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New wave differs from other movements with ties to first-wave punk as it displays characteristics common to pop music, rather than the more "artsy" post-punk. Although it incorporates much of the original punk rock sound and ethos, new wave exhibits greater complexity in both music and lyrics. Common characteristics of new wave music include the use of synthesizers and electronic productions, and a distinctive visual style featured in music videos and fashion.
New wave has been called one of the definitive genres of the 1980s, after it was promoted heavily by MTV (the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" music video was broadcast as the first music video to promote the channel's launch),. The popularity of several new wave artists is often attributed to their exposure on the channel. In the mid-1980s, differences between new wave and other music genres began to blur. New wave has enjoyed resurgences since the 1990s, after a rising "nostalgia" for several new wave-influenced artists. Subsequently, the genre influenced other genres. During the 2000s, a number of acts, such as the Strokes, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and The Killers explored new wave and post-punk influences. These acts were sometimes labeled "new wave of new wave".
Blondie, 1976. L–R: Gary Valentine, Clem Burke, Deborah Harry, Chris Stein and Jimmy Destri.
The catch-all nature of new wave music has been a source of much confusion and controversy. The 1985 discographyWho's New Wave in Music listed artists in over 130 separate categories. The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock calls the term "virtually meaningless", while AllMusic mentions "stylistic diversity".
The New York Dolls arrived and galvanized the entire scene. Real glam trash. Beautiful. They proved it was possible to be trashy and good at the same time. Kicked everyone into action at a desperate moment. They saved us all. At that moment, I was drawing lines into New York and the Velvets, European avant garde and electronic music, previous generation's Brit Psychedelia plus a ragged sort of insulting glam. I guess this was the start of the New Wave. By the way, whoever coined that New Wave byline is my hero. Because a New Wave is precisely what it was – and precisely what was needed at that moment.
In the United States, Sire Records chairman Seymour Stein, believing that the term "punk" would mean poor sales for Sire's acts who had frequently played the club CBGB, launched a "Don't Call It Punk" campaign designed to replace the term with "new wave". As radio consultants in the United States had advised their clients that punk rock was a fad, they settled on the term "new wave". Like the filmmakers of the French new wave movement (after whom the genre was named), its new artists were anti-corporate and experimental (e.g. Ramones and Talking Heads). At first, most U.S. writers exclusively used the term "new wave" for British punk acts. Starting in December 1976, The New York Rocker, which was suspicious of the term "punk", became the first American journal to enthusiastically use the term starting with British acts, later appropriating it to acts associated with the CBGB scene. Part of what attracted Stein and others to new wave was the music’s stripped back style and upbeat tempos, which they viewed as a much needed return to the energetic rush of rock and roll and 1960s rock that had dwindled in the 1970s with the ascendance of overblown progressive rock and stadium spectacles.
Music historian Vernon Joynson claimed that new wave emerged in the UK in late 1976, when many bands began disassociating themselves from punk. Music that followed the anarchic garage band ethos of the Sex Pistols was distinguished as "punk", while music that tended toward experimentation, lyrical complexity or more polished production, came to be categorized as "new wave". In the U.S., the first new wavers were the not-so-punk acts associated with the New York club CBGB (e.g. Talking Heads, Mink DeVille and Blondie).
New wave is much more closely tied to punk and came and went more quickly in the United Kingdom than in the United States. At the time punk began, it was a major phenomenon in the United Kingdom and a minor one in the United States. Thus when new wave acts started getting noticed in America, punk meant little to the mainstream audience and it was common for rock clubs and discos to play British dance mixes and videos between live sets by American guitar acts.
Post-punk music developments in the UK became mainstream and were considered unique cultural events. By the early 1980s, British journalists largely had abandoned the term "new wave" in favor of subgenre terms such as "synthpop". By 1983, the term of choice for the US music industry had become "new music", while to the majority of US fans it was still a "new wave" reacting to album-based rock.
Synonym of synthpop
Bit by bit the last traces of Punk were drained from New Wave, as New Wave went from meaning Talking Heads to meaning the Cars to Squeeze to Duran Duran to, finally, Wham!