Female bands were the heart, soul, and spirit of the eighties ethos, and they spread the neon-spangled philosophy of the age to all four corners of the earth.
While male hair metal bands get most of the accolades, the girl bands have all of the fun.
With an insatiable verve, demanding charisma, and playful experimentalism, they expanded the scope of pop, new wave, hip-hop, rock, and post-punk.
The eighties were audacious and unconfined, and they brought new currents of songwriting, composition, and aesthetics to the cultural fore.
The following girl groups were catalytic in bringing a dose of daring and debauchery to a media that was ripe and ready for it.
Join us on this journey through a mesmerizing and brazen new Age of Aquarius.
Enjoy our list of the best girl bands and groups of the 80s!
1. The Go-Go’s
Whether you want to cruise the streets with the candy-toned bliss of “Head Over Heels” or wake up the suburbs with a spirited rendition of “We Got the Beat,” the pre-eminent eighties girl band will be by your side to muss up the status quo.
The poet laureates of mall culture and breezy, wide-eyed summer nights, The Go-Go’s were shamelessly pop-heavy, with a vitalizing joie de vivre and a resplendent sense of good fun.
Like a sonic confection, they bring to mind the lighter side of life with shimmering, jangly instrumentals and radiant vocals.
2. The Bangles
The consummate rock-meets-pop wunderkinds, The Bangles married lighthearted glee with hard-hitting, impactful, emotive ballads.
Their well-watered Los Angeles roots emboldened them and lent them a sassy cadence and a riotous theatricality.
They borrowed heavily from the past with sixties garage guitars, retro-girl-group charm, and hard-rock riffs layered behind power ballad lyrics.
“Manic Monday,” “Going Down to Liverpool,” “If She Knew What She Wants,” and “Eternal Flame” are giddy, sincere injections of fun – like six-hour energy drinks straight to the vein.
Seattle visionaries Heart blended a folksy, bohemian ethos with a sultry, provocative, unflinching hard rock sound.
They’ve sold over 35 million albums with hypnotic, raunchy hits like “Crazy on You”, “Barracuda”, and “Alone”.
Sister Ann and Nancy Wilson were elusive and created their own lexicon of classic rock symbolism and sultry, bewitching references.
The eighties treated them well with multiple Billboard-topping releases – we love 1987’s Bad Animals.
4. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
The debauched and rebellious queen of the smokey barroom, Joan Jett savored her back alley reputation and basked in the terror she provoked in the hearts of the conformists standing with pitchforks behind their white picket fences.
Jett reappropriated her brazen and fearless philosophy of life and rendered it into material for a raunchy and unorthodox musical canon
Ultimately, Jett enriched the subculture and brought a dose of transformative verve to the riot grrrl movement that would follow in her punk-tinged wake.
Effortless, preternaturally buzzy, and always a mile ahead of the competition, Blondie, under Debbie Harry’s leadership, was an eclectic, zany, sophisticated band that defies easy labeling.
Eternal darlings of the new wave, punk, arthouse, and NYC underground, they brought a visionary maturity and erudite aplomb to all of their dazzling, piquant tracks.
Into the eighties, Harry et al. dabbled in a raft of diverse genres, sampling the textures and beats of reggae, rap, disco, and retro garage.
“Rapture,” released in 1980, announced the birth of a plucky, valorous new movement.
6. Siouxsie and the Banshees
The evocative, enigmatic Gothic belle Siouxsie Sioux brought an intoxicating hit of dark vitality and seductive whimsy to the inchoate post-punk, new-wave genre.
She pioneered a lucid, elusive mystique and lent her surreal, hallucinatory vocals to a witch’s brew of melodic and poetic songs.
Siouxsie brought an upmarket, arthouse sensibility to a genre best known for playing in the mud, and she cultivated an effective mythology of self.
7. The Pretenders
Chrissie Hynde is the empress of the seventies and eighties, and her voice haunts an intriguing, inviting blend of pathos and charm.
She is positively Delphic, an oracle who conjures up dark insinuations, sly allusions, and mesmerizing metaphors with a pained, emotive voice.
The Pretenders pioneered a thoughtful brand of punk, and they expanded their repertoire with a jaunty new wave sound into the eighties.
Hynde can hop, skip, and jump between haunting tenderness and sardonic wit like no others – listen to “Stop Your Sobbing” and you’ll be apt to agree.
8. Wilson Phillips
Formed at the tail end of the decade, easy listening trio Wilson Phillips was formed by the progeny of some very big names indeed.
