Back to the ’80s: How the “Decade of Decadence” Is Winning the Nostalgia Game

Back to the 80s

The recent '80s comeback has included the return of Duran Duran, who are currently on their Future Past tour, which makes a stop in Toronto's Scotiabank Arena on Sept. 19. Photo: MAR1KOFF/Getty Images; Inset: Duran Duran. Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Propelled by swirling synthesizer sounds, Kiwi new wavers Split Enz proclaimed History Never Repeats in their 1981 hit of the same name. But anyone paying attention these days would say they’re wrong, as the ’80s slowly creeps its way back into contemporary pop culture. 

You know it’s more than a blip when Forbes notes that ’80s gear is back on-trend, “with bright geometric patterns, dance-inspired looks, and more of those oversized blazers (with or without shoulder pads).” Supporting their claims: fashion bellwether Rihanna has been photographed wearing slouchy boots.   

Evidence of an ’80s revival is everywhere. Look at how Tom Cruise’s sequel to one of the defining films of the ’80s — Top Gun: Maverick — revitalized a post-pandemic box office last summer.

Revolving around the paranormal goings-on in the fictional town of Hawkins, Ind., in the ’80s, the last season of Stranger Things became Netflix’s second most watched show of all time after Squid Game, and is currently in production on Season 5. Also set smack in the middle of the ’80s is CBC’s Son of a Critch (recently renewed for a third season), which follows the adventures of an adolescent boy growing up in Newfoundland. And this past spring, HBO Max launched its smoking-hot miniseries Love & Death starring Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons as church-going Texas neighbours Candy Montgomery and Allan Gore, whose extramarital affair ended when Gore’s wife was hacked to death with an ax. It’s based on the 1984 book Evidence of  Love by journalists John Bloom and Jim Atkinson, who followed Candy Montgomery’s subsequent trial and acquittal for the murder of Betty Gore. It’s getting Emmy buzz. 

Meanwhile, British pop dandies Duran Duran — who basically owned the 1980s after establishing the high-water mark for music videos with 1982’s Rio — have embarked on their aptly named Future Past tour to support their latest album (including a stop at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena Sept. 19). D2’s big-haired nemesis, rock maulers Def Leppard, are also on the road this summer with their Drastic Symphonies tour.

If that isn’t enough to rekindle those bygone days, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ultimate ’80s Party has you covered. Departing Feb. 29 for seven all-inclusive days, guests can party to the music of 38 Special, Soft Cell, Air Supply, Sheena Easton, Debbie Gibson, Sebastian Bach, The English Beat and Wang Chung, all aboard and performing live. Video from past excursions saw heaps of neon, very big hair, and lots of Desperately Seeking Susan–era Madonna lookalikes having a blast as their hosts, old school MTV VJs, looked on. 

Can Larry Fortensky jokes and Miami Vice reruns be far behind? Perhaps the better question is, what’s the attraction of a decade dominated by Reaganomics and soundtracked by Phil Collins? 

For one thing, we all consumed the same media and watched it at the same time, branding commercial phenomena into our collective consciousness (Who shot JR? Where’s the Beef?). “Watercooler chat” was fuelled by strong opinions on the latest miniseries, whether it was The Thorn Birds, Shōgun or Scruples, and watching blockbusters on the big screen was still a thing. Yes, there were horrors aplenty throughout the 1980s — the advent of HIV/AIDS and its awful toll on the gay community, the nefarious spread of crack cocaine. Not even the amber glow of nostalgia can blunt those savage memories. 

Still, every decade eventually comes back into vogue. It’s just a question of when and how faithfully it will be interpreted by those who lived it and by young’uns operating under the possibly correct, possibly misguided impression that things were simpler back then. Admittedly, there was some bliss in being largely unreachable after leaving the office at the end of the day.