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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

'What Made That Decade Special?': The Root Presents: It's Lit! Revisits the Enigmatic '80s With Adrian Loving

The author, artist and historian's latest book, Fade to Grey, is a deep dive into the 1980s' groundbreaking convergence of music, art and androgyny.

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I was born in the mid-’70s, but I am distinctly a child of the ’80s. It is the era in which I came of age, alongside a generation raised largely on John Hughes and “Quiet Storm.” In fact, the oft-forgotten Generation X was in many ways foundational—and groundbreaking. In many ways, we are the bridge between the analog and digital worlds, having witnessed in real time the birth of MTV (which debuted almost 40 years ago to the day); Michael Jackson’s moonwalk on live television (followed by the debut of his then-terrifying Thriller video); the game-changer that was Purple Rain; the horror of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the advent of the personal computer and so much more. Gen Xers were the generation who were made reality TV a thing and hip hop more than a fad—and knew all the words to JJ Fad’s “Supersonic.”

Truth is, I am unapologetically nostalgic about the decade of my childhood and early adolescence, which is why it was such a thrill to encounter Adrian Loving’s Fade to Grey: Androgyny, Style & Art in 80s Dance Music. Originally presented in the form of an art exhibition, the large-format book is more than just coffee table-worthy; it’s a thoughtful analysis of and tribute to one of the most misunderstood yet pivotal eras in history—the 1980s.

Those of us who were there likely recall it to be as much an era of expression as one of excess, and this is the ‘80s Loving explores in, well, loving detail, with help from seasoned voices like veteran journalist Michael A. Gonzales, writer Miles Marshall Lewis, and more. In conversation during this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, Loving explained what led him to such a deep dive of an era all too often mistaken as shallow.

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Adrian Loving
Adrian Loving
Photo: Violetta Manavis

“I’m a crate digger,” he said. “I want to provide and dig into areas that are not the sort of superficial ‘80s skimming off the top—you know, you think about Rubik’s Cube and Reagan and MTV and all these things, but I wanted to go deeper. So I would be doing myself a disservice as a researcher and my contemporaries if I didn’t, like, try to dig up things that had not been talked about or people who didn’t get the shine...And I vetted these ideas through conversations with friends. Sometimes I would say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ Or, ‘Why do women find Prince attractive?’ You know? You know, ‘Let’s talk about this era in club culture.’

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“So a lot of these things came from conversations that eventually formed, you know, a thesis statement,” he continued. “And then, within that thesis statement, I tried to drill down the intersections of gender, race, art, music that were particularly influential during this time period. Like, why was the ‘80s an important time period? What made that decade special? And how were these artists able to sort of utilize all these things to get a message out and be successful?”

“So a lot of a lot of this book is a really sort of a pouring out and a love letter to this time period that I grew up in,” Loving added. “And it’s also a sort of revisionist look at the period...like looking at it through adult eyes versus through kid eyes.”

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Hear more from the reflective Adrian Loving in Episode 45 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Revisiting ‘80s Music, Androgyny and Art with Adrian Loving, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, TuneIn, and Radio Public. There is also a transcript available for this episode.