Return of the 80’s, disco, house… why does pop recycle itself so much?

The Weeknd, Juliette Armanet and Beyoncé have recently drawn inspiration from decades-old musical movements (80s synths, disco and house, respectively) - Suzanne Cordeiro - AFP / UMG / Larry Busacca - Getty Images North America - AFP

The Weeknd, Juliette Armanet and Beyoncé have recently drawn inspiration from decades-old musical movements (80s synths, disco and house, respectively) – Suzanne Cordeiro – AFP / UMG / Larry Busacca – Getty Images North America – AFP

Summer will be house or it won’t be. This is what Beyoncé announced on June 20, when she unveiled her latest single. This dance music genre popularized in the 1990s is at the heart of the inspirations of Break My Soula title chosen to set the tone of Renaissancehis seventh album available this Friday.

The queen of American pop had been preceded by a few days by Drake, who had unveiled the album Honestly, Nevermind a week earlier. The press and the public worked hand in hand to get the record down – so much so that the singer himself went to the front to defend himself – but also to highlight his surprising house sounds, forgotten for 30 years.

And on closer inspection, the past few years have seen many similar resurgences. On both sides of the Atlantic, the radios first witnessed a strong comeback of the synthesizers of the 1980s (The Weeknd, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, Soprano) before talking about a renaissance of disco ( Kylie Minogue, Juliette Armanet, Clara Luciani). Twenty years after Avril Lavigne, Sum 41 or Blink 182, pop-rock tinged with punk has been brought up to date by the phenomenal successes of Olivia Rodrigo, Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud. And if Queen Bey herself gives in to the trend of musical dearchiving, one wonders if world pop might not be suffering from a certain lack of inspiration.

Not enough to sound the alarm, according to Olivier Julien, lecturer specializing in popular music at the Sorbonne University: « In some respects, the history of popular music has been, at least since the middle of the last century, a recycling story », he recalls for

« In essence, these are ‘industrial’ music, in the sense that they are part of a market economy. For the recording industry, I think it is above all a question of perpetuating formulas which have already made their evidence while updating them according to technological and even societal developments. »

« Fashion is often music from 25 years ago »

Is this re-reading of old musical genres then only a low commercial strategy, the objective of which would be to produce guaranteed hits in a chain? For Victor Le Masne, composer and music producer, these resurgences are above all a natural tendency of art « to feed on itself », in all sectors:

« A new King Kong released in cinemas every thirty years, Steven Spielberg has just produced a new version of West Side Story, Marvel is a hit with films taken from 1940s comics… even in architecture, there was a big resurgence of the 1930s in the 1970s, with the art deco style. It’s the same with music. And I have a feeling that 30-year-old producers are often going to tend to produce sounds that remind them of their childhood. Basically, fashion is often music from 25 years ago. »

This delay seems obvious when the musician lists the examples: the nostalgia of the 50’s right in the heart of the 1970-80s, with films like grease or the soundtracks of Footloose and dirty dancing. In 1992, Vanessa Paradis explored the rock’n’roll of the 1970s for her album entitled Vanessa Paradis, written and produced by Lenny Kravitz. Two years later, Cédric Klapish imposed himself in the cinema with The Young Perilchronicle of a senior year whose plot takes place in 1976…

« The question is what we are going to do with it so as not to fall into repetition, » he continues. « We draw from what already exists, we are inspired by it, but we must not get lost by looking too much in the rear view mirror. My goal, as a producer, is to stay awake in my time, to stay modern. »

Kitsch yesterday, politics today

The work of Victor Le Masne is at the heart of this questioning: he worked with Kavinsky and Gaspard Augé (former half of Justice), two ambassadors of rehabilitation in the 1980s. He is also one of the main architects of the album Burn the fire by Juliette Armanet, with a resolutely disco tone. “It corresponded to a desire for Juliette,” he recalls. « When I was starting to think about the different sounds of this new album I was thinking of the great disco divas like Cher, Diana Ross or Donna Dummer, and I thought that would be a character that would suit her well. »

Beyond nostalgia, perhaps the return of old musical genres also finds its source in certain societal advances. This is the theory put forward by Éric Jean-Jean, musical presenter for RTL and RTL2. The specialist finds it relevant that disco should be given a second life, at a time when the rights of women and the LGBT community are at the heart of public debate:

« We didn’t realize it immediately, but disco was also community music. It was a little decried, but it was important for the gay community, for women, it was a political precursor. When Gloria Gaynor sung I Will Survive, she performs a feminist anthem. I understand that girls like Juliette Armanet or Clara Luciani claim it. »

« Music mixes »

More generally, this encounter between disco and French variety, between rap and pop (Soprano) or even between R&B and house (Beyoncé), is also the symptom of a new way of consuming music. « Today, young people have Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, » he continues. « Instead of going to the record store, and spending their money on the departments they know, they listen to playlists where they hear rap, rock, pop and electro. The younger generations are totally uninhibited in what they listen to, and this is reflected in the productions. The music is mixed, because it has the means to feed on everything. »

For Olivier Julien, from the Sorbonne, the democratization of the sample undoubtedly had its role to play. This technique of borrowing an element from one song to incorporate it into another « has only accentuated the phenomenon, making it more apparent ». Although it appeared in the 1970s, this practice is still more widely used. Break My Soulwhere Beyoncé reworks a title by Robin S., and the hit Break My Heart by Dua Lipa, in which she adapts the famous guitar riff of Need You TonightINXS hit in 1987, are two recent examples.

It remains to be seen where the pioneers of the 2020s are located. “Perhaps there have not been new technological inventions which make it possible to give birth to a new genre of music”, estimates Éric Jean-Jean. « But I’m still fascinated by creativity. Let’s take the example of PNL: they really offer something new by mixing ambient, electro sound from the 1990s, with very rap lyrics. » And to conclude:

« In the end, music is like cooking: it will always be meat, fish and vegetables, but there will always be a genius who will find how to mix them in a way we never imagined. . »

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