Career Lessons from 80s Pop Music

madonnaAuthor: Rachel Weingarten
Source: The Ladders

When you think of ’80s music, your mind probably veers between poofed up hair bands and outrageously made-up, spandex-clad UK crooners — but there was so much more going on beneath the surface.

Dig a little deeper into the 1980s Top 10 lists and you’ll find politically tinged protest music by way of The Clash, U2, and Peter Gabriel; female empowerment anthems disguised as pop ditties by the likes of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper (Google the meaning of She Bop), and even reinvented comeback kids like Tina Turner and Diana Ross.

Since music adds the backdrop to most of our lives, here are some career lessons and takeaways from what is often unfairly dismissed as a musical wasteland.

In no particular order:

You can come back from the brink

A few weeks back I was fortunate enough to attend Billy Joel’s 100th performance at Madison Square Garden. The Piano Man and his band were in rare form and the 20,000+ high-energy crowd was loving every moment. At one point, Joel introduced his special guest Bruce Springsteen. Joel explained that the two had once shared a record label and that both had such poor sales they were each in danger of losing their contracts. Need I fill you in on what actually happened? Let’s just fast forward to nearly four decades later when Springsteen is sold out on Broadway and Joel just broke world records for the most performances by an artist at MSG.

’80s career lesson learned: Almost failing isn’t failing. Keep doing your best work consistently and better than the rest and it’s entirely possible you’ll end up the company hotshot.

Be who you are

In the early 1980s, Boy George and Culture Club regularly topped the charts. They were known as much for their music, as for lead singer George’s artfully applied makeup and somewhat outlandish hair and costumes. In the years in-between, George faded in and out of the limelight with stints on Broadway, and the requisite pop star drug addiction, scandals, and run-ins with the law. But he hasn’t faded away. If you scroll through your social media stream these days, you’ll likely find George sending his fans birthday love, or posting images about his work on The Voice in the UK and Australia. The makeup and big hats are still around, but like George, they’ve evolved and become part of his public persona.

’80s career lesson learned: If it’s strong enough, your personal brand can stand the test of time. Keep doing both the things that set you apart and make you a rock star in the office. And don’t worry if some of what you’re known for might seem a bit outrageous to others. Depending on your workplace, what was once seen as being out there might be totally acceptable and help you stand out.

You’re in control

In the 1980s, you’d have been forgiven for thinking of Janet Jackson as simply being the adorable youngest Jackson sibling, almost invisible in the shadow of older brother Michael and the rest of the Jackson Five. But after striking out on her own, Jackson ultimately did something previously unheard of. She shed her good girl image and collaborated with powerhouse producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and blew people away with her new sound that incorporated R&B, funk, and the thrumming dance beats she became best known for. All this while dancing in perfect formation back when Beyoncé was still a toddler. By the time the 1990s rolled around, Jackson was one of the highest paid performers in the industry.

’80s career lesson learned: You’re more than your family connections. A lot of us are born with familiar last names that connect us to various companies or institutions. A lot of us aren’t. The thing is though, that having the right name or connection doesn’t mean much if you lack the talent or determination to build a career instead of simply banking on your last name.

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