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Synth Pop Profile



Synth pop emerged during the early-'80s, as much a variation of new wave as a subgenre of that form. After all, almost all new wave utilized guitar considerably, where synth pop often pushed that traditional rock and roll instrument completely out of the picture. Still, both styles placed quite a premium on visual imagery, lush pop melodies and the smoothing away of punk rock's rough edges. Early practitioners of synth pop, such as Gary Numan, Human League and Devo focused on the mechanization of modern society in either image or sound. This differed highly from the power pop fixation of much new wave.

Duran Duran Takes Synth Pop Mainstream:

Of course, the dark and sometimes satirical nature of the form changed forever when Duran Duran broke through with a flourish in 1983. Using a much more eclectic, hybrid approach to the form than its originators, the freshly anointed Fab Five employed dance beats and prominent guitar to make the most of catchy and accessible hooks. Unfortunately, the fallout from the band's success resulted in some pretty disposable music, released by more than a few ultimately forgettable few-hit wonders like Kajagoogoo and Naked Eyes. Imitators continued to clog the pop charts even as they diluted synth pop.

Continuing Influence on Commercial Pop:

Although synth pop as a distinct genre probably didn't make it past 1985, the prominence of its namesake instrument would exert an impact on much of the charting pop music of the rest of the decade. Even better, its heavy keyboard focus helped reveal some signature songwriting talents in acts like Howard Jones, the Eurythmics and ABC. Artists like these recognized the need to diversify and injected heavy doses of R&B, soul and singer-songwriter aesthetic into their sophisticated pop offerings. Lesser-known synth pop bands like Talk Talk and Heaven 17 actually fared better by embracing originality over imitation.

Other Key Synth Pop Artists:

  • Depeche Mode
  • Thomas Dolby
  • New Order
  • Soft Cell
  • The Buggles
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  • Ultravox
  • Alphaville
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