Music, TV, and Film of the 1980s


Throughout the 1980s, many pop icons took over the Billboard charts including Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, and Whitney Houston. One of the biggest stars was Michael Jackson. In 1983, he released the album Thriller, with hits such as "Thriller", "Billie Jean", and "Beat It". Jackson won eight Grammys for the album and by 1984 was extremely famous across the nation. A great accomplishment he made was that he was "the first artist of the decade to have two songs in the [Billboard] Top 5" (Pop-Music Stars, History Resource Center). Along with his great music, Michael Jackson was known for signature dance moves. His moonwalk, a unique move of Jackson's, was considered to be fantastic.

"Thriller" music video by Michael Jackson:

The album cover for "Thriller" by Michael Jackson.
The album cover for "Thriller" by Michael Jackson.

Another great singer of the 1980s was Madonna. Her very first album, Madonna, was released in 1983, the same year Michael Jackson released Thriller. What made Madonna so revolutionary was her ability to make comments about issues including "virginity, abortion, out-of-wedlock births, and materialism" (Madonna Revolutionizes Popular Fashion, History Resource Center). Madonna's hits in the 80s include "Holiday", "Lucky Star", "Borderline", "Like A Virgin", "Material Girl", "Papa Don't Preach", "Like a Prayer", and "Express Yourself".
Madonna's first album, "Madonna".
Madonna's first album, "Madonna".

"Like a Virgin".
"Like a Virgin".

Many other artists gained great fame during this time period including Lionel Richie and Whitney Houston. Richie was both a songwriter and singer, composing hits such as "Endless Love". Whitney Houston was known as a diva because she had such a strong voice. Another revolutionary performer and singer was Prince. His "overt sexuality" (find quote) was seen in his music videos and heard in his lyrics.

Self titled album by Whitney Houston.
Self titled album by Whitney Houston.

^if possible, find more on these artists.


TVs in the home: In the 1980s, having a television was becoming a staple for everyday life. Originally, there were only 3 networks broadcasted that covered all the topics the people needed: CBS, ABC, and NBC. Cable TV became extremely dominant and ended the rule of the 3 main networks. Movies, music videos, sports, and various talk shows aired. One explosive channel that was created in the 80s was MTV and is still now in existence.

MTV: MTV, or Music Television, began its reign in the 1980s. The channel went on air for the first time in 1982 premiering the music video "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. MTV became extremely popular for teenagers and was a way for artists to expose their music to the American public. In response to artist's videos being played, more records were purchased. However, MTV began to evolve into a channel with more than just music videos. It essentially became an area for all culture to come together ranging from fashion to a source for news.

Famous TV Shows: Many well-known shows were created in the 80s. "The Cosby Show", airing in 1984, follows a family named the Huxtables through their life journeys. "Cheers" is a famous show set in a Boston bar where friends gather to share each others experiences. It premiered in 1982 along with "Fame". "Fame" follows a group of teenagers who want to get careers in the performing arts and shares each story from each character.


Famous Movies:
In the eighties, many famous movies that we still praise today were created. (Click the links after each film to read the full summary)
  • E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): E.T., directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg, is a story about an alien who is left behind on earth. He befriends a young boy named Elliot. Elliot helps E.T. find ways to get back home to a planet millions of light years away. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial recieved 4 Oscars for sound effects, visual effects, music, and overall best sound. E.T. Movie Summary
  • The Breakfast Club (1985): Another extremely popular movie directed and written by John Hughes was "The Breakfast Club". In this film, various students share their stories and feelings when meeting in detention. This movie was well-praised by fans and is today known as a classic. The Breakfast Club full summary
  • Back to the Future (1985): This famous film tells the story of a teen who accidentally gets sent back in time. Once back in time, the main character named Marty prevents his parents from meeting and must get them back together and get back to the future. "Back to the Future" won 1 Oscar for the best effects. Back to the Future full summary
  • The Terminator (1984): A "cyborg" is sent to earth to kill a woman named Sarah Connor because she will be a very important person in the future. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays 'The Terminator', the cyborg on a mission to kill Sarah. This film won 3 awards from the Academy of Science Fiction including best Make Up, Best Science Fiction Film, and Best Writing. The Terminator full summary


Fun Facts about the 1980s: Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married in the 80s.
In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor became the very first woman to be part of the Supreme Court.
A spaceship called the Voyager 2 took pictures of Saturn and Neptune.
Michael Jordan scored the most points in a basketball game in 1987 and 1988.
In 1989, there was a horrible oil spill that killed many sea creatures near Alaska.
In 1981 both President Reagan and Pope John Paul II were shot.


"Fox: The Fourth Network (1980s)." American Decades CD-ROM. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

"Media in the 1980s: Overview." DISCovering U.S. History. Gale Research, 1997. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

"MTV and Its Influence in the 1980s." DISCovering U.S. History. Gale Research, 1997. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

"Pop-Music Stars (1980s)." American Decades CD-ROM. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

Movies and TV Shows:

IMDB (an Amazon company). E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

IMDB (an Amazon company). The Breakfast Club.

IMDB (an Amazon company). The Terminator.

IMDB (an Amazon company). Back to the Future.

IMDB (an Amazon company). The Cosby Show.

IMDB (an Amazon company). Cheers.

IMDB (an Amazon company). Fame.

Madonna discography:
Fun Facts: