musician, I even decided to box my own personal passion project into a synthy-funky-80's-sadboy package (set to launch on 7/1/23).
Sure, there is a ton of mainstream American culture that became solidified in the 80's. But that could also be true of any decade in contemporary history. So what is it about the 80's in particular?
1. Remnants of technology
For 90's and 00's kids, there are probably a lot of remnants of ages past that made their way into our early childhood. VHS and tape recordings were on the way out, but we got glimpses of them and depending on the year we were born, probably used them a lot in those early years. Just as we were catching the tail-end of those technologies, they were just being invented, marketed, and accepted in the 80's. Being able to experience them just before they became obsolete might contribute to our nostalgia, just like how a very early memory feels so salient despite being so foggy and obscure in our minds.
There is some magic in those old products that folks even gravitate back to these days- opting for real film over digital mediums, like worshipers making offerings to the ruins of a lost age.
2. The influence of our parents and grandparents.
My grandpa threw in a DVD of Ferris Bueller's Day Off when I was about 8, and it became one of the most formative films for my humor and life outlook. My best friend would stay over every other weekend, and we would watch it every single time. Though it wasn't a product of our own time, it became an essential building block in who we were to become.
Similarly, clothes handed down from back in the day became early go-to staples. A blue terry sweater with leather elbow-patches that SCREAMED 80's-family-portrait-taken-inside-the-mall found it's way into my wardrobe in middle school, and then disappeared until college. Upon rediscovery, it was by far my favorite piece of clothing and I wore it until the elbows wore-off.
Lastly, the impact of 80's music exposure early in life leads to an appreciation for modern-day reinventions in synthwave/retrowave music, synth and sub-bass heavy dance tracks, house, and anything with a slappy-snare sound or chorus guitar that makes you feel hopeful, longing, energized, and melancholy all at the same time. Artists prominent in the 80's even made their way into kid's movies in the 90's, like Elton John in Lion King or Phil Collins in Tarzan.
There are reasons upon reasons why the 80's endures in spirit and practice today, but I'm gonna slow my roll now and get back into one of my favorite pastimes: headphones in, listening to some throwbacks and dreaming about taking a jeep down the coast at sunset, in the Summer of 1984.
-Alex Van Valen,