The 8 Greatest Female Pop Icons of the 1980s

The ‘80s were a colorful time. From parachute pants to DeLoreans to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the decade was a time for big ideas, curly hairdos, and cutting-edge vibes. The popular music of the ‘80s was in line with its zany trends. It was often boisterous and empowering, centering on loud drum machines and digital synthesizer sounds.

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Some of the biggest female icons of all time emerged during the ‘80s. Songs like “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” are all performed by female pop singers. Countless other hits from the era that were sung by women still hold up to this day.

But who were the women who defined the sound of the ‘80s more than any others? These eight female pop stars from 1980s altered airwaves forever.

1. Whitney Houston

Go to an ‘80s theme night at just about any local bar, and you’re bound to hear “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” The smash hit from Whitney Houston is one of the most uplifting, yet earnest songs ever written. During the decade, Houston also released gargantuan hits like “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” and ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” She had an unforgettable run that led to a fruitful career.

2. Kate Bush

Kate Bush had an unexpected resurgence in 2022, when her 1985 single “Running Up That Hill” made waves on the Internet after appearing on an episode of the Netflix show Stranger Things. It turned a younger audience on to her early catalog, which contains masterpieces like Hounds Of Love and The Dreaming. At once an arty weirdo and glamorous household name, Bush is one of the most eclectic figures of the decade.

3. Madonna

Would it really be a roundup of ‘80s icons without the inclusion of Madonna? Born in 1958, the enigmatic artist burst onto the scene in 1983 with the release of the dance single “Burning Up.” Massive pop culture-shaking hits followed, with one of her very biggest of the decade coming in 1989 with “Like A Prayer.” That cathartic song certainly makes full use of ‘80s-era production, but is tied together by a spunky sheen that’s allowed it to remain chic into the ‘90s and beyond.

4. Bonnie Tyler

Born in 1951, Gaynor Sullivan (aka Bonnie Tyler), found her footing in the late ‘70s with the release of the album The World Starts Tonight. But she put out some of her most memorable work in the ‘80s. Between the years of 1983 and 1986 alone, she was responsible for hits “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “If You Were a Woman and I Was a Man,” and “Holding Out for a Hero,” the latter of which appeared on the Footloose movie soundtrack.

[RELATED: The Top 8 Female-Fronted Rock Bands of the ’80s]

5. Tina Turner

Tina Turner was given the nickname “The Queen of Rock and Roll” for a reason. She cut her teeth in the ‘60s and ‘70s, playing alongside ex-husband Ike Turner in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. But she came into her own as a solo artist in the ‘80s. The single “What’s Love Got to Do with It” is an instantly-recognizable smash. And albums including Foreign Affair and Break Every Rule are also packed with groundbreaking sounds. She even sang the mammoth hit “We Don’t Need Another Hero” from the soundtrack of the post-apocalyptic blockbuster Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. (She starred in the film, too.)

6. Sade

Sade isn’t just one of the smoothest singers of the ‘80s—she’s one of the smoothest singers of all time. It doesn’t get much more lush and sophisticated than the music included on Diamond Life, Promise, and Stronger Than Pride. These are certainly some of the silkiest-sounding records ever made.

7. Cyndi Lauper

If there’s one song that captures the essence of ‘80s pop, it’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The 1983 single from Cyndi Lauper is empowering and unabashedly energetic. Over the course of the decade, Lauper also released masterful hits like “Time After Time,” “True Colors,” and “I Drove All Night”—captivating songs that highlight her range as a performer.

8. Joan Jett

Joan Jett wasn’t afraid to bring the punk aesthetic she honed in her first band, The Runaways, to the mainstream as a solo artist. Singles including “I Love Rock and Roll,” “Bad Reputation,” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You” are as accessible as they are edgy.

Photo by Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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