The band consists of Carnie and Wendy Wilson, the daughters of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, and Chynna Phillips, the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas.
Though they didn’t release their debut album until 1990, their musical capacities and interests were forged in the glittering Los Angeles of the seventies and eighties.
Their smooth vocals, generous and amicable showmanship, and adult contemporary approach garnered them countless Billboard awards and Grammy’s and enduring popularity.
An NYC hip-hop group with a zany rainbow silhouette and swaggering, spunky lyrics, Salt-N-Pepa blazed a fresh trail for women in music, a legacy that would inspire artists like Kelis and Lil’ Kim.
Indeed, they are oft-referred to as the “First Ladies of Rap,” and they garnered their fair share of side eyes and controversy with blunt, brazen commentary on men, sex, and power dynamics.
Their debut 1986 album Hot, Cool & Vicious birthed the enduring, raunchy “Push It” and sold a cool one million copies.
The outcome of a meeting of British and Irish minds, Bananarama is all high-voltage cheek, unfussy charm, and gregarious ambition.
Their jangly, visceral, dark new wave anthem “Cruel Summer” turned forty this year, and it feels as warmly evocative as it did upon its 1983 release.
They are esteemed for being the highest-charting female band in history, with 30 singles reaching the top of the British charts since their fortuitous inception in 1982.
Associated with the MTV-driven Second British Invasion, they perfected a synthy, radiant, vampy brand that was part campy and part brave, and their Europop turn near the end of the decade remains high-quality party fare.
11. Shonen Knife
If you want instant-cred in the underground, name-drop the off-kilter indie Japanese girl group Shonen Knife, once cited by Kurt Cobain as one of his most cherished inspirations and invited to open for Nirvana shortly before they went stratospheric with Nevermind.
Formed in Osaka in 1981, Shonen Knife was defiantly unorthodox at every turn, and their revelatory blend of pop-punk was propulsive, uplifting, and untamed.
Their kitschy lyrics run the surreal and whimsical gamut and pair curiously with their frenetic drums and soaring riffs.
Their unblinking optimism brought an infectious levity to punk, and they cultivated an outlandish and carefree brand with albums like 1983’s Burning Farm and 1986’s Pretty Little Baka Guy.
12. The Judds
If you know the country, the royal family of the genre, The Judds, need no further introduction.
Comprising of mother Naomi Judd (RIP) and daughter Wynonna Judd, the group brought the tragedies of their lives, pulled straight from the convoluted Southern Gothic plot of a Faulkner novel, and transformed them into stirring fare.
Lauded as one of the most critically popular bands in country history, they have a storied reputation that radiates far beyond Nashville.
Albums like Why Not Me and Rockin’ with the Rhythm are fine examples of their formidable, self-assured, but disarmingly sincere vocals.
13. Babes in Toyland
Formed in 1987 in the unassuming Midwestern city of Minneapolis, Babes in Toyland embodied the darker currents that alternative rock was imbibing in as the decade drew to a close.
When it comes to the Babes, sparkle, and surface appeal were out, and solipsism and scathing instrumentals were in.
Making the indie rounds as a riot grrrl, a post-punk band of ruffians, they stood out from the fray for their abrasive, caustic sound and discordant melodies.
In 1989 they hit grunge gold when Seattle luminaries Sub Pop released their first single, “Dust Cake Boy.”
14. The Pointer Sisters
Conjuring up the girl groups of old like The Supremes and The Chiffons, the Oakland-based Pointer Sisters revived the dormant currents of bebop, blues, jazz, and mid-century R&B.
They won two Grammy awards in 1984, and they garnered critical and commercial acclaim for their swift ability to marry disparate genres and their openhearted, convivial showmanship.
The real-life sisters charted dynamic terrain with honey vocals and a swinging preternatural flair.
15. En Vogue
A glammed-up Salt-N-Pepa, it would not be outlandish to suggest that En Vogue was the early precursor to nineties icons Destiny’s Child.
The alluring, emotive R&B bliss of “Don’t Let Go (Love)” has made it a staple of clandestine hookup playlists and techno-novice turntables.
Their synchronized harmonies are inviting, melodious, and neatly arranged, with uncluttered instrumentals.
Their dance tracks possess an intrepid structure and intriguingly confessional lyrics.
From the first sparkling beats of “Two to Make It Right,” we know we are in the hallowed presence of a dashing, sincere eighties power pop group.
Frivolous instrumentals have never tasted so darn good, and the exploratory early-synth flourishes and buoyant percussion serve to animate and invigorate their sugary anthems.
