The Strange Magic Of YouTube's '80s Remix Culture Search the phrase "80s version" and you'll find dozens of present-day hits reworked with vintage synths and sax solos. Embedded in them is an emotional lesson on what's missing from the streaming era.
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The Strange Magic Of YouTube's '80s Remix Culture

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The Strange Magic Of YouTube's '80s Remix Culture

The Strange Magic Of YouTube's '80s Remix Culture

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you head to YouTube and search '80s version or '80s remix, you'll find thousands of synth-drenched takes on modern pop and rock songs. That's the phrase Annie Zaleski uses in her piece about this trend for NPR Music. Hi, Annie.

ANNIE ZALESKI, BYLINE: Hi, how are you?

SHAPIRO: I'm good. I want to start right off with an example.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "LANA DEL REY - SUMMERTIME SADNESS (SXADE SYNTHWAVE REMIX) - 80s")

SHAPIRO: What we're about to hear is not part of a Jazzercise mix tape, even though it sounds like it could be.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "LANA DEL REY - SUMMERTIME SADNESS (SXADE SYNTHWAVE REMIX) - 80s")

LANA DEL REY: (Singing) Kiss me hard before you go, summertime sadness.

SHAPIRO: This, of course, is the '80s remix of Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness." She was born in the 1980s, and now let's listen to the original version of the song, which came out in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMERTIME SADNESS")

DEL REY: (Singing) Kiss me hard before you go, summertime sadness.

SHAPIRO: Annie, when did you first notice that everybody was taking these pop songs and remixing them to an '80s track?

ZALESKI: You know, it was a couple years ago. I stumbled upon a remix of a Justin Bieber song that sounded - it really slowed everything down. It didn't really have kind of a modern electronic backdrop. It sounded more like it was a roller rink hit from, like, 1985.

SHAPIRO: Right. That Bieber track was "What Do You Mean?" Let's listen to the original one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN?")

JUSTIN BIEBER: (Singing) What do you mean, oh, when you nod your head yes but you want to say no? What do you mean?

SHAPIRO: And then here's the '80s version.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "80S REMIX: JUSTIN BIEBER - WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S 1985?")

BIEBER: (Singing) What do you mean, oh, when you nod your head yes but you want to say no? What do you mean?

SHAPIRO: Why is this happening?

ZALESKI: I think part of it is just the music is - it's so escapist. I mean, everything - everyone right now I think is feeling a little stressed out by everything that's going on. You think of the '80s. It's like hanging out by the pool, you know, maybe thinking about a first kiss. And it's just very - you know, it's very fun. It's very low stress. And it's like being on vacation all the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "80S REMIX: JUSTIN BIEBER - WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S 1985?")

SHAPIRO: Who are the people doing these remixes?

ZALESKI: So there is - kind of the patient zero is a man named Jerry Shen, who is a Canadian musician and a software developer. And he runs a YouTube channel under the name TRONICBOX, and he has just done - he's done dozens of these.

SHAPIRO: What's your favorite one of them?

ZALESKI: TRONICBOX did a remix of "Somebody That I Used To Know."

SHAPIRO: Oh, by Gotye.

ZALESKI: Yes. It's perfect.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "80S REMIX: SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW BACK IN THE 80S...")

GOTYE: (Singing) Now and then I think of when we were together, like when you said you felt so happy you could die.

SHAPIRO: Listening to a bunch of these makes me think about how interchangeable so much pop music is, even a track like Gotye, which I always thought was kind of innovative and different from other things on the radio. When it gets remixed into an '80s song, it sounds like just another pop song.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "80S REMIX: SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW BACK IN THE 80S...")

ZALESKI: These remixes really do highlight how modern vocal production is very homogenous. What's interesting is that a lot of '80s production is also kind of limited in that sense. I mean, I think instrumentation synthesizers were just becoming popular at that point. So there were only certain synthesizers that were available to people. There's a synthesizer called the DX7 that was kind of primitive, but everyone used it.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "80S REMIX: SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW BACK IN THE 80S...")

SHAPIRO: You talked to some of the most avid '80s remixers. What did you learn from them?

ZALESKI: You know, I learned basically how time intensive they are. I talked to a 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Sweden named Johan Olsson because I discovered a Fall Out Boy remix he did. You know, hearing his process where he found vocalist Patrick Stump's vocals that were isolated, and he built an entirely new musical track around this.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "FALL OUT BOY - SUGAR, WE'RE GOIN DOWN [80S VERSION]")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) We're going down, down in an earlier round. And, sugar, we're going down swinging. I'll be your No. 1 with a bullet.

ZALESKI: He added compositions. He created, you know, a new vibe. And so it was very impressive by just how careful and creative and also just very smart it was. You know, these aren't just kind of silly Internet memes. There's a lot of very earnest creativity that goes into this.

SHAPIRO: Do you have a favorite for us to go out on?

ZALESKI: Oh, man. You know, there's an Ed Sheeran remix of "Shape Of You," and it basically sounds like it's from Minneapolis in the early '80s.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "80S REMIX: ED SHEERAN - SHAPE OF YOU")

ED SHEERAN: (Singing) And I'm thinking, like, girl, you know I want your love. Your love was handmade for somebody like me. Come on, now, follow my lead.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, I could hear Prince doing this.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "80S REMIX: ED SHEERAN - SHAPE OF YOU")

SHEERAN: (Singing) Don't mind me. Say, boy, let's not talk too much.

SHAPIRO: Annie Zaleski, who wrote about '80s remixes on YouTube for NPR Music, thanks so much.

ZALESKI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "80S REMIX: ED SHEERAN - SHAPE OF YOU")

SHEERAN: (Singing) Come on, now, follow my lead. I'm in love with the shape of you. We push and pull like a magnet do. Although my heart is falling too, I'm in love with your body. And last night you were in my room. And now my bed sheets smell like you.

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