Didi: Oh, nothing, sweetheart. It's something that happened a long time ago and it's never ever coming back, so don't you worry.
The full story of the decline of disco music in the United States is a long and ugly one that had huge ramifications on American pop culture for decades.
In the late 1970s, a genre of dance music emerged in the United States: disco. Mixing funk, soul, Rhythm and Blues, and rock, it rapidly gained popularity, especially after being featured in movies like Saturday Night Fever. However this naturally prompted a huge Hype Backlash, caused by a mix of class differences (the disco culture's high price of entry locking it off from everyone who wasn't an affluent urbanite), distaste from white rock fans and black funk fans (each of whom felt disco was "ruining" their music by mixing it with the other's), and sheer overexposure from too many bands and labels attempting to Follow the Leader at once. This culminated in the disastrous Disco Demolition Night, where a crate full of disco records was blown up at Comiskey Park by the Chicago White Sox in a publicity stunt supported by radio Shock Jock Steve Dahl, who lost his job at his old radio station after it switched to disco. This devolved into a riot, and the beginning of the end for disco.
By 1980, disco had become so unpopular that T-shirts were printed that said "Disco Sucks", musicians who took influence from or influenced disco had to do everything they could to distance themselves from it, and it became a stock punchline across popular culture. This trope is meant to reflect that point in time, referring specifically to moments in media when disco is used as a stock Take That! or Acceptable Target.
May overlap with Disco Dan — a character who's behind the times — if the work mocks them for literally liking disco. Rock is Authentic, Pop is Shallow may also come into play. Compare Rap is Crap for a later backlash against a genre of popular music.
This backlash was so pervasive from The '80s through the mid-90s that the Condemned by History trope was initially called "Deader Than Disco", and stayed that way all the way until early 2021. Since the late 90s onwards, however, this has become a Discredited Trope, as younger generations have grown up with no memory of disco or their parents' hatred of it, and thus look at the genre on its own merits. What's more, historians and scholars have argued that racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia helped fuel the anti-disco backlash, too. A full account of the history of the backlash, the factors behind it, and its reevaluation can be seen on the Analysis page.
- When a kid in an ad for Pringles potato chips asks a question about the world's largest disco ball, he gets "Dude, disco is dead" as the answer.
- Double Back:
Sirius: I... I died?
Harry: Department of Mysteries, five years from now. Bellatrix caught you off guard and you fell through the Veil.
Sirius: I'm... dead?
Harry: Deader than disco.
- The Rod Squad, a Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers Period Fic relocating them into the year 1979, sends the Rangers, now named the Rod Squad, on a case of anti-disco riots. They can just barely keep a group called The Enemies Of All Things Good from staging their own Disco Demolition Night.
- Airplane!: A radio announcer triumphantly proclaims that WZAZ is "where disco lives forever!" just before the plane knocks down its rooftop transmitting antenna. This film came out in 1980, so the joke was extremely timely—the creators note on the DVD commentary that they witnessed this joke being met with applause in theaters.
- Discussed and deconstructed in the HBO documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, which covers much of the unsavory elements (racist/homophobic backlash from primarily white crowds) of the "Disco Demolition Night" rally noted in the Analysis page. One stadium worker noted that many of the albums he saw being brought to the event weren't even disco, but were by Black artists. The titular band themselves saw their post-Saturday Night Fever popularity completely derailed by the backlash, resorting to writing for other artists until they were able to mount a comparative comeback in The '90s.
- DISCO: The reason why Starcrash is resorting to drug-dealing is that disco as a genre is reaching its lowest in popularity, with every other dance-club in town resorting to drugs and filming pornography to get by.
- The Martian: Astronaut Mark Watney thinks this of his commander's music collection, being stranded on Mars with nothing else to listen to. The first thing he says to his commander when they finally reunite is that her choice in music sucks.
Watney: I'm definitely gonna die up here... if I have to listen to any more god-awful disco music.
- In Isaac Asimov's short story "Blind Alley", a man shows what he calls a "galactic fad of three years ago; which means that it is a hopelessly old-fashioned relic this year". As a Hilarious in Hindsight moment, it is basically a high-tech disco ball.
- The Martian sees Mark, desperate for entertainment, being stuck with disco as his only music. When he regains contact with Earth, he begs them to send him new music in their next transmission. Their response is that there isn't enough bandwidth to do so. "Enjoy your boogie fever."
- Stephen King's short story "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band" (included in Nightmares & Dreamscapes) has Clark telling his wife Mary that his father always told him that "great music died the day they dreamed up disco". By the end, however, Mary is wishing that Rock & Roll will die.
- Burn Notice: While interrogating a human trafficker, Sam leaves him tied to a chair in a room with a bag over his head and a boombox blasting EDM. Shortly after, Nate finds one of the other CDs on Sam's docket.
Nate: The Best of Bulgarian Disco?
Sam: I'm saving that one for dinnertime—it'll strip the paint off the walls!
- Castle: When the body of a famed '70s mob boss is found, Castle is excited because "It's a chance to solve the greatest mystery of the disco era... except for the popularity of disco itself."
- Freaks and Geeks: The final episode has the "Freaks" go to a disco just to taunt the dancers, only to be surprised when Nick turns out to be one of them. Nick explains that taking part in disco dancing helped him overcome some issues in his life (like his pot use). When Ken shows up to further harass the dancers, the security guard takes him outside and secretly tells him that the disco is closing due to the genre's waning popularity.
- In one Full House episode Danny is showing off his moves when Jessie walks in on him and jokes "Now I know why disco died!" But Danny confidently responds "It didn't die, it just went into the Witness Protection Program."
- Remote Control: Virtually every question on this game show note that referred to The Bee Gees would invariably mock them for being a disco-only group and that their career was "dead" ... this even though the Gibb brothers continued to record (in their harmony/pop rock style, their most popular style prior to their disco heyday) and were still a very popular touring act at the time this series aired (late 1980s/early 1990s). While the Bee Gees were by far the most popular disco-era act to be mocked on the show, other performers whose most popular songs were from disco era were also similarly ridiculed, regardless of their (then-)current popularity.
- Johnny from WKRP in Cincinnati once gave away tickets to a rock concert for someone who could complete a sentence. The sentence: "Disco is hell".
- During The '70s itself, quite a few novelty singles cashed in on hatred of disco.
- The bluntly-titled song "Disco Sucks" by the Tucson country band Chuck Wagon & the Wheels. The blue-collar Good Ol' Boy protagonist wanders into a disco club out of curiosity and finds himself a Fish out of Water amidst the bright lights, attractive women, and loud, repetitive music, and quickly decides that it's not his speed and that the only good things about it were all ripped off from the honky-tonk, concluding that the entire scene "is big right now, but it's gonna fade away" and that "country music is here to stay!" It ends with a tape of disco music (made up mostly of a chorus of disco backing singers repeating "disco sucks!" over a four-on-the-floor beat while a man audibly, and grossly, leers at women) getting angrily ejected from a cassette player, stomped on, and flushed down a toilet.
- In 1979, the Chicago Shock Jock Steve Dahl, one of the leading promoters of the anti-disco backlash, recorded a parody of Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?", titled "Do You Think I'm Disco?", that hits on many of the points that fueled the backlash. Its protagonist, a Casanova Wannabe named Tony, is an obsessive fanboy of Saturday Night Fever who's only in the scene to get laid, can't even do that right because the women in the scene are all frigid, stuffs a sock down his pants to make his dick look bigger, has a job at the brokerage firm EF Hutton that allows him to afford his lavish lifestyle, and still lives in his car, a foreign Nissan 280Z. The song ends with a Genre Shift from disco to Hard Rock that sees him abandon the lifestyle, sell his white disco suit for $25, trade his Nissan for a 1969 Dodge Dart, and melt his jewelry down into a Led Zeppelin belt buckle. He winds up much happier for it.
- In France, Johnny Hallyday's 1979 song "Le bon temps du Rock & Roll" ("The good old time of Rock & Roll") has "I have an indigestion of Disco" as one of its lyrics. Johnny's own rivalry/animosity with THE French face of disco before 1978, Claude François, didn't really help.
- Apollo 440 had a song called "Disco Sucks" on their album Dude Descending a Staircase. The singer is all dressed up for the club, but the DJ sucks, he can't dance, the ladies aren't interested, it's too cold outside to leave, and the one woman who catches his eye turns out to be a man. And yet, he still loves the actual music and hates himself for it.
- Two tracks on David Bowie's album Lodger, "DJ" and "Boys Keep Swinging", were written as potshots against disco (which Bowie saw as a homogenous gentrification of funk) and the associated subculture (which he felt did more to reinforce harmful gender norms). Of note is that Bowie held no ill will towards the artists themselves, openly praising Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" for its innovation and collaborating with Chic's Nile Rodgers on Let's Dance and Black Tie White Noise.
- "AM Radio" by Everclear is all about nostalgia for the great music of the '70s, especially the experience of growing up listening to it on an AM radio... with one exception that the singer makes clear at the very end, when he says that "I like pop, I like soul, I like rock, but I never liked disco".
