Musicals in the 80s Pop/Rock genre include:
Rock of Ages The Wedding Singer American Psycho
Fame Footloose Bat Out of Hell
Taboo We Will Rock You Cats Jekyll and Hyde
School of Rock Flashdance Song and Dance They're Playing Our Song
Chess Head Over Heels Baby Sing Street
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
The '80s is the only era of music that spans a complete decade: 1980-1989! Typically, when you are auditioning for a musical with '80s music, the breakdown will ask for an "80s Pop/Rock song" or a "Classic Rock song." During this time, the music was big, broad, outrageous, and full of highly dramatic emotions. This era was defined by the AIDS Epidemic and the entire generation of loved ones lost. In the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown, we would be remiss not to acknowledge the parallels in our government’s mishandling of a pandemic. The notable difference is that the inaction during the AIDS crisis was largely rooted in rampant homophobia, racism and Ronald Reagan’s bigotry. We move from the indulgence of the Disco Era to melodramatic, epic emotional expression in the music of the '80s.
Picking a Song
"80s music" is an easy way to describe many, many genres of music, but let's break it down, shall we?
The '80s were made up of Pop, Rock, Yacht Rock, Disco, New Wave, R&B, and New Wave/Punk, so the options of what to sing for '80s musicals are endless! The most important thing creative teams need from you is a song that shows range. When I say range, I mean the whole voice, not just the high notes. Think about artists like Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Taylor Dayne, Toto, and Hall & Oates. These singers bared their whole souls in their voices, not just on the high stuff.
I like to think that '80s musicals can be broken down into a few different subcategories:
Musicals that make fun of the '80s:
Rock of Ages and The Wedding Singer.
Musicals that exist in the '80s and are truthful to the era:
Footloose, Fame, and Flashdance (incredible movies that became musicals!).
Musicals that want an epic '80s sound but don't live in the '80s at all:
Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde, a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals (Cats, Joseph..., School of Rock), We Will Rock You (classic rock), Bat Out of Hell.
Here is an Epic '80s Spotify Playlist! Get your amazing '80s audition cut on Musicnotes!
What musicals do you think your song would be great for you to audition for? A great tip to staying true to the specific style of '80s music is to live in the feeling. This means you should straight tone as much as you can, because your emotion is so huge that you want to live in the ache as long as possible. The music was polished and synthesized, so it was no longer raw. There is no room for riffing or screaming here, even in '80s rock songs!
Rock Your Body!
Simply work your body in such a way that makes it look like you are singing the LIVING DAYLIGHT out of your song even if you are not. You should only be styling it to sound like the ‘80s. Creative teams are looking for effect, not effort. Keep your body language in mind! Watch this compilation video of people dancing in '80s music videos!
Listen to "We Are The World." This is a perfect palette of the dynamic vocal styles of the time. Watch some of the crazy dance moves on Solid Gold.
What would your cheesy '80s video on MTV look like? Are you drawn to “New Wave” pop artists? A “Hair Band” rockers? What does the epic-ness of the literal version of Bonnie Tyler's song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" inspire you to do?
Find Your '80s Rockstar!
How much or how little you act out your song depends on where it falls on the scale of 80s Musicals. Love how EPIC and MELODRAMATIC the music is! Believe and feel these feelings, honestly. Don't make a joke about them; be authentic! THEN it’s funny!
For auditions for '80s Era-specific shows, what if you created an '80s rock video in your bedroom for MTV? Tease your hair, throw on your favorite leg warmers and sing your song crawling on the floor or dancing in front of the mirror into a hairbrush. That's the '80s! Bring that wild/over-the-top attitude into the audition room-- unless you're auditioning for Frank Wildhorn or Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, then just imagine you're Lady Gaga in the spectacle of the Superbowl and tear the house down! Or do your song like it’s the Mega-Mix at the end of Joseph!
MTV, which launched in 1981, became the first television station whose sole purpose was to play rock videos. From that moment on, people could no longer disappear into the indulgence of the music anymore, because all of a sudden, they had millions of people looking to them for epic ‘80s entertainment after growing to expect Disco-Era decadence.
It’s of the utmost importance to remember the main catalyst for the resurgence of Rock music in the 80’s. Bigoted Straight White Men of influence in the Music Industry didn’t have ownership over the Disco like they’d had over popular music in the past, so they manufactured a way to change that. The ‘Disco Sucks’ movement gained traction and culminated in upwards of 50,000 people packing a MLB sponsored arena to detonate an explosion that would destroy all their Disco records in protest. This movement was very blatantly rooted in homophobia, racism (specifically anti-blackness), and debasing Disco as something ‘depraved’ that only the ‘lowliest’, ‘sinful’, ‘immoral’ people enjoyed in order to disparage the marginalized communities that created and benefited from Disco’s popularity. The White Men in power were so uncomfortable with perceived Queerness that they put massive efforts into destroying it, both figuratively and literally.
As the AIDS crisis became more visible, Politicians in both America and the U.K. capitalized on the opportunity to disparage, fear-monger, and persecute Queer Identity and Culture. In tandem with ‘Disco Sucks’, this became grounds for reinforcing “classic (White Supremacist) American values” by using White Male artists like Bruce Springsteen and the rise of ‘blue jean guitar rock’ as a convenient and purposeful departure not only from Disco, but from the ‘inferior’, ‘disease-ridden’ Cultures it represented. This is why we see SO many artists in the 80’s Pop scene subverting Gender Expression while simultaneously repressing any semblance of Queer Identity; being publically Gay in the 80s was a Death wish. For context, in 1987, 75% of Americans thought that same-sex relationships were “Always Wrong”. This is also where we see a number of iconic (eventually publicly) Gay artists like Elton John and George Michael turn to coping through Drug Abuse and ‘self-corrective’ behaviors like marrying Women and assuming Hetero-normative lifestyles in the public eye. This time period is laden with examples of Appropriating the “more palatable” pieces of both Black and Queer culture while villifying what wasn’t valuable to “American Culture”. Like with every instance of Historical Injustice, it’s irresponsible to approach this material without acknowledging the history behind it.
Vocals: Range, Achey, Straight Tone, Powerful, Epic, Expansive
Movement: Strong, In-your-body, Melodrama, Full Commitment
Identify where the Musical you’re auditioning for falls in 80’s subcategories & Pick a song where you can commit to the DRAMA
Let your vocals soar and guide your inner Rockstar OUT!
The colors of the '80s were bold and electric, and people's hair was giant, angular, and asymmetrical, so you need to match that boldness physically by creating dramatic and sharp angles with your body.
Colorful '80s Fashion!
Watch '80s Classes Below