Everything old is new again, and no one is more delighted than Kate Bush. In case you just arrived from another planet, her 1985 song Running Up That Hill went viral after it was used in a key scene in the fourth season of sci-fi TV series Stranger Things. The song promptly went to No. 1 in almost 10 countries, including Australia, and she cracked the American top five for the first time in her career.
Is it just nostalgia at work? Well, yes, if you were a fan of the song when it was released. But the primary audience for Stranger Things is the 18-29 age group, who weren’t even born in 1985, and they’re the ones driving the interest in the show’s ’80s aesthetic. Many are calling it pseudo nostalgia.
“That’s a term I’m not sure I agree with,” says Charles Fairchild, associate professor of popular music at University Of Sydney. “You can have nostalgia for things you haven’t directly experienced. What Stranger Things has done is taken this era and put coherence and a story to it. It has taken this music, fashion and popular culture and given it a focus. There’s a shared experience that gives people a vivid and immediate connection, and that’s what the Kate Bush song has done.”
In truth, the 1980s revival started a while ago. Look at the 2001 film Donnie Darko, which put a dark spin on John Hughes movies, with a soundtrack that skilfully used ’80s songs from Tears for Fears and Echo & the Bunnymen. But Stranger Things has pushed the revival into hyperspace, and Fairchild believes that’s due to the times we live in, “when the music industry has finally worked out how to really exploit their catalogues with licensing to TV and film, where there is now so much content being made.”
And it’s not just musical nostalgia being marketed on Stranger Things. The Aussie-conceived, US-transplanted brand Quiksilver has teamed with the show to create a clothing line based on the characters’ T-shirts, boardshorts, hoodies and jackets in ’80s pastels and prints.
But nostalgia can be a fiercely guarded domain. The show’s latest season also features Metallica’s 1986 song Master of Puppets. Old fans are complaining about young newbies who up until a month ago thought Metallica was somewhere on the periodic table next to magnesium.
The band responded on TikTok, playing the song alongside footage from the episode and adding the comment: “FYI – everyone is welcome in the Metallica family. Whether you’ve been a fan for 40 hours or 40 years, we all share a bond through music.”