How Running Up That Hill captured the hearts of Gen Z

10 songs that defined 2022: Stranger Things helped, sure, but it's the message of Kate Bush's 37-year-old single that hooked younger listeners.

Even Kate Bush can’t believe – or, even, understand – what happened this year to a her 37-year-old song.

But there it was, in June, crowning both the UK Top 40 and Billboard’s Global 200. Out of nowhere, Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) – taken from the English musician’s fifth album Hounds of Love – had galloped into the public consciousness, bossing it on the charts, streaming and TikTok.

There was no deal with God required, only a pact with TV’s closest earthly version: a sync on series four of Stranger Things, which, at the time, held the record for the most hours viewed in a single week of any English-language Netflix TV show (a feat since bested by Wednesday, toplined by FACE cover star Jenna Ortega).

It was enough to make even a reclusive 80s and 90s legend break cover.

It’s such a great series, I thought that the track would get some attention,” Bush said to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in an exceedingly rare interview this summer. She was talking in the week she was topping the UK charts for the first time since 1978, when she achieved that feat with her debut single Wuthering Heights at the age of 19. But I just never imagined that it would be anything like this. It’s so exciting. But it’s quite shocking really, isn’t it? I mean, the whole world’s gone mad.”

Indeed it has, which (bear with us) helps explain why Running Up That Hill sits at the head of Spotify’s 198-song, near-12-hour Official Stranger Things Playlist, with individual streams north of 800 million.

The Duffer Brothers’ creation is the favourite show of Gen Z (pace, of course, Wednesday). That fanbase patently drove this fresh appreciation of Running Up That Hill after its use in the climactic moment of episode four in the drama’s penultimate season. Even in a retro-soundtrack rammed to the rafters with period hits, the Stranger Things masses were particularly obsessed with a witchy goth-electro-pop song that’s four decades old – and that very much sounds old, too.

Bush’s song, written in a single evening the summer she turned 25, is built around a rhythm beat out on a peak 80s drum machine (the LinnDrum) and recurring melodic stabs that sounds like the bark of a robo-dog (actually the bark of a Fairlight CMI synthesiser).

And yet here we are: a new generation nostalgic for a song that was released not only before they were born but also, in all likelihood, before many of their parents were born.

Why did this happen? The mighty Bush didn’t know, but Stranger Things’ music supervisor has a theory.

This season and Kate Bush’s song really seem to touch on the experience of alienation and emotional struggle that a lot of teens have been and continue to be going through, albeit in different ways,” Nora Felder told Billboard. Moreover, it reminds me that when we can’t find the support and understanding we may need from others, we sometimes turn to music that relates to our experience as a much needed source of validation and strength. To me… Running Up That Hill seems to do just that.”

Bush’s explanation of the song’s meaning, expressed in various interviews in 1985 (back when she gave various interviews), was in binary terms. But her emotional acuity resonates down through the years, and across the changing gender landscape.

It’s about a relationship between a man and a woman,” she said in a conversation transcribed from a limited edition CD picture interview disc”, a concept and format that, for Stranger Things’ youngest viewers, will be up there with cave paintings. They love each other very much, and the power of the relationship is something that gets in the way. It creates insecurities. It’s saying if the man could be the woman and the woman the man, if they could make a deal with God, to change places, that they’d understand what it’s like to be the other person, and perhaps it would clear up misunderstandings.

You know, all the little problems – there would be no problem.”

Running Up That Hill, then, is a song about empathy, tolerance and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. In this omnishambles horrorshow of a year, those are values to hold dear. And then to stream.

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