Their seminal album Nothing Matters Without Love is a pendulum swaying between refined, potent love ballads and verdant, arresting dance tracks.
You know the grunge darlings L7 from their stroppy, sardonic nineties anthem “Pretend We’re Dead,” but these slacktastic underground idols earned their alternative stripes in the defiant and introspective terrain of the late eighties.
Their enraged punk-proto-grunge debut L7, released in 1988, possesses the manic and unbridled hostility and intentionally trivial lyrics and song titles of Bleach, released the next year by their Sub Pop peer Nirvana’s Bleach.
The dissonance between the unrelenting pacing, choppy guitars, and fuzzy feedback and their unconventionally silly lyrics and unflinchingly organic vocals are revelatory.
“Bite The Wax Tadpole” and “Cat-O’-Nine-Tails” embody the best of early, carnal grunge without the fancy tuning and post-production tidiness.
18. Company B
The early-techno beats and detached vocals of “Fascinated” and “Full Circle” are nothing short of energizing and call to mind the proto-electro analog classics “Sandstorm” and “Age of Love.”
Their theatricality, overtly provocative silhouette, and dizzying electronic patina give them a certain elusive, unreachable aloofness.
Their contributions to early electronic dance are often eclipsed by the big-name DJs that followed into the early nineties, but their cosmic beats, shimmering melodies, and spacious arrangements are groundbreaking.
One look, or one listen, will confirm what cult followers already know to be true: Minnesota girl band Vixen is the first, and last, word in glam hair metal audacity.
Their eponymous 1988 debut garnered immediate buzz in the flamboyant and debauched Los Angeles hair band scene, and they were lauded as the female Bon Jovi.
If you like the brazen, the volcanic, and the unflinchingly over-the-top, you’ll need their breakout single “Edge of a Broken Heart” on every last playlist you have.
Janet Gardner, Jan Kuehnemund, Roxy Petrucci, and Share Pedersen are living cinematic legends among diehard glam hair acolytes. Will you become one of them?
20. Femme Fatale
Bringing the roadhouse attitude, hair metal sex appeal, and seductive intransigence of a motorcycle gang to the girl group space, Femme Fatale does what it says on the label.
With mussed-up, antagonistic mullets and a sharp, incisive vocal range, you can picture their classics spinning at the dodgiest bar outside of the city limits of your town.
Femme Fatale doesn’t hold back, and they bring the bold audacity of bands like Skid Row and Scorpions to their unfettered, venomous, raunchy ballads.
“Falling In & Out Of Love,” “Waiting For The Big One,” and “My Baby’s Gun” have the chauvinistic arrogance and low-brow thrills of anything by Dep Leppard.
Calling all Iron Maiden fans, Girlschool is the rowdy, Luciferian, down-and-dirty female metal band you didn’t realize your morbid little soul needed.
“Race with the Devil” and “Please Don’t Touch,” the latter of which featured Motorhead, are some of the most zinging, volatile eighties metal tunes you’ll find.
Their taut, tectonic tracks feature rollicking guitar, gratuitously carnal vocals, and propellant drums.
The Spanish-language girl group that swept the Latin world and beyond, Pandora brought a shameless pathos and opulent aplomb to the eighties girl band space.
Their tracks are outlandish and emotionally wrought and they possess all of the dashing, dramatic timing of any Mexican telenovela.
Typically categorized as Latin pop they also infuse their songs with Mexican folk conventions and heartening, hypnotizing instrumentals.
Start with their self-titled 1985 debut and 1986’s Otra Vez.
23. Calamity Jane
Underground punk slacker-supreme queens Calamity Jane never broached the walls of the mainstream, and they loved it that way.
Their DIY, rebel-core, anti-establishment silhouette, lyrics, and stagemanship established them as a cult phenomenon among the disenchanted and downtrodden.
The gritty, lacerating guitars and volcanic percussion on basement anthems like “Miss Hell” and “My Spit” eviscerate the norms of polite behavior and suggest a tortured, defiant, unapologetic well of hard-earned rage.
24. Shakespears Sister
Eccentric and deliciously cozy, Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detro, the duo behind Shakespears sister, approached music the way one would approach a theatre production – with a crisp vision, theatrical aesthetics, and a dense raft of highbrow references.
Despite brushes with popularity, they were always on the margins, doing their best work without creative restrictions or lyrical constraints.
Their harmonic vocals are like sweet nothings to the ears, and an expansive range lends a dark-tinged serenity and complexity to their smooth, adult-listening ballads.
