What do Lady Gaga and Bon Iver have in common? Well, um, give me a minute. Okay, they’re both musicians, have released albums in the last month or so, and are both very talented in very different aspects. And both of them apparently enjoy a nice saxophone solo.
The two artists are on completely opposite ends of the genre spectrum; one wears dresses made of meat, rides into the Grammy’s in a giant silicone egg, and writes lyrics that express her views on immigration reform and LGBT issues, while the other records his albums in a converted swimming pool attached to a veterinarians office in Wisconsin, wears plaid button-ups, polo’s and khaki pants, and surprises his fans by popping up on a Kanye West track. But on both of their new albums, one can hear striking similarities in heavy saxophone solos and synthetic keyboard instrumentals that would play nicely on a mixed tape between Phil Collins’ “One More Night” and Madonna’s “Open Your Heart.”
Lady Gaga’s Born This Way features several 80′s inspired tomes; the track titled “Black Jesus + Amen Fashion” calls to mind Madonna’s interpretation of the black saint in “Like a Virgin,” while its instrumentals might encourage a cameo by Paula Abdul’s MC Skat Kat. The single “The Edge of Glory,” features a fantastic saxophone solo by the late Clarence Clemons of the E-Street Band. The video, which you can watch above, is simple by Lady Gaga’s standards, and seems to be inspired by basically every Michael Jackson video made in the 1980′s.
Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore album is considerably more complex than Born This Way. The alt-indie group led by Justin Vernon has touches of 80′s noir, blended with the strong folksy sounds we’re accustomed to hearing from the band. In a surprising mix, Vernon fuses the decidedly 80′s sounds of the keyboard, electric guitar and saxophone with the twang of a country-esque slow jam on the albums closing song “Beth/Rest.” You can watch the official video for Bon Iver’s first single “Calgary” below.
So this is 2011, what’s with the flashback?
1980′s music rode heavily on the revolution of the industry with the premiere MTV; heavily digitized and highly visual, the most successful artists of the era left their mark by making loud statements and challenging the mainstream (See: “Like a Virgin”).
Collectively, the US spent much of the 1980′s recovering from a global recession, conservatives idealized American Exceptualism and President Ronald Reagan, technology was rapidly evolving with the creation of portable devices such as the mobile phones and the Sony Walkman, there was ongoing war in Iraq and the US military bombed Libya.
Pop culture is often at its best when it accurately reflects reality, so it’s no surprise that our music, like our history, is repeating itself. Additionally, many of those who make up pop musics core demographic were born in the 1980′s — like myself — and while obviously well aware of Madonna and Phil Collins, our experience of the decade is limited to second-hand knowledge. This 80′s sound, the political outcry, the visual/metaphorical messages people once saw only when they tuned into MTV are now disseminated rapidly through the internet.
To many engaged listeners this music isn’t a revival, but revolutionary.
* Loren Lynch writes the blog PolitiPop, which she describes as “political pop culture for the bewildered herd.” She’ll occasionally write about American pop culture for AIAC.