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Top Music Artists From The 80s, Ranked

The eighties were a dynamic and transformative era, marked by technological advancements and a cultural shift towards materialism and digital innovation. In this electrifying decade, music evolved into a diverse and expansive medium, reflecting the era's ethos of extravagance and innovation.

Dive into a neon-lit journey back to the 1980s, an era that revolutionized the music landscape with its unforgettable soundtracks and iconic artists. This decade was a melting pot of genres, from the electrifying beats of pop and rock to the groundbreaking rhythms of hip-hop and new wave. Our list of the top 30 music artists from the ’80s celebrates the legends who not only defined a generation but whose influence still echoes in today’s charts.

#30 David Bowie

David Bowie continued his transformative impact on music in the 1980s by experimenting with genres and his androgynous image. Known for his eclectic style and artistic innovation, Bowie’s work in the ’80s remains some of his most influential.

Popular songs include:

  • “Let’s Dance”
  • “Ashes to Ashes”
  • “China Girl”
  • “Modern Love”
  • “Under Pressure” (with Queen)

#29 Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie, initially a member of the Commodores, achieved monumental solo success in the ’80s with his smooth voice and romantic ballads. His ability to write heartfelt and catchy songs made him a standout artist of the decade.

Popular songs include:

  • “Hello”
  • “All Night Long (All Night)”
  • “Endless Love” (with Diana Ross)
  • “Say You, Say Me”
  • “Dancing on the Ceiling”

#28 Janet Jackson

With her dynamic performances and innovative music videos, Janet Jackson emerged as a powerhouse in the ’80s. Her fusion of pop, R&B, and dance elements and socially conscious lyrics earned her a place among the era’s greats.

Popular songs include:

  • “Nasty”
  • “Rhythm Nation”
  • “When I Think of You”
  • “Control”
  • “What Have You Done for Me Lately”

#27 Billy Joel

Billy Joel, known as the “Piano Man,” greatly succeeded in the ’80s with his narrative style and versatile music. His ability to craft songs that resonated with a wide audience secured his legacy as one of the decade’s key artists.

Popular songs include:

  • “Uptown Girl”
  • “We Didn’t Start the Fire”
  • “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”
  • “Tell Her About It”
  • “An Innocent Man”

#26 George Michael

Initially rising to fame as part of the duo Wham!, George Michael established himself as a solo superstar in the ’80s. His soulful voice and sophisticated pop songs won him a legion of fans worldwide.

Popular songs include:

  • “Faith”
  • “Careless Whisper”
  • “Freedom! ’90”
  • “Father Figure”
  • “I Want Your Sex”

#25 Eurythmics

Eurythmics, consisting of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, became one of the defining synth-pop acts of the ’80s. Their innovative sound and Lennox’s striking vocals made them a staple of the decade’s music scene.

Popular songs include:

  • “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
  • “Here Comes the Rain Again”
  • “Would I Lie to You?”
  • “Love Is a Stranger”
  • “There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)”

#24 INXS

INXS, an Australian rock band, captivated the ’80s with their blend of rock, new wave, and funk. Frontman Michael Hutchence’s charismatic presence and the band’s catchy songs propelled them to international fame.

Popular songs include:

  • “Need You Tonight”
  • “New Sensation”
  • “Devil Inside”
  • “Never Tear Us Apart”
  • “What You Need”

#23 The Human League

The Human League were pioneers of synth-pop, their electronic sound and catchy melodies defining much of the ’80s music landscape. Their innovative use of synthesizers and relatable lyrics made them a major influence in the genre.

Popular songs include:

  • “Don’t You Want Me”
  • “Human”
  • “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”
  • “Love Action (I Believe in Love)”
  • “The Lebanon”

#22 Culture Club

Culture Club, fronted by the charismatic Boy George, became a symbol of the ’80s with their eclectic music and vibrant image. Their fusion of pop, soul, and reggae elements, combined with Boy George’s unique voice, made them stand out.

Popular songs include:

  • “Karma Chameleon”
  • “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”
  • “Time (Clock of the Heart)”
  • “Church of the Poison Mind”
  • “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”

#21 The Bangles

The Bangles, an all-female rock band, gained fame in the ’80s with their jangly guitars and harmonious vocals. Their catchy pop-rock songs and energetic performances made them one of the era’s memorable bands.

Popular songs include:

  • “Walk Like an Egyptian”
  • “Manic Monday”
  • “Eternal Flame”
  • “Hazy Shade of Winter”
  • “If She Knew What She Wants”

#20 Van Halen

Van Halen, formed in 1974, was a powerhouse of hard rock that became emblematic of the 1980s music scene. With Eddie Van Halen’s revolutionary guitar playing and the band’s catchy, high-energy tracks, they captured the essence of an era. Their popularity soared through their ability to blend technical mastery with mainstream appeal.

Popular songs include:

  • “Jump”
  • “Panama”
  • “Hot for Teacher”
  • “Runnin’ with the Devil”
  • “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”

#19 Tina Turner

Tina Turner, known as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” staged an extraordinary comeback in the 1980s, her gritty, powerful voice and unstoppable energy leading the charge. Overcoming personal and professional adversity, Turner’s resurgence was marked by a string of hits that blended rock with soulful pop, making her an emblem of empowerment and resilience.

