Are you ready to travel back in time to the ’80s and explore the fascinating world of synth-pop? This genre, named after the electronic musical instrument that played a vital role in its creation, is an exciting blend of new wave electronic music and punk elements.
Let’s start by defining synth-pop. Synth-pop is a subgenre of electronic music that emerged in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It relies heavily on the synthesizer, an electronic musical instrument that resembles a traditional organ keyboard.
The synthesizer creates sounds by generating electrical signals that are then converted into sound waves. The instrument’s versatility and ability to create a wide range of sounds made it a popular choice for musicians exploring new musical styles.
Early days of synth-pop
The rise of punk music in the ’70s also played a significant role in the emergence of synth-pop. As punk music began to fade, many artists were looking for new ways to express themselves creatively. The synthesizer offered a fresh and exciting new sound that captured the attention of many musicians.
Synth-pop gained mainstream success in the ’80s, thanks to artists like Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, and Human League. These artists helped define the genre and establish its distinctive sound.
Synth-pop is known for its concise and catchy songs that were perfect for radio play and MTV airtime.
The genre’s popularity continued to grow throughout the ’80s, but by the end of the decade, it began to lose some of its momentum. Many musicians started to experiment with other electronic dance genres, merging synth-pop with Detroit techno and Chicago house, among others.
Despite the genre’s brief slump in the ’90s, synth-pop continued to thrive in underground scenes and resurfaced in the 2010s with a new wave of artists adopting the genre. Bands like the Killers and the Postal Service brought new energy and popularity to synth-pop, while artists like Lady Gaga and Calvin Harris continued to evolve the genre and push its boundaries.
But what makes synth-pop unique, and how did it become such a beloved and enduring genre? Let’s take a closer look at the history of synth-pop and the artists who shaped its sound.
Although there’s no specific starting point for synth-pop, many consider Tubeway Army’s “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” to be one of the genre’s defining moments. Released in 1979, the song features a distinctive synth sound and helped establish Gary Numan as a leading figure in the genre. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” reached the top of the charts in the UK, and its success helped pave the way for other artists to explore the possibilities of the synthesizer.
Around the same time, post-punk band Joy Division was also experimenting with synthesizers, incorporating the instrument into their sound and paving the way for New Order, the band that emerged after Joy Division’s dissolution. New Order embraced the synthesizer as a core element of their music, helping to further establish the genre and influence future artists.
Emergence and rise of synth-pop
By the early ’80s, synth-pop had established itself as a unique and exciting genre with a growing following. Thomas Dolby, Duran Duran, and Alphaville were among the artists who helped define the sound of the era, blending electronic instrumentation with pop sensibilities to create catchy and danceable tunes.
One of the genre’s defining moments came with A Flock of Seagulls’ 1982 hit “I Ran (So Far Away),” which became a massive hit on MTV and helped introduce synth-pop to a wider audience. The song’s infectious hook and distinctive synth sound helped solidify the genre’s popularity and laid the groundwork for future synth-pop artists.
One of the most iconic and influential synth-pop bands of the early 1980s was Depeche Mode. Hailing from Basildon, Essex, England, the band formed in 1980 and quickly gained a following with their unique blend of dark, moody lyrics and catchy, danceable synth-pop melodies.
Depeche Mode’s music often explored themes of love, sex, and death, and their songs were infused with a sense of melancholy and longing that resonated with fans around the world. Hits like “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “People Are People,” and “Enjoy the Silence” remain staples of the synth-pop genre to this day.
Another hugely influential synth-pop band from the 1980s was New Order. Formed in Manchester, England, in 1980 by members of the post-punk band Joy Division, New Order fused electronic dance beats with catchy pop hooks to create a sound that was both innovative and accessible. Hits like “Blue Monday,” “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and “True Faith” helped define the sound of synth-pop in the 1980s and influenced countless musicians in the decades that followed.
Other notable synth-pop bands of the 1980s include Pet Shop Boys, OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), Yazoo (also known as Yaz in the US), and The Human League. These bands helped establish synth-pop as a major force in popular music, and their influence can still be heard in the music of contemporary artists like The Weeknd, CHVRCHES, and Billie Eilish.
While the popularity of synth-pop waned somewhat in the 1990s and 2000s, the genre has seen a resurgence in recent years.
In the 2010s, artists like La Roux, Robyn, and Grimes brought synth-pop back into the mainstream, with hits like “Bulletproof,” “Dancing On My Own,” and “Genesis” earning critical acclaim and commercial success.
Today, synth-pop continues to evolve and thrive as a genre. Artists like Dua Lipa, The 1975, and Years & Years are incorporating electronic beats and synthesizers into their music, while still staying true to the catchy pop hooks and emotional lyrics that have always been a hallmark of the genre.
In conclusion, synth-pop is a genre of music that has had a lasting impact on popular music since its inception in the late 1970s.
Through the use of electronic instruments and innovative production techniques, synth-pop has created a sound that is both futuristic and nostalgic, and has given rise to some of the most iconic and influential bands of the past four decades.
While the genre has gone through periods of popularity and decline, synth-pop remains a vibrant and vital part of the musical landscape, and its influence can be heard in the music of countless artists across a wide range of genres.