- "70's Rock Must Die" by Lard naturally takes a few swipes, though the main focus of the song is that the rock of the era was even worse, because, unlike disco, the general public still had a fondness for it, to the point where the '70s nostalgia of the late '90s was now starting to push all the decade's worst excesses into genres like punk and alternative. (Appropriately enough, the song is done in a very '70s rock style.)
- "Panic" by The Smiths is a rare non-American example. It has Morrissey bemoaning the state of pop music in the UK in The '80s (disco having lasted much longer over there) and castigating disco as irrelevant to his concerns and blaming it for societal malaise, saying that "the music that they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life" while calling on listeners to "burn down the disco" and (in the song's most iconic line) "hang the DJ". Morrissey and Johnny Marr were inspired to write it after hearing a BBC Radio 1 report about the Chernobyl meltdown followed by the song "I'm Your Man" by Wham!, causing Marr to tell Morrissey, "What the fuck has this got to do with people's lives? We hear about Chernobyl, then, seconds later, we're expected to jump around."
- "Rock This Town" by the Stray Cats has a couple of lines about the singer going with a girl to a decent-looking bar, but he quickly changes his mind about staying because the jukebox only plays disco.
- The opening lines of Weezer's "Back to the Shack" see Rivers Cuomo mocking his and his band's forays into poppier sounds on their previous albums, saying that "I thought I'd get a new audience, [but] I forgot that disco sucks."
- Crossing over with Everyone Is Satan in Hell, some fundamentalist Christian groups took their contempt towards the craze by labelling the dance trend under the pejorative backronym Dancing in Satan's Company as a way to condemn the hedonism and materialism disco supposedly glorifies.
- Though it doesn't take place in our world, disco is just as dead in Disco Elysium, and serves as a thematic stand-in for better times long gone, with the history of its rise and fall reflecting both real-life disco and the flashy pop and rap music of the late '90s and '00s. Specifically, disco is remembered as emblematic of "The New", an era of economic prosperity two decades before the start of the game when it seemed that capitalism had triumphed and Conspicuous Consumption was en vogue. A massive recession that discredited the prevailing capitalist consensus took disco down with it, as working-class music fans could no longer afford the expensive lifestyle associated with it, while the hedonism of the leading disco star Guillaume le Million eventually caught up with him. By the time the game takes place, disco is remembered as an embarrassment, and the fact that the protagonist loves disco is considered a sign of his hedonistic self-destruction.
- Ghostbusters: The Video Game has Peter Venkman make such a quip when the Ghostbusters spell out to the mayor how bad things will get if they don't do something about the current paranormal disaster.
Venkman: How would you like disco to come back, bigger than ever?
- Luigi's Mansion 3: The Dance Hall is a disco-themed area filled with ghosts. In other words, they are as dead as disco.
- Maniac Mansion has a poster saying so hanging on the wall in Green Tentacle's room.
- I=MGCM: The title of the standard battle music is "Fxxk Your Disco".
- Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight: Yukari proclaims in the beginning that she shall be the disco queen. You have the option to tell her that disco is dead.
- Plants vs. Zombies: One of the many zombies that invade the player's lawn is a disco dancer dressed in a stereotypical white leisure suit and afro hairstyle — a Stealth Pun referring to the fact that disco is literally dead. Initially, the Dancing Zombie was a look-alike for Michael Jackson in the video of "Thriller", but after Jackson died in real life the appearance was changed on taste grounds.
- In Punch-Out Wii, Doc Louis says "Gonna let you in on something, Mac. Disco's dead, Rock and Roll soothes the soul" during the fight against Disco Kid.
- In his One-Hit Wonderland series, Todd in the Shadows has covered disco and the backlash it faced on multiple occasions.
- His video on "Word Up!" by Cameo has him touching on how the backlash hit all Black music and often turned into a rather ugly display of racism, creating a time period in the early '80s (one that lasted until roughly 1983 when Michael Jackson and Prince got big) when Black artists could not achieve pop crossover hits no matter how successful they were outside the pop arena.
- On the flip side, his video on "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc. emphasizes that disco really was overexposed by mid-1979, and that the record industry deserves most of the blame thanks to how they tried to turn disco into a cash cow.
- In his video on the novelty single "Disco Duck" by Rick Dees (which he called a song so corny that it should've killed disco right there), he admits to having a fascination with disco, less for the actual music than for the culture around it, specifically how its reputation has seesawed over the years.
Todd: For five or six years, [disco] was basically the only music being made, and then it got hit with backlash so hard that all of the sudden it was the worst music ever made, and then after about twenty years of being a total punchline, it flipped back so hard in the other direction that now if you try and say that disco sucks, people look at you funny.
