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Genres & Styles

The array of '80s musical styles may be exhaustive, but the ones most closely tied to the era include new wave, college rock, synth pop, hair metal and early hip-hop. Explore the original styles introduced during the decade as well as the unique spin '80s artists gave to existing genres.

'80s Music Genres - A Capsule View
Here's a capsule view of some of the most important and prominent genres of '80s music, an era full of surprises, twists and turns.

Arena Rock - Profile of Mainstream '80s Genre Arena Rock
Without arena rock, '80s music would have been a far different creature, and despite common attitudes to the contrary, probably not for the better. Despite its commercial nature, the '80s blend of progressive rock, radio-friendly pop/rock with huge hooks, and hard rock became a deserved staple of the decade's musical menu.

Top 10 Arena Rock Artists of the '80s
Because the genre occupied such a significant space within the fabric of '80s music, arena rock artists tend to pop up quickly in a discussion of the era's pop music offerings. Here's a look at some of the best.

Worthy But Underrated Arena Rock Songs of the '80s
Arena rock enjoyed its moment in the sun for as many as six years stretching from the late '70s through the early '80s, which is a pretty good run indeed for one of rock's most maligned genres. Here's a look at some songs in the genre that don't always receive their due.

New Wave, the Decade's First Original Genre
No matter how hard we try, decades don't have clean cut-off points between them that usher certain styles into one era or the other. Therefore, much of the music made in the '70s, '60s and even the '50s found itself still kicking in some form or another as the '80s began. Nonetheless, perhaps new wave's blend of punk, power pop, mainstream rock and disco constituted the first fresh genre to emerge in the Reagan Era. Skinny ties and all, this form announced the beginning of something new.

Top 10 New Wave Artists of the '80s
When people consider the variety of music genres that peaked during the '80s, new wave often comes up as one of the first topics of discussion. Once a term used somewhat interchangeably with punk rock, new wave eventually expanded to include almost any quirky pop/rock of the era.

Post-Punk - Profile of the Vital, Challenging '80s Music Genre of Post
In simplest terms, post-punk music is rock music of the late '70s and early '80s that put an innovative spin on the often simplistic punk rock that preceded it. However, artists of this movement generally lean far closer toward the avant garde than the mainstream pop favored in related genres like new wave and even much college rock.

Synth Pop Profile
As a unique and distinct subgenre of new wave, synth pop was quite a force in mainstream and underground pop music during the first half of the '80s. It helped standardize the use of synthesizers across genres as well, among its several influences on pop music moving forward.

New Romantic Genre Profile
New Romanticism served as a highly significant subgenre during the early '80s, capturing the admiration and fashion sense of many mainstream music fans during that era.

Soft Rock Profile
The golden age of soft rock came during the mid to late '70s, when the singer-songwriter movement and the propensity of country-rock and folk-rock blends combined to forge a gentle pop/rock sound popular among mainstream music fans. However, this trend also extended successfully into the first few years of the '80s.

Top 10 Soft Rock/Adult Contemporary Artists of the '80s
The soft rock and adult contemporary genres had plenty of room to accommodate '80s stars, many of whom saw an opportunity to maximize commercial appeal by trying many different styles. Here's a randomly ordered look at some of the decade's most successful artists of this ilk.

College Rock: Alternative When Alternative Wasn’t… Commercial
College rock is a blanket term used to refer to early alternative music of the '80s that found its radio home on college stations with an eclectic, independent philosophy. Though much of the music was inspired by punk rock, only a fraction of it sounded much like that aggressive, revolutionary format.

Top Melodic Pop Songs from '80s College Rock Artists
If the mainstream pop charts during the '80s had paid a bit more attention to the activity from artists deemed college rock, post-punk or alternative acts, they might have boasted a few more eventual classics instead of quite so many calculated hits.

Jangle Pop - Profile of '80s Underground Genre Jangle Pop
As one of many subgenres of post-punk and college rock, jangle pop was distinguished by its retro focus on Beatles-inspired guitar pop and its further development of such music.

Power Pop Genre Profile
Though not considered a major genre of '80s music, power pop certainly played a role in some of the era's most memorable new wave and college rock sounds.

Hair Metal
This hard rock subgenre originated in the '80s and became emblematic of the decade, a hedonistic celebration of partytime USA. Though the music started in the underground, it quickly embraced the mainstream, buffing the grit of heavy metal to a slick sheen.

Top 10 Hair Metal/Pop Metal Songs of the '80s
Contrary to popular belief, the prominent '80s genre labeled hair metal, pop metal or glam metal (depending on who was doing the classifying) contained far more than merely power ballads. Here's a look at some of finest rockers from this genre.

Profile of the Power Ballad, an Essential '80s Music Form
One of the most recognizable song forms of the '80s, the bombastic power ballad has built a powerful legacy over the years. Though far less common following its peak in the late '80s, the form has never quite faded away, remaining a significant hybrid form combining hard rock and commercial pop music.

Roots Rock - Profile of '80s Genre Roots Rock
A number of musicians and music lovers agreed that by the mid-'80s, a great deal of rock and roll's roots in country, blues and R&B had been lost amidst the slick, modern sounds of new wave, pop metal and other pop styles that seemed too modern for their own good. Such traditionalists found a distinctive if small niche in roots rock.

Heartland Rock Profile
Heartland rock has exerted its influence on subsequent decades and certainly drew from previous rock and country styles, but it hit its peak during the '80s as a viable mainstream form.

Top 10 Heartland Rock Songs of the '80s
Heartland rock drew from all stages of rock and roll that preceded it, also employing elements of country, folk and pop along the way. Here are some of the genre's finest songs.

Profile of Smooth Soul/R&B Genre Quiet Storm
Although born technically during the mid-'70s, the smooth, pop-inflected R&B style known as Quiet Storm (after a Smokey Robinson recording of that period) actually experienced much of its popularity during the early '80s. In fact, African-American soul music tended toward this romantic, slow-tempo direction well into the middle of the decade,...

Late-'80s Folk Singer-Songwriter Revival Profile
Before the modest late-'80s revival of folk-influenced singer-songwriters became a factor on the pop music landscape, that introspective, personal and relatively quiet style had been a bit dormant. Overshadowed previously by flashier prevailing genres like new wave, arena rock and hair metal, folk-inspired artists leapt into fashion during this period.

Paisley Underground Genre Profile
Often associated with jangle pop, another underground American music genre that celebrated guitar pop tradition, Paisley Underground artists generally favored '60s-era West Coast psychedelia.

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