Yo, can we stop with the 80’s throwback? It was really cute at first, a sort of Sparknotes nostalgia for those of us who only remember the 80s as a blur of NKOTB videos our sister made us watch while growing up, but now it’s officially out of hand. When Russia threatened Poland with nukes last week for allowing the US to place a Patriot missile battery on Polish soil, shit got a li’l too real.
I suppose the 80s throwback has its seeds in the election of G.W. in 2000. Who knew at the time, though, that a second Bush administration would usher in a resurgence of New Wave, a resurrection of neon clothing, the frightening establishment of Max Headroom as a style icon and the geopolitical conditions for another nuclear standoff?
You know post-modernism has run afoul as a legitimate tool for cultural criticism when the prefix “Post” starts referring to itself. When bands like The Rapture, Interpol and Franz Ferdinand broke on to the scene in the early naughts it was clear that Joy Division had become a relevant musical influence. It was only a matter of time before college kids started rediscovering Ziggy Stardust, Roxy Music and The Talking Heads.
Sure enough, Glam came back. Jeans got tight again and I swear I heard the word “Girbaud” bandied about sincerely. Fortunately, the post-punk revival revitalized the pop music scene, pushing aside bubble gum pop for the top spot on the charts. When I heard The Killers on the gym PA in 2004, I knew something was in the air tonight. Yeah, that’s right, Phil Collins is coming back too, bitches. Get your Air Drum game up.
Wake up, Mr. West
When The College Dropout showed up on February 10, 2004, the game changed. Not immediately, but with the arrival of Kanye in the mainstream hip-hop would undergo a revolution that would transform pop culture and bring the 80s back in a way that we all saw coming.
Whether or not rap had been dead by 2004 is an argument better fit for more insightful music critics, but without a doubt Kanye West spit fire through wires to breathe new life into the genre. ‘Ye’s nostalgic invocation of late ’70s rap, when the genre to many purists mattered most, opened the door for a new dominant paradigm. Violence – out. Rote posturing – out. Thug life – out. Now was the time of the introspective MC who acknowledged, “We’re all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” You’re right, ‘Ye, you was, and with your proclamation came a new golden age of hip-hop where the conscious troubadors, most popularly represented by Common and Talib-Kweli, were able to break into the pop charts and remind us all why hip-hop still mattered.
With the fun back in hip-hop, with the emphasis back on the genre’s dance roots, we, as consumers, got a more party vibe for our Saturday night soundtrack. The Cool Kids showed up. There was Spank Rock. Chromeo beefed up A-Ha and made us all dance to synth riffs akin to a Lionel Richie / Falco collaboration.
And with the music came the style. High tops. Tank tops. Neon sunglasses. Big frames. Big hair. Big earrings. “Big Ups” to Brooklyn.
And with the style came the economics.
Crack is Back
It wasn’t only lip service G.W. was giving the memory of Ronald Reagan. The economic policies of the Bush administration cut taxes, increased spending on another war in Iraq and neglected urban America. The economy tanked and the trickle down disaster of the 1980s repeated itself. Granted, the situation is far more complex than I’m implying but crime’s been down for a while and the time’s ripe for an upswing in violence.
And that is where this whole 80s nostalgia needs to end. When Bloc Party released Silent Alarm and the Fader called it, “dance music for the fallout,” it was hip and romantic. But now that America has eroded any and all goodwill it amassed after the first Gulf War, the NATO intervention in Kosovo, and the targeted response in Afghanistan, we’re on the brink of a new new world order where the U.S.’ unipolar stremf can’t hold everyone in line. China and Russia are once again frighteningly legitimate threats and we’re turning to free markets to save us from stagflation. With Russian nukes pointed toward Poland, we’re on the door step of another proxy war, the last one of which sent US weapons into Afghanistan and on September 11th, 2001, we all found out how that worked out.
If history is cyclical like Edward Gibbon prophesied then there’s nothing we can do to deter the momentum of our times. All we can do is wait for more harbingers of the impending Cold War: a new version of Coke, the resurgence of Michael Jackson and another installment of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. It’s the 80s, baby, and if shit don’t change, we’re all donezo.