How 1980s Nostalgia Ruled the 2000s

Thanks to the 20 Year Rule, the 1980s are coming back in a big way. But 1980s nostalgia was probably never stronger than in the 2000s. Here are three of my own favorite examples.

4 min readFeb 18, 2018

Decades: 1980s - 2000s

(Invada Records)

I’m a rather strong believer in the 20 Year Rule when it comes to pop culture, partially starting this blog because of it. Every trend moves in cycles, obviously. But I find it really peculiar that culturally significant movements reliably pop back into the limelight some twenty years later.

The 1990s, for example, saw a large dose of 1970s nostalgia, with disco music adapted into then modern filter house, kung-fu movies quoted in Wu-Tang songs, or American exploitation movies from the era reframed in Tarantino’s cinematic story books.

“The 1980s” are not necessarily “the 1980s”

Everybody says that 1980s nostalgia never dies, especially with the recent rise of Stephen King inspired tales like Stranger Things or It. However, one important point always seems to be lost in these discussions: there isn’t one definition of the 1980s. Like every other decade, the 1980s can be divided up into many different parts.

Close Encounters, Alien, and especially E.T.: this video shows the strong influence of late 70s/early 80s movies on Stranger Things.

The early 1980s, for example, which are seeing a resurgence now, very much carry that late 1970s vibe. Stephen King isn’t a writer who only produced hits in one certain decade. Many of his classic story conceits are firmly based in his 1970s work, to be sure.

This is why I wouldn't attribute the current popularity of shows like Stranger Things to 1980s nostalgia — but rather to late 1970s nostalgia. Which is, in itself, an echo of the 1990s resurgence that has been dominating the cultural sphere for years. Since we’re at the tail end of the 2010s, it’s only logical that, by way of the 1990s, late 1970s nostalgia is booming. And there we are, back at the 20 Year Rule.

Want more analysis of 80s pop culture? Then check out my other stories:

Why 1980s Nostalgia Is Everlasting

Why So Many Movie Classics Hail from the 1980s

1980s X 2000s: 3 personal examples

Applying the 20 Year Rule to the 1980s, it follows that “real” 1980s nostalgia is, in my view at least, a phenomenon of the 2000s. I myself fell in love with the 80s during the 2000s.

It partly started with a pioneering work by rapper MF Doom, his album “Doomsday”, which came out as early as 1999. With its abundance of samples from often cheesy 80s ballads, Doom would set the tone for a decade obsessed with the 1980s (and, in a way, lay the groundwork for the Vaporwave movement of the 2010s).

Three cultural developments of the 2000s cemented this love for the 1980s in me.

1. Scarface

One of the best (and most quoted) scenes in the movie.

I’m not sure but I think this classic 1982 Al Pacino movie started to receive buzz again after many rappers used quotes and music cues from it in their songs. I remember that episode of MTV Cribs with Silkk the Shocker who has Scarface playing on pretty much every screen in his house.

Soon, Scarface was everywhere — and especially in GTA: Vice City, the GTA 3 spin-off that is still highly regarded to this day.

I do think that the still pending Scarface remake doesn’t really get of the ground partly because of the 20 Year Rule. Simply not enough time has passed since the last Scarface boom in the 2000s.

2. The Angry Nintendo Nerd

Where it all started: AVGN — Season 1.

In the mid 2000s, James Rolfe began his now famous show about an emotional NES fan. This fictional character, then called the The Angry Nintendo Nerd, gets upset about poorly designed games like Back to the Future, which he played for so long when he was a kid.

Around the same time, a similar show about old NES games started in Japan. GameCenter CX has friendly comedian Arino Shinya (of Yoiko) playing classic “NES hard” games. In contrast to the short-tempered Angry Nerd though, Arino stays mostly composed and calmly finishes many ultra hard titles.

3. Kavinsky

Grand Canyon, probably my favorite track by Kavinsky.

It was during the peaceful days of MySpace when this elusive electronic musician stepped on the scene. Or rather: he drove. Because Kavinsky is not a man but a ghost. A kind of undead Michael Knight. He drives through the night, blasting heavy 1980s synth bangers.

In the latter half of the 2000s, Kavinsky and his fellow Parisian friends from Justice rose to fame with a special musical blend: they merged together punk/rock aesthetics and classic French house, overlaying everything with 80s vibes.

I’m also pretty sure that Kavinsky helped a great deal to re-establish the Wayfarer sunglasses as pretty much the default sunglasses worldwide.

Echoes today

After a few years in the MySpace “underground”, Kavinsky would go on to crack the mainstream, with his song Nightcall being prominently used in the opening scene of Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn’s own tribute to the 1980s. Drive, which arrived in 2011, kind of summed up the 2000s’ love of the 1980s in a neat package.

The same is true for Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s 2010 celebration of everything nerdy the 1980s created. Indeed, nerd culture was pretty much born in the 1980s. And never was it more vibrant than now. It’s not a coincidence then, that Steven Spielberg’s movie adaption of Ready Player One will hit theaters this spring. The 20 Year Rule has, as always, come full circle.