Popular songs include:

  • “What’s Love Got to Do with It”
  • “Private Dancer”
  • “The Best”
  • “I Don’t Wanna Lose You”
  • “Better Be Good to Me”

#18 Def Leppard

Def Leppard, hailing from Sheffield, England, was at the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Their polished sound, characterized by melodic hooks and harmonious vocals, set them apart in the 1980s. They achieved global fame with their blend of hard rock and glam metal, marked by groundbreaking multi-layered music and visually engaging videos.

Popular songs include:

  • “Pour Some Sugar on Me”
  • “Love Bites”
  • “Hysteria”
  • “Armageddon It”
  • “Rocket”

#17 Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses burst onto the music scene in the late ’80s with their raw energy, gritty lyrics, and a blend of hard rock, heavy metal, and blues. Their debut album, “Appetite for Destruction,” became a defining work of the era, showcasing the band’s rebellious spirit and musical prowess.

Popular songs include:

  • “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
  • “Welcome to the Jungle”
  • “Paradise City”
  • “Patience”
  • “November Rain”

#16 Phil Collins

Phil Collins, initially known as the drummer and then frontman for Genesis, emerged as a solo superstar in the ’80s. His distinctive voice, emotional delivery, and fusion of pop, rock, and R&B elements made his work immensely popular. Collins’ ability to craft relatable songs with memorable hooks solidified his status as a musical icon.

Popular songs include:

“In the Air Tonight”
“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”
“One More Night”
“Sussudio”
“Another Day in Paradise”

#15 The Cure

The Cure, formed in 1978, emerged as pioneers of the post-punk and new wave movements, captivating audiences with their gloomy and introspective music. Their unique sound, characterized by haunting lyrics and distinctive guitar work, resonated deeply with fans, making them alternative rock icons.

Popular songs include:

  • “Just Like Heaven”
  • “Lovesong”
  • “Friday I’m in Love”
  • “Boys Don’t Cry”
  • “Close to Me”

#14 Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi, hailing from New Jersey, became one of the biggest rock bands of the 1980s with their blend of hard rock and pop melodies. Their anthemic songs, charismatic performances, and relatable lyrics about life and love catapulted them to global fame.

Popular songs include:

  • “Livin’ on a Prayer”
  • “Wanted Dead or Alive”
  • “You Give Love a Bad Name”
  • “It’s My Life”
  • “Bad Medicine”

#13 Run-D.M.C.

Run-D.M.C., a pioneering hip-hop group from Queens, New York, broke barriers in the ’80s by merging rap with rock, broadening hip-hop’s appeal. Going down as one of the greatest rap artists of all time, their raw energy and innovative music, along with their iconic style, played a crucial role in bringing hip-hop to a mainstream audience.

Popular songs include:

  • “It’s Tricky”
  • “Walk This Way”
  • “My Adidas”
  • “King of Rock”
  • “Peter Piper”

#12 Metallica

Metallica, formed in 1981, revolutionized the heavy metal genre with their fast tempos, aggressive musicianship, and deep lyrical themes. Their relentless touring and groundbreaking albums made them one of the most influential and enduring bands of the ’80s metal scene.

Popular songs include:

  • “Enter Sandman”
  • “Master of Puppets”
  • “One”
  • “Fade to Black”
  • “Seek & Destroy”

#11 The Smiths

The Smiths, an English rock band formed in 1982, stood out in the ’80s music scene with their jangly guitar sound and Morrissey’s poetic lyrics. Their music, which tackled complex emotional and social themes, made them a seminal band in the indie music scene.

Popular songs include:

  • “This Charming Man”
  • “How Soon Is Now?”
  • “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”
  • “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side”
  • “Bigmouth Strikes Again”

#10 Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper burst onto the scene in the early ’80s with her colorful image and powerful voice, symbolising individuality and empowerment. Her pop anthems, with their catchy melodies and inclusive messages, earned her a place as a pop icon.

Popular songs include:

  • “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”
  • “Time After Time”
  • “True Colors”
  • “She Bop”
  • “All Through the Night”

#9 Duran Duran

Duran Duran became one of the leading bands in the ’80s with their stylish music videos and a mix of new wave and synth-pop. Their glamorous image and catchy hooks made them MTV darlings and brought them international success.

Popular songs include:

  • “Hungry Like the Wolf”
  • “Rio”
  • “Save a Prayer”
  • “A View to a Kill”
  • “The Reflex”

#8 Dire Straits

Dire Straits, known for their distinctive blend of rock, blues, and country, gained fame in the ’80s for their technical proficiency and Mark Knopfler’s storytelling lyrics. Their clean guitar sounds and memorable melodies stood out from the decade.

Popular songs include:

  • “Sultans of Swing”
  • “Money for Nothing”
  • “Brothers in Arms”
  • “Walk of Life”
  • “Romeo and Juliet”

#7 The Police

The Police, blending rock, reggae, and jazz, dominated the early ’80s with their infectious hits and Sting’s distinctive voice. Their innovative sound and dynamic performances made them one of the era’s most influential bands.

