The 80s is here to stay and I am loving it!

Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Everyone has heard the evergreen Rick Astley’s 80s hit, which is so famous that it has its own tongue-in-cheek meme!

Rick Astley songs were hits in Singapore during the 80s
Image source: Youtube / Official Rick Astley

I would argue that just like the song, the 80s never really left. But now, the punktastic period is hitting pop culture with a vengeance. From the music to fashion, it looks like it is here to stay. The Weeknd’s dance hit Blinding Lights takes us back to the synth pop era of the 80s. Dua Lipa’s hit Physical was built around a sample of the 1981 Olivia Newton-John single of the same name.

Eighties references are all over fashion shows as well, from Giorgio Armani to Louis Vuitton. For a recent ad campaign, Louis Vuitton mimicked the covers of 80s horror paperbacks. Even shoe manufacturing giants Adidas and Nike have released classics that are worth more than their current drops. From Air Jordans created for basketball legend Michael Jordan to Adidas Superstars made popular by 80s hip-hop group RUN DMC who “walked this way” by wearing them without any laces.

Especially in films and TV, an entire new generation of viewers have got to enjoy an 80s renaissance. During the circuit breaker, we have binged on Netflix shows like Glow, Narcos, Fuller House and Stranger Things, all of which transported us back to the 80s, as if we were in a DeLorean time machine with Doc Brown and Marty McFly.

Throwback to the 80s, not just in Singapore
Image source: Shutterstock / Erin Cadigan

Last year, we got to watch the ode to 80s pop culture, Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg, who is himself an 80s icon. Similarly, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok borrowed heavily from 80s pop culture. For the DC fans, I am sure everyone is excited about Wonder Woman 1984, with its trailer set to the remix of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’.

Most may argue that pop culture fads will come and go. But not the 80s. It has been making appearances now and then but never really went away. I guess Daft Punk would say that it ‘Got Lucky’.

Locally, pubs like Nineteen80 and Pinball Wizard have paid homage to the Singapore of the 80s. These bars, like many other clubs and entertainment outlets, are awaiting the go-ahead to re-open in Phase 3.

Long chiam pass!

But it’s not just the pop culture of the 80s that has helped define me. I will always remember the kampung that I grew up with.

Older kids used to coast down the slopes in the carpark on their roller skates and skateboards in Singapore during the 80s
Image source: Shutterstock / Golubovy

I grew up in Holland Village, before it became the hip enclave it is now. Back then, there were four rental blocks at Holland Close surrounded by a huge, often empty carpark. Older kids used to coast down the slopes in the carpark on their roller skates and skateboards.

I lived on the tenth storey in Block 1. The corridor leading to my flat was dimly lit by flickering fluorescent lights, yet it was seldom scary. Because most times, it was lit by lights coming from our homes. Doors were rarely closed. As long as there was someone at home, doors were open. As a child, I will come home after school to play with the neighbours’ kids. We were a band of brothers. From playing ‘Catching’ to ‘Police & Thief’ and ‘Hantam Bola’, growing up was simple and fun!

There was a canal that ran from our neighbourhood through Ulu Pandan. Weekends were an expedition to these longkangs. Of course, the band of brothers told our parents we were going to the playground. We were the Mötley Crüe of Block 1. With plastic bottles collected through the week, we would climb into the longkangs to catch guppies. The trip down to the drains was the best. Since there were no stairs, we would make makeshift ropes with discarded bedsheets and lower each other down into the canal. At times, we felt like we were the A-Team, complete with theme song.

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Oh ah peh ah som!

80s kids remember the bottle caps that were Singapore collectible
Image source: Shutterstock / emka74

Weekends also meant going to Aunty Sum’s, which was on the second storey of our block. Aunty Sum sold sng bao (ice pops) and soft drinks like Green Spot, Miranda, Kickapoo and my personal favourite, Sinalco, in small glass bottles. It was the best thing after a hot and humid day out. I remember collecting the coloured bottle caps. Best thing was Aunty Sum had a big heart. She would sometimes give us extra sng bao or drinks when we didn’t have enough coins. Back then, it was 10 cents for two ice pops!

We also had a Malay neighbour who was a home baker. Kakak made awesome curry puffs which her son would sell around the block. I still remember how he would walk from floor to floor with a carton box filled with hot piping curry puffs, calling out “Epok Epoooook”.

Back then, we didn’t have much cash, but we could buy many things that kept us happy. We didn’t have a world-class transport system, but our journeys were far and beyond. It’s the small things we were grateful for.

Remember Singapore's Mat Yo Yo from the 80s
Image source: meWATCH

I remember going to my neighbour’s flat to watch classic Chinese dramas such as Journey to the West. Everyone enjoyed the adventures of Yoyo and Yaya in Aksi Mat Yoyo. Although we could not understand what they were saying, we certainly enjoyed the songs and dances. During Deepavali, my friends would come over to eat the crispy murukkus my mum made. Everyone played together and hung out together, regardless of race or religion. We were different in our beliefs and culture but always together in a community.

Nowadays, we live in more comfortable surroundings and enjoy modern amenities but we don’t know much about our neighbours. The corridors are well-lit but our doors remain closed. Our children go to childcare and tuition but we don’t trust them to learn about the rough and tumble of life by themselves.

There is enough for some to fear that the kampung spirit is “dead”. As much as I appreciate the past, I know that moving forward is a good thing.

Just like we have reinvented and reintroduced the best parts of the 80s fashion and pop culture into our lives now, we should leave the bad behind (begone shoulder pads and RIP VHS).

Similarly, I believe that the kampung spirit isn’t dead, we have simply reinvented it, into online communities and ground-up movements.

As we move past the circuit breaker and into Phase 2 and beyond, let’s not forget the cohesiveness and unity that have brought us this far.

The 80s were an explosion of creativity and a celebration of the individual, like no other decade we’ve had before or after. It was a magical decade for me. It was one kind of an era. Let’s never let it fade away.

80s – I am Never Gonna Give You Up!

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