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Senior Year

Senior Year, 1981: Avant-Garde Goes Mainstream

by Rachel Devitt

Senior Year, 1981: Avant-Garde Goes Mainstream

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The avant-garde and the mainstream have a long and storied history of trying to pretend they are so distinct, so disparate, so distant from each other, they practically live on different planets. But we all know the arty hipsters and the socially acclimated types (your cheerleaders, your homecoming kings, your screaming pop fans) have often had a lot more in common than they'd like to admit.

This kind of blurring of social worlds was exactly the situation we had going on in the early '80s. While the pop charts had their fair share of prom queens and quarterback types in '81, they was also beginning to brim over with glammy post-disco punks like Blondie and Grace Jones, synth-pop drama queens like Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode, moody brooders like The Cure and Kate Bush, electro-hipsters like Kraftwerk and Tom Tom Club, and just all-around weirdos like Laurie Anderson and Devo.

OK, so Laurie wasn't exactly perched at the top of the charts. But she and her artsy ilk were more in the public consciousness than they had been for a while, thanks to growing interests in Officially Cool genres like New Wave, dance punk and music weird enough to speak to '80s kids' sense of alienation -- but bouncy enough to keep them dancing. The mesh went both ways, too: Straight-up pop acts like The Go Go's and Duran Duran frequently inflected their more conventionally mainstream dance pop with bits of hipster-approved angst, a trend that would only continue to grow as the '80s progressed.

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