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New Wave - Profile of the First Original Genre of the '80s


Duran Duran
Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

New Wave - A Disguise for Chaos:

Oh, what a chaotic time it was in America as the '70s limped to a close. Fuel and hostage crises, Cold War anxiety and recession had combined to give us an uneasy national feeling. And even as punk rock tried to express and interpret this frustration, it was up to the '80s to figure out a way to sell it in a more compartmentalized, less threatening way. So some especially commercially minded folks in the music biz decided to file down punk's rough edges, throw in some Top 40 hooks and glitz, and add a pinch of disco. The result: a commodified, softened version of punk rock far more palatable to the masses. Jackpot!

Despite Artifice, Quality Shines Through:

Though the product of a somewhat inauthentic catalyst, new wave most certainly included a significant amount of quality music during the post-punk era. Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Duran Duran and the Police all fell under the new wave umbrella at some point during the early '80s, but they also stood among a lengthy list of artists able to create independent, pioneering and creative music that has endured the passage of time. Even lesser lights and somewhat passing fads like A Flock of Seagulls were not without charms, helping this pre-fab form not always feel so forced.

MTV - the Beginning of the End:

While the music video age initially proved favorable for new wave acts, the popularity of MTV ultimately led to their demise. Many of these artists were photogenic and therefore thrived, but an emphasis on visuals almost always brings about an immediate outcry for the Next Big Thing. As the makeup- and costume-heavy synth pop began to replace guitar-based new wave, the form began to show a serious shelf life. After all, Spandau Ballet and the Human League could only hold on so long in the face of hair metal's gathering momentum.

Other Key New Wave Artists:

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