Hang up those skinny ties and stop quoting John Hughes movies: The beginning of the end of “80s nostalgia is upon us.

What’s the drop-off point? Thursday night’s debut of “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” NBC’s take-off on a British show that spotlights has-been musical acts of the Reagan years all competing against each other for cash prizes, to go to a charity of the winner’s choice.

There’s more:

• VH1’s “inside(OUT)” documentary recently reunited the formerly warring members of Motley Crue.

• Next week, the cast of “The Breakfast Club” will make a group appearance at the MTV Movie Awards.

• “Top Gun”-era metalheads Anthrax are making public-service announcements, advising military personnel against taking an anthrax vaccine.

The first “Hit Me Baby” featured the bands Loverboy, A Flock of Seagulls, and Arrested Development and singers Tiffany and Cece Peniston, all playing old hits and new songs. There are plans for three summer episodes, each featuring five different acts of usta-be’s.

After several years in which all things from the Yuppie Decade were retro-chic, it may not be long until “I Love the “80s” becomes “I’ll Stop the “80s (And Melt With You).”

“It could be a lot of fun because it’s basically humiliation for these artists,” says Doug Brod, executive editor of Spin magazine. “There’s a cheesy element to a lot of the decade, thanks to the fashion and the hair, the recordings that often sounded terrible, and all the cheesy videos. Unlike “70s culture, which now just seems naive, there’s an artificiality to “80s culture, a guilty-pleasure quality, and that’s why it’s popular.

“But once you have a battle of the “80s bands, where else are you going to go?”

Paul Levinson, a Fordham University media studies professor, suggests this kind of “remaking pop culture – or “re-mocking,’ in this case – is a facet of something becoming even more a part of the establishment. And even when we’re mocking the music, it’s with a kind of affection, as often happens with old TV shows.

“I think “Hit Me Baby’ will lead to laughing again at this music, but with affection this time, not derision, as when it was first heard,” Levinson says. “Separated from its original context, it’s now just looked at as a joke.”

“Culture is moving at such a rapid pace now that we’re at this point where we reminisce about last week,” says Brod. “It’s human nature. Something that triggers a comfortable memory is what people want.”

Nostalgic Gen-Xers have taken comfort in their coming-of-age era at least since 1998, when “The Wedding Singer,” Adam Sandler’s love letter to 1985, helped start the fire. Since then, VH1’s “We Love the “80s” and “Bands Reunited” helped influence current bands like the Bravery, Arcade Fire and the Killers – who helped create a demand for “classic” acts that hadn’t been popular since the end of the Cold War, like Duran Duran, Motley Crue and Morrissey.

“The Bravery have become a hit by precisely re-creating the sound of the band Dead or Alive. Who thought that was possible?” says Joe Levy, assistant managing editor at Rolling Stone.

“Along with that, we have Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, and Bryan Adams on tour, and Billy Idol and Billy Corgan have new records out,” Levy adds. “It’s like 1985 was a two-decade-long year. And it’s mixed into the DNA of our entire culture, not just the need for nostalgia.”

But that culture may be on the verge of a predictable evolution – next year marks the 15-year anniversary of Nirvana’s seminal album “Nevermind” and their hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” So even if you’re still walking on sunshine, get your flannel ready because “90s nostalgia is on the way.

“We’re not too early for “90s appreciation,” says Levy. “Everything goes faster now with the information age.

“But don’t underestimate the public’s appetite for the “80s,” he warns. “It may be here for a while longer.”


The “80s live on via “Hit Me Baby, One More Time.” Here’s the lineup for the next two shows:

Wang Chung: Sounds like what you get from eating bad chow mein, Wang Chung had jittery mid-“80s hits like “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.”

The Knack: They were bigger than the Beatles – at least in 1979, when their stuttering hit “My Sharona” sold some 10 million copies. Unfortunately, due to a backlash, it’s been a hard days’ life for the Knack ever since.

Irene Cara: She shot to “Fame,” with that one hit song. What a feeling!

Sophie B. Hawkins: Scored with “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” one of the best-ever Prince ripoffs.

Cameo: A pioneering black rock band, with funk underlay, Cameo hit its stride in the mid-“80s with the hits “Word Up” and the ballad “Candy.” Leader Larry Blackmon also made history by carving his Afro into a triangle.

Tommy Tutone: Their hit “867-5309” made this one of the most famous phone numbers this side of 911.

Vanilla Ice: Yes, he’s the most wack rapper in history, but Ice proved crucial in crossing over hip hop to the mainstream in the “90s. He had the biggest-selling rap album of his day by nicking David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” for the hit “Ice Ice Baby.”

The Motels: The best of L.A.’s new wave bands, the Motels had a string of love-lorn hits, from “Only the Lonely” to “Suddenly Last Summer,” all fronted by Martha Davis’ haunting vocal quaver.

-Jim Farber

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