Popular songs include:

  • “Every Breath You Take”
  • “Roxanne”
  • “Message in a Bottle”
  • “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”
  • “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”

#6 Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen, nicknamed “The Boss,” captured the essence of American life with his storytelling and energetic music. His albums in the ’80s, filled with anthems of hope and struggle, solidified his status as a rock legend.

Popular songs include:

  • “Born in the U.S.A.”
  • “Dancing in the Dark”
  • “Glory Days”
  • “I’m on Fire”
  • “Atlantic City”

#5 U2

U2 rose from Irish roots to become global rock superstars, known for their soaring melodies, Bono’s passionate vocals, and The Edge’s echoing guitar. Their politically charged music in the ’80s resonated with audiences worldwide.

Popular songs include:

  • “With or Without You”
  • “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
  • “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
  • “Where the Streets Have No Name”
  • “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

#4 Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston, with her unparalleled vocal talent and magnetic stage presence, became one of the most iconic figures of the 1980s music scene. Her powerful voice, coupled with her emotive delivery, resonated deeply with audiences worldwide, propelling her to superstardom. Houston’s ability to effortlessly blend pop, R&B, and soul genres made her a chart-topping sensation.

Popular songs include:

  • “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”
  • “Saving All My Love for You”
  • “How Will I Know”
  • “Greatest Love of All”
  • “I Will Always Love You”

#3 Prince

Prince, the enigmatic musical genius, captivated audiences in the 1980s with his eclectic blend of funk, rock, pop, and R&B. His boundary-pushing style, flamboyant persona, and electrifying performances made him an icon of the era. Prince’s prolific songwriting and unmatched musicianship cemented his legacy as one of the greatest artists ever.

Popular songs include:

  • “Purple Rain”
  • “When Doves Cry”
  • “Kiss”
  • “Let’s Go Crazy”
  • “Little Red Corvette”

#2 Madonna

Madonna, the quintessential pop diva of the 1980s, redefined the music industry with her provocative lyrics, daring fashion choices, and unapologetic attitude. Her ability to constantly reinvent herself and push the boundaries of creativity made her an enduring cultural icon. Madonna’s chart-topping hits and iconic music videos solidified her status as the “Queen of Pop.”

Popular songs include:

  • “Like a Virgin”
  • “Material Girl”
  • “Papa Don’t Preach”
  • “Like a Prayer”
  • “Crazy for You”

#1 Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, the undisputed “King of Pop,” dominated the 1980s music scene with his unparalleled talent, electrifying performances, and groundbreaking music videos. His innovative fusion of pop, R&B, and dance, coupled with his signature moonwalk, captivated audiences worldwide. Jackson’s chart-topping hits and record-breaking albums made him one of the most influential artists in music history.

Popular songs include:

  • “Thriller”
  • “Billie Jean”
  • “Beat It”
  • “Man in the Mirror”
  • “Smooth Criminal”

Continue the journey through the decades

Who was the biggest star of the 80s?

The biggest star of the 80s is widely considered to be Michael Jackson. His groundbreaking albums, such as “Thriller” and “Bad,” along with his mesmerizing performances and iconic music videos, solidified his status as the “King of Pop” and made him a global phenomenon.

Why is 80s music so iconic?

80s music is iconic for several reasons. It was a decade of musical innovation and experimentation, with artists pushing the boundaries of genres like pop, rock, hip-hop, and electronic music. The era also saw the rise of MTV, which revolutionized the way music was consumed and promoted. Additionally, 80s music is characterized by its catchy hooks, synthesizer-driven melodies, and memorable lyrics, which continue to resonate with audiences today.

What music genre was popular in the 1980s?

Several music genres were popular in the 1980s, including pop, rock, new wave, hip-hop, heavy metal, and synth-pop. Each genre had its own unique sound and style, contributing to the diverse musical landscape of the decade.

What was the biggest hit of the 80s?

One of the biggest hits of the 80s is “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. Released in 1983 as part of his album “Thriller,” “Billie Jean” topped charts worldwide, won numerous awards, and became one of the best-selling singles of all time.

How did music affect culture in the 1980s?

Music played a significant role in shaping culture in the 1980s. It served as a form of expression for social and political issues, reflecting the attitudes and concerns of the time. Music videos, popularized by MTV, became a dominant form of entertainment and influenced fashion, dance, and visual arts. Additionally, the rise of genres like hip-hop and new wave provided a platform for marginalized voices and sparked cultural movements.

Who was the best female pop star from the 80s?

The best female pop star from the 80s is often considered to be Madonna. With her provocative image, catchy pop anthems, and groundbreaking music videos, Madonna became a cultural icon and one of the most influential artists of the decade. Her impact on music, fashion, and popular culture continues to be felt to this day.

Emily, a writer and retro music enthusiast at Upbeat Geek, delves into the history of music and pop culture, spotlighting legendary artists and trends. A fixture at festivals and concerts, she brings the latest in music lore to the forefront. Emily’s love for music research is matched by her enjoyment of leisurely Sunday walks with her dog, Lee, reflecting her areas of writing: music and pop culture.

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