- In The Amazing World of Gumball, there exists "The Void", an Eldritch Location where the universe sends all boring and bad ideas to be forgotten about. While trying to escape after finding Molly inside, the trio panics while hurriedly trying to run across a disco floor. Molly comments that she likes disco, but there's a reason why she was sent there in the first place.
- American Dad! has "The Best Christmas Story Never Told", where Stan gets so upset about Political Correctness during the holiday that he asks the Ghost of Christmas Past to take him back to the 1970s to kill Jane Fonda, believing this action will make the future better. While back in the 1970's, he unintentionally drops a cassette of Disco's Greatest Hits 1974-1980 (which he originally bought from Roger,) which a younger Roger comes across, realizes these haven't happened yet, and takes the credit for himself as the inventor of Disco. When the time comes for his album to finally hit the markets, he's celebrating with a party when he gets a call from his producer Larry, who informs him over the speaker phone that he only sold a handful of copies, and that Disco was dead. Roger killed the genre before it even had a chance to expand to how long it actually lasted in real life.
Larry: Disco's dead. You're broke.
- The Bump in the Night episode "Party Poopers", where Mr. Bumpy is forced to attend the Cute Dolls' tea party when he only wanted them to invite his friend Molly Coddle (which the Cute Dolls eventually agree to, but only if Bumpy also attends the party), Bumpy stresses how much he expects to endure because of his sacrifice by predicting the party to be the most boring social event since the creation of disco.
- In Garfield Gets a Life, Jon attends a club and disco dances. A guy yells at him, "Hey, jerk! Disco is dead!"
Jon: Boy, you learn a dance, and then zango! Fourteen years later, they change it.
Garfield: [glancing at the audience] Go figure.
- G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: The line "Deader than Disco" is used in the third part of the five-part episode "Arise, Serpentor, Arise".
Cobra Commander: As of now, your little project is deader than disco!
- Gravity Falls: Discussed, but ultimately subverted. In "Dipper vs Manliness", Dipper is revealed to love "girly Icelandic pop group Babba", particularly the song "Disco Girl", which his sister and uncle mock him for. When he is tasked with killing the Multibear by the Manotaurs, he ends up bonding with the Multibear over their shared love of Babba, which leads to Dipper defending his love of the disco group.
- The Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi episode "Disco Caper" had the Japanese rock duo time-travel to the 1970's and end up triggering disco falling out of fashion. Apparently, the only reason disco was popular in the first place was because everyone suffered concussions that affected their tastes in music.
- The Loud House: In the episode "Tattler's Tale" when Lincoln mentions that if his dad found out that he destroyed his disco ball he'd be as dead as disco.
- Popeye: In The All-New Popeye Hour episode "Spinach Fever" , Popeye and Olive win a dance contest at a disco over Bluto (the disco's "star" dancer), but their prize is a year's membership there. They both swear off disco after that.
- In the Regular Show episode "Party Re-Pete", Tommy tells Party Zoe "Disco is dead!" before blasting her with a rocket launcher.
- In the Rugrats episode "Garage Sale", Angelica asks her aunt Didi what disco is. Didi just says that disco is never coming back. The episode was made in 1992 when the anti-disco backlash was still strong. A decade later, both in-universe and in real life, the All Grown Up! pilot special would feature Didi and Stu taking part in a disco competition, showing how by that time the genre had become acceptable to like again.
- The Simpsons: The episode "I Married Marge" (a flashback to 1979-80) prominently features Homer's "Disco Sucks" bumper sticker.
- In the 1994 episode "Itchy & Scratchy Land", the signage for Itchy's '70s Disco notes that it opened in 1980. With I&S Land newly-opened, this isn't actually the case but does reflect how quickly the fad faded.
- The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper has one episode where the three ghosts needed around four hundred ghosts. Getting them in was easy, as they just needed to get some stereotypical party goers. Getting them to leave was a bit harder, as they liked the unusual nature of bagpipes, but were scared off as soon as the three uncle ghosts thought disco was in vogue.
- The Teacher's Pet Halloween Episode "Costume Pity Party" hints at this trope when the bully Dutch Calenza, who's implied to be an adult attending school because he's been held back for years, brings up at the end of the episode that he was picked on for going as a disco dancer. Spot responds to this revelation by remarking that Dutch must've been held back a long time, alluding to how disco wasn't in its prime anymore when the episode originally aired.
- Subverted in The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse episode "Keep On Rollin'", where Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck and Goofy try to dance at a disco, but their fun is constantly ruined by Pete, the Beagle Boys and Ursula, who taunt our heroes by constantly stating that "Disco's dead." Eventually, the five gain a resolve and get the villains to leave before they can resume dancing to disco music at the club.