Pop Life

These Scientists Are Wrong: '80s Pop Music Is Not Boring

Sorry, '80s fanatics, but may be time to surrender your beloved Genesis records. It seems that science has proven pop music from that decade isn't nearly as awesome as you remember it. According to a report on PBS' Newshour last week, an article in the journal of Royal Society Open Science tracked computer scientists in London who recently spent an inordinate amount of time downloading music from the top of the charts, all the way back to 1960. They amassed about 17,000 songs in all, which a computer then scanned to decipher each individual song's harmony and timbre.

Seems like a cumbersome process to ultimately find out that '80s music was boring, eh? Well, there's more. 

After the computer was through scanning all those songs, the researchers charted the data by building a “fossil record" of when certain chords and timbre styles were en vogue or had disappeared from a musical period. What they ultimately found was that the changes made to musical styles over the last five decades have been pretty diverse except for the '80s, which apparently sucked.

Here's how the Newshour explains it:  When these "sounds and styles of the Reagan era flooded the music scene," they ultimately forced out other musical genres like country and folk, causing a super-homogenous time period during the mid-to-late '80s. Ultimately, it became the least diverse (read: boring) period in music over the last 50 years.

But while researchers say those years may have been musical vanilla pudding, they do note that not all of the '80s were the worst. In fact, their study says that one of the landmark years for music came around in 1983, with the adoption of "aggressive, synthesized percussion...and loud, guitar-heavy arena rock with lots of chord changes. These rock bands were joined by New Wave acts...plus a surge of metronomic dance-pop heroes like Madonna and the Pet Shop Boys." 

So, in short, some computer scientists are claiming that the mid-to-late '80s were not awesome like we remember them, but were instead an especially bland time for pop music. And while we don't doubt that those science-loving researchers know their way around piles of data — even sweet music data — we still call shenanigans on this one. Serious, serious shenanigans.

Come on, guys.The mid-to-late '80s were not even a little boring for pop music. They were, in fact, super awesome. And fine, we'll take your word for it that 1983 was a "landmark" year for pop music, but can it really touch the second half of the '80s? Eh, hardly. That latter part of the '80s was when "True Colors" Cyndi Lauper shined her rainbow shine and Wham! whispered "Careless Whispers" into the ears of terribly dressed '80s kids everywhere.

It was a time when Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Huey Lewis and the News, and freakin' Foreigner ruled the airwaves. It was the time when Lisa, Lisa & Cult Jam released the fantastic old-school jam "Head to Toe," and George Michael shamed every pop music predecessor ever with "Faith." But if that's not enough to prove that the research data somehow went haywire (we blame the computer, who has no ears), we have three words for you: Rick freakin' Astley.

Or perhaps we'd be better off citing Billy Ocean, who seduced wannabe Caribbean Queens everywhere during those years. Or we can even cite Cheap Trick, or Debbie Gibson, or dancin' with himself Billy Idol, should that be preferable. There are plenty of Astley replacements. All were badass, and all were mid-to-late '80s. It has also been scientifically proven that one cannot deny the musical validity of "Sledgehammer," even if one is not an autonomous being. That song was also born in the mid-'80s, for the record ('86).

So instead of relying on things like actual facts and data, maybe next time those researchers should just throw on a bunch of '80s songs and have a highly scientific lab dance party instead. When Wham! causes researchers to become dance-maniacs, it'll be all the research they'll need.  

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Angelica Leicht
Contact: Angelica Leicht