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Why Kate Bush Granted Stranger Things Clearance of “Running Up That Hill”

Its presence in the Netflix series has led to a massive increases in streams and sales of the song

Kate Bush Stranger Things 4 Running Up That Hill
Kate Bush, photo by Trevor Leighton
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    Strangers Things 4 might bring Kate Bushs “Running Up That Hill (Make a Deal with God)” to a new career high on the Billboard charts thanks to its repeated use in the Netflix show’s latest installment, which debuted over Memorial Day Weekend. Though its reached instantaneous viral fame, the process of securing the 1985 cult-pop favorite was apparently years in the making. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

    The song is first introduced as an auditory balm for the character Max (played by Sadie Sink), who has isolated herself after the traumatic events of the previous season and blocks out her friends and classmates by blasting the tune through her headphones, and later serves as a crucial plot device. In a report by Variety, Stranger Things music supervisor Nora Felder reveals she was given free range by the series’ creators and showrunners, The Duffer Brothers, to pick the song that would become a recurring theme for Season 4, sharing: “Each of the prospective song placements in the initial scripts was tagged with the placeholder, ‘TBD Max song.’ From there, I made an effort to internally align myself with what the Duffers felt were the most important elements needed, and my own intuitive grasp of Max’s complex feelings.”

    “It immediately struck me with its deep chords of the possible connection to Max’s emotional struggles and took on more significance as Bush’s song marinated in my conscious awareness,” Felder said. “Kate Bush’s lyrics can mean very different things to different people. In the face of Max’s painful isolation and alienation from others, a ‘deal with god’ could heart-wrenchingly reflect Max’s implicit belief that only a miracle of unlikely understanding and show of support could help her climb the hills of life before her. In Max’s situation, the need for a ‘deal with god’ can perhaps be metaphorically understood as a desperate cry for love — to manifest the extraordinary understanding and support Max needed while feeling so painfully alone.”

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    With the song’s lyrics and Max’s character arc starting to fit together seamlessly, Felder then took on the daunting task of gaining clearance approval from the typically reclusive, sync-averse singer and her music publisher, Sony. Sony Music Publishing SVP of Creative Marketing, Film, and TV Wende Crowley told Variety that discussions began “pre-pandemic” and included thorough reviews of scripts, scenes, and all the song’s specific uses since “Kate Bush is selective when it comes to licensing her music.” Luckily, the process was made easier with Felder’s careful preparation and “elaborate scene descriptions”; it also helped that Bush was already a fan of the show.

    The approval process was extended due to the song’s near-constant presence in any scene with Max, though alternatives were considered just in case. No mention of which 80s artist missed out on this seismic sync opportunity, but more than anything, it seems like to Felder, “Running Up That Hill” was the only song that made sense.

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    For those prepared for ST4 spoilers, here’s an even deeper breakdown that Felder gives for how the song perfectly scores its climactic, standout moment: “As Max runs from Vecna’s isolating grip, or from evil, as an absence of love, she ultimately runs toward connection and the spiritual outpouring of love powerfully manifested by her dear friends who have heroically fought to understand what she needs and rescue her from a solitarily hell of utter separation and eternal isolation. In some ways, this scene can be understood as alluding more broadly to the inner struggles with private demons that many teens wrestle with during troubled times, especially when feeling alone and estranged from others… the strength Max derives from the unwavering love, understanding and care of her friends may suggest a sort of god-like spirit in a much more general sense. It shows itself through the undeniable love and understanding teens need from others in order to climb their enormous life hills.”

    Not surprisingly, “Running Up That Hill” is now enjoying an immense amount of renewed attention.  Over the weekend,the jumped 8,700% in global Spotify streams and topped both Spotify’s US Daily chart and iTunes’ sales chart, according to Billboard. For next week’s chart projections, Billboard likens the scenario to the streaming spike seen for Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” after its appearance in The Batman. Following the movie’s opening weekend in early March, the Nevermind deep-cut experienced a 734% increase in on-demand streams and placed on several charts including No. 46 on the Hot 100. With Bush’s resurgent numbers far out-pacing those streams, it appears “Running” could be primed to surpass its Hot 100 peak at No. 30, set in November 1985.

    The soundtrack for Volume 1 of Stranger Things 4, complete with “Running Up That Hill,” arrived on May 29th, the same day the new season premiered. Elsewhere this week, Kim Petras released her own cover of “Running Up That Hill” to mark the beginning of Pride Month; while just a happy coincidence, she noted “my timing for this was strangely perfect!”

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