Like fashion, music often looks back to the past for inspiration. It’s a matter of when a particular concept or genre becomes stylistic relevant and appropriate again. Electronica-tinged tunes first experienced their heyday in the ’70s and ’80s with synthwave, thanks to synthesisers such as the Minimoog (the first synth instrument being commercially available in stores). Artists including Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran and A-ha ruled the airwaves, clubs and MTV with their energetic catchy blips. Who can resist the iconic bouncy intro of ‘Take On Me’?
Fast forward to the new millennium, specifically now, A-list musicians like Dua Lipa and The Weeknd tapped onto this feel-good sound in Future Nostalgia and After Hours respectively. Interestingly, both artists weren’t born yet when synthwave was riding on a high. But they managed to capture its essence and even make it comprehensible for contemporary times.
Synthwave’s current success is more than relying on its addictive hooks. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation sees cities go in and out of lockdown status often. Entertainment options become limited as clubs and bars stay shut. Hence, these upbeat throwback-influenced tunes provide escapism and relief to listeners. Dancing in isolation isn’t awkward when nobody is watching anyway when the beat drops. In fact, synth-pop queen Charli XCX spawned an entire album (How I’m Feeling Now) made during lockdown in a collaborative process with her fans, proving that shimmery synthesisers do motivate.
It also helps that Lipa sings about “I would have stayed at home, ’cuz I was doing better alone” (in ‘Break My Heart’) and “Don’t show up/don’t come out” (in ‘Don’t Start Now’). Which is rather apt and aligns with governments’ guidelines on being socially responsible while providing a hip idea for the public to preach and express vigilance on social media channels like TikTok.
On the charts, synthwave dominates the top 10 spots for weeks. K-pop band-of-the-moment BTS charmed their way to the peak with positivity via ‘Dynamite’ and ‘Butter’. Other celebrated hits include Doja Cat’s sassy ‘Kiss Me More’ and The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s ‘Stay’. The Weeknd also continues to ride the synthwave with ‘Take My Breath’, a cut from his recently released fifth studio album Dawn FM which sees electronic sounds taking the lead. So why fix something that isn’t broken? Embrace the glitzy glitches instead.