Beyond retro: 80s-obsessed producers are taking Rihanna back in time

Remixers like Initial Talk and Tronicbox are revitalising modern pop hits with a vintage makeover

With its booming synth line, machine drums and cooing chorus, Into You sounds like your average sugary 80s pop hit. Its YouTube video boasts a mulleted female singer, too, and comments from people who remember its release (“This song inspired Madonna’s Like a Virgin intro. She revealed it in an interview to Oprah,” says one; “This brings me back to 83 where I had my first kiss behind the school’s football field,” offers another). This would all be pretty pedestrian stuff for the internet, if it wasn’t for the fact that Into You didn’t come out in the 80s at all, and all of the people commenting know that full well.

Rather, it is a remix crafted to sound like a forgotten hit, and was created by Canadian producer Tronicbox from Ariana Grande’s 2016 hit of the same name. It’s just one of a proliferation of 80s “throwbacks” (fauxbacks?), which includes a remix of Dua Lipa’s New Rules by Japanese producer Initial Talk that was given an official release by the artist at the end of last year (3m Spotify streams and counting).

Besides sounding authentic, these tracks have spawned a host of bizarre fake comments, with YouTubers “recalling” their favourite high-school prom bangers. It’s quite strange, even for a meme. But within the context of oddball online humour, the commodification of nostalgia and years of semi-ironic vaporwave culture that repurposed 80s music and visuals, it’s one that also feels very current. Perhaps, too, people such as those who wrote “RIP Rihanna queen of the 80s!!!” on a Saint-Laurent mix of Calvin Harris’s This Is What You Came For, are also gently ribbing a music industry that used to deal far more in mystery and pedestal-placing than it does now. These days, singers are all instantly stalkable via Instagram, where RiRi herself deals heavily in publicising the vast array of trainers and lipsticks that carry her name.

There is something undeniably comforting about the possibility-filled, postwar past, which now doesn’t feel so much like a foreign country as a different galaxy. “[Listeners] travel to the past virtually with the remixes,” Initial Talk tells me over email from Tokyo. “And so do I. I feel like I’m living in the past when I’m making them. It’s great to see the fake memories, as time travel is one of my main concepts.”

Back on YouTube, it seems that the quality of these sophisticated new arrangements is actually what keeps people coming back – and what keeps the gag going. In fact, many are arguably superior to the originals: take Tronicbox’s version of Justin Bieber’s Baby, which comes complete with Jackson 5-style backing vocals and a lengthy sax solo. It seems, as one astute commenter observed: “Bieber was better in the 80s.”


Hannah J Davies

The GuardianTramp

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