A music and fashion scene which became popular with young people in England in the late 1970s and early 1980s, New Romanticism was all about taking the style and ethos of Punk Rock one step further. Flamboyance and androgyny were the order of the day as New Romantic club-goers sought to recapture the original excitement and vibrancy of the early punk scene, which some fans believed had grown stagnant and too political after the breakup of the Sex Pistols.
The New Romantic was mainly associated with then-popular New Wave Music. While everyone was influenced by punk, many performers who fit the New Romantic label were also influenced heavily by Disco, Soul, Funk, Synth-Pop and the simple music and extravagant image of early seventies glam rockers like Mott the Hoople and David Bowie, as well as the art rock exemplified by Roxy Music and Bowie's hugely popular Berlin Trilogy. Furthermore, while many punks shunned new technology and recording techniques, New Romantic bands were almost certain to have a keyboard players and often experimented with what could be done on synths. The first band to be described as New Romantics in the music press was Spandau Ballet, whose high energy synth-funk tune "To Cut A Long Story Short" was also the first New Romantic song to become a significant hit when it reached number five in the UK charts. Expensive concept videos soon became the thing most people remember about a lot of these groups and allowed them to export their sound to America through the new MTV channel.
The main site of the New Romantic scene was the Blitz club in London, where club owner and doorman Steve Strange ruled with an iron fist. He became noted for refusing entry to any potential patron he believed was not dressed extravagantly enough to suit his standards. Boy George worked here as a cloakroom attendant before he joined Culture Club, although he was eventually sacked by Strange for stealing from patrons.
The movement had mostly gone out of style in 1985, by which point many of the original groups had split up or distanced themselves from the New Romantic label, turning to Synthpop. Live Aid turned out to be the movement's peak, after which everyone seemed to burn out; Culture Club broke up, Spandau Ballet released a mediocre AOR album, Duran Duran went on hiatus for a year before putting out a string of polarizing records, and Ultravox went into an on-again, off-again period of activity with a constantly-changing lineup and a cavalcade of records that neither fans nor critics liked. After 1986, music fans were more interested in the likes of Prince, Wham! and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. While there was a brief revival in the form of the "Romo" scene, with some groups like Mansun becoming successful, the chances of a serious revival remain highly remote.
Bands active in the New Romantic scene included:
- Adam and the Ants: Probably closer to glam punk, but their look and their style matched the scene.
- A Flock of Seagulls
- Culture Club
- Dead or Alive
- Duran Duran: The most successful group associated with the scene, although they were probably the first to disassociate themselves from it. More rock than the average band associated with the movement. Their cinematic music videos (many of which were directed by Russell Mulcahy) are some of the most famous released in the pre-Thriller era.
- Fiction Factory
- Spandau Ballet: Famous for wearing kilts, they were the first band to be described as New Romantic and the first such group to have a big hit single. Later traded their costumes for sharp suits and started performing soul music.
- Ultravox: During the Midge Ure era; during the period with John Foxx on vocals and Stevie Shears and Robin Simon on guitar, they were more of an aggressive Punk Rock/New Wave band that happened to use synthesizers.
- Visage: A band formed by the aforementioned Steven Strange with Blitz club co-owner and DJ Rusty Egan and Midge Ure of Ultravox.
Bands associated with the scene, but not really New Romantics themselves:
- David Bowie: His number one single "Ashes To Ashes" was a New Romantic club anthem, and his seventies work (especially Ziggy Stardust and the Berlin Trilogy) was a significant influence on many of the bands mentioned on this page.
- Depeche Mode
- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
- Roxy Music
- Soft Cell
- Village People: Tried and failed to transition from a disco group to a new romantic group with Renaissance.
- Ambiguous Gender: For some people, this was the whole point of the flamboyant costumes.
- Anything That Moves: Not really the case, but some members didn't do much to dissuade the notion.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: All over the place.
- '80s Hair
- Flanderisation: The entire scene ended up stereotyped as "ugly pop stars", which prompted the rise of simpler groups like the Undertones and especially The Smiths (who called themselves the Smiths as a reaction to the more over-the-top New Romantic band names).
- A Good Name for a Rock Band: Bands took their names from a variety of unusual sources. Duran Duran, for example, took theirs from Professor Durand Durand from Barbarella.
- Second British Invasion: New Romantic videos were some of the first to be shown on MTV. When they turned out to be popular, the "Second British Invasion" was the result. Duran Duran eventually came out on top of it.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: An important selling point for the movement, emphasized by their embrace of music videos.
- Surreal Music Video: Plenty of famous ones, especially from Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.
- Synth-Pop: The association between this genre and the New Romantic scene is sometimes strong enough that many synthpop bands who weren't really New Romantics often get lumped in with them anyway. Conversely, there were New Romantics that didn't play synthpop (Culture Club being the most obvious example).
- Viewer Gender Confusion: An obvious outcome. Boy George is probably the most famous example.