Five Burning Questions: Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ Hits New Peak After ‘Stranger Things’ Bump

After consecutive weeks of multiple Billboard Hot 100 top 10 debuts from 2020s superstars Future, Bad Bunny, Kendrick Lamar and Harry Styles, this year the lone crasher of the chart’s highest region belongs to… 63-year-old U.K. alt-pop icon Kate Bush, via her resuscitated 1985 hit, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).”

The song, which originally peaked at No. 30 on the Hot 100, re-enters the chart at No. 8 this week (dated June 11). The massive spike in consumption for the classic left-field hit was prompted by the debut of the fourth season of Netflix’s ’80s-set sci-fi series Stranger Things, which prominently uses the song multiple times throughout the season.

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What about “Running Up That Hill” made it so rife for this kind of revitalization? And what other beloved pop songs could follow it back onto the Hot 100? Billboard staffers discuss this questions and more below.

1. Not a lot of people would’ve expected Kate Bush to be rubbing elbows with Bad Bunny and Harry Styles in the top 10 this week. What is it about “Running Up That Hill” that made it and Stranger Things such an explosive combination?

Katie Bain: With nearly three years between the last and this new season of Stranger Things, we fans of the show were basically foaming at the mouth for new episodes. So, my sense is that the crazy success of this sync is a function of the massive popularity of and pent-up interest in Stranger Things, paired with the fact that “Hill” was used so effectively. The song’s appearance in the first episode was surprising, fresh and perfect, with Kate’s distress capturing the angst and isolation Max is experiencing after the succession of traumas she’s endured in Hawkins. Bringing the track back in the climactic moment of Max’s exorcism, and imbuing it with mystic power as the only thing that will save her from the monster Vecna, was a huge moment for fans of the show, and a moment that’s now synonymous with the song. (For better or worse, whenever I hear it going forward, I’ll likely see Sadie Sink levitating with her eyes rolled back in her head.)

Lyndsey Havens: Sure, we’ve been heavily gifted in the form of new music