New Music (music industry)

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Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, one of the figures most associated with New Music, in the mid-1980s

New Music was an umbrella term used by the music industry and by music journalists in the United States during the 1980s to describe music acts who had come to commercial success in the United States through the cable music channel MTV. It was a pop music and cultural phenomenon in the United States associated with the Second British Invasion.[1][2]


Many New Music acts were danceable, had an androgynous look, emphasized the synthesizer and drum machines, wrote about the darker side of romance, and were British. New Music acts rediscovered rockabilly, Motown, ska, reggae and merged it with African rhythms to produce what was described as a "fertile, stylistic cross-pollination".[1] The term "New Music" was also used to describe new wave acts such as Elvis Costello and the Pretenders,[3] and American MTV stars such as Michael Jackson.[2] Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote at the time that New Music was more about its practitioners than their sound. Teenage girls and males that had grown tired of traditional "phallic" guitar driven rock embraced New Music.[3] New Music was a singles oriented (both 7 inch and the then new 12 inch) phenomenon, reverting the 1970s rock music album orientation.[4]


During 1976 and 1977, there was a punk rock music explosion in the United Kingdom. In its wake, the new wave and post-punk genres emerged, informed by a desire for experimentation, creativity and forward movement. As the 1980s began, a number of these musicians desired to broaden these movements to reach a more mainstream audience. Out of this desire came a technologically oriented music that sweetened its less commercial and experimental aspects with a pop coating. In 1980, the New Music Seminar made its debut. It was designed to help young new wave artists gain entrance into the American music industry. The event grew rapidly in popularity and encouraged the shift away from the use of "new wave" to "New Music" in the United States.[5]

A similar shift occurred in Great Britain where "new wave" was replaced with "New Romantic" and "new pop".[6] Unlike in Great Britain, attempts prior to 1982 to bring new wave and the music video to American audiences had brought mixed results. During 1982, New Music acts began to appear on the charts in the United States, and clubs there that played them were packed.[1]

In reaction to New Music, album-oriented rock radio stations doubled the amount of new acts they played and the format "Hot Hits" emerged.[1][3] By 1983, in a year when half of the new artists came out of New Music,[7] acts such as Duran Duran, Culture Club and Men at Work were dominating the charts and creating an alternate music and cultural mainstream.[1] Annie Lennox and Boy George were the two figures most associated with New Music.[2][3]

"I hated the phrase 'new wave'. It sounded too trendy and could be gone in a year"

—Dennis McNamara, program director who oversaw Long Island, New York radio station WLIR's 1982 change to a New Music format.[8]

Criticism and decline[edit]

Criticism of New Music emerged from both supporters of traditional rock and newer experimental rock. These critics looked at New Music as pro corporate at expense of rock music's anti-authoritarian tradition. Critics believed New Music's embrace of synths and videos were ways of covering in many cases lack of talent. The heavy metal magazine Hit Parader regularly used the homophobic slur "faggot" to describe New Music musicians. The 1985 Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing", which hit number 1 in the United States, contained the line "The little faggot with the earring and the make-up" and used the term "faggot" several other times. The lyrics were taken verbatim from the language of a New York appliance store worker whom lead singer Mark Knopfler had observed watching MTV. Assistant professor/author/musician Theo Cateforis stated these are examples of homophobia used in the defense of "real rock" against new music.[9][10][3]

Richard Blade, a disc jockey at Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM, speaking of the late 1980s said, "You felt there was a winding-down of music. Thomas Dolby's album had bombed, Duran had gone through a series of breakups, The Smiths had broken up, Spandau Ballet had gone away, and people were just shaking their heads going, 'What happened to all this new music?' ".[11] Theo Cateforis contends that the New Music evolved into modern rock that while different, retained New Music's uptempo feel and still came from the rock disco/club scene.[12]


  • Cateforis, Theo. Are We Not New Wave Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s. The University of Michigan Press, 2011. ISBN=0-472-03470-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rimmer, Dave. Like Punk Never Happened: Culture Club and the New Pop. Faber and Faber, 2011, ISBN 978-0571280261.


See also[edit]