With power mullets and shaggy bangs that will blind your 21st-century eyes, Exposé embodied the lighter, smoother side of the hair band movement.
For an intoxicating, Dionysian eighties romp, get the new wave pop ditty “Point of No Return” spinning immediately – it’s a certified head-spinner.
Their lavish instrumental arrangements are heavy on untamed percussion, flashy tuning, and computer-age flourishes and sound deviously rowdy.
26. Sister Sledge
Disco heavyweights Sister Sledge have experienced something of an underground renaissance as of late with their smooth, funky, Saturday night fever-esque “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and their lush “Thinking of You.”
They imbibed heavily in the performative, luxuriant waters of late-seventies disco, and their sensual, shagpad beats always had a certain laidback elegance.
Sophisticated seduction and honey vocals elevate their most enduring accomplishment: We Are Family.
27. Sweet Sensation
Sweet Sensation is like a vivacious blend between Salt-N-Pepa and The Go-Go’s, and their charismatic, playful tracks are spunky and hedonistic to a fault.
Shimmering cymbals, jangly flourishes, and dance-ready synth coalesce delightfully with ostentatious power melodies in tracks like “Take It While It’s Hot,” “Hooked on You,” and “Sincerely Yours.”
Their histrionic best can be encountered in the confection-laden love ballad “If Wishes Came True” – pure theatrical bliss.
28. Mel & Kim
One word to describe the effusive and congenial duo, Mel & Kim?
They delight in dishing out sassy, flamboyant beats and karaoke-worthy lyrics, and they experimented with new harmonic forms and egregious, demanding percussion.
Their most enticing accomplishment was F.L.M., an album heavy on the kind of songs that would make the Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestants flaunt and swirl.
The easy-listening adult contemporary songstresses with a misleadingly raunchy name, Klymaxx is the kind of preciously corny music you hear at your suburban department store.
You can feel the cheesy, saccharine eighties bliss in overwrought ballads like “I’d Still Say Yes” and “I Miss You.”
Before you go anywhere, they also have a sly and sassy shadow self on display in criminally catchy songs like “Meeting In The Ladies Room.”
Whimsical and endearingly offbeat, Fuzzbox offers us an unusual blend of eighties synth-sensibilities and the pioneering individualism of the nineties alternative scene.
Their high-energy, generous gems are unlike anything produced by their peers and contain currents of humorous daring, sunny optimism, and arthouse experimentalism.
Strange and gregarious songs like “Pink Sunshine,” “Love Is the Slug,” and “International Rescue’ are out-of-the-box and reflect a blend of danceable pop and indie garage.
Their soaring, expansive, untamed vocals seem to float and transcend the boundaries of space-time that hem the rest of us in.
31. Mai Tai
Fresh and radiant disco at its finest, Mai Tai brought the elegant and carefree effortlessness of the late seventies and kept it alive during the new-wave-addicted eighties.
Playful and exuberant dance anthems like “History” and “Body And Soul” will have you wishing for a sun-dappled tropical evening and your own personal dancing queen moment.
Elegant, warm vocals endow their sounds with a dose of class and add a luminous texture to their pop-forward fare.
32. The Cover Girls
Pure hedonistic dance bliss, The Cover Girls brought their provocative vocals, cheeky melodies, and sour n’ sweet lyrics to the masses and are woefully underappreciated in the cold world of 2023.
Hypnotic past-midnight fever dreams like “Show Me” and “Because Of You” are spellbinding and curiously addictive.
Their instrumentals always possessed something uncanny and otherworldly, like they were postmodern MTV-age enchantresses using bewitching spells to dish out uncommon dance tracks.
You know Divinyls for their campy, not-safe-for-work hit “I Touch Myself,” but scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll see that these Australian starlets have a retinue of delightfully corny tracks in their repertoire.
Vocalist Chrissy Amphlett brought a luminous, sugar-sweet vocal range to the Divinyls’ provocative, unrefined classics and was the enduring face of the band throughout their journey from hard rock to performative pop.
Known for their outlandish live performances, Divinyls have practiced hands at arousing interest and controversy.
Best Girl Bands & Groups of The 80s – Final Thoughts
Ready to careen, lament, groove, and break a leg or two? The best girl groups of the eighties will cover you on all bases.
From saccharine-sweet ballads to dizzying proto-techno tracks to stylized disco, the retro goodness of our top picks will have you wishing you could go Back to the Future in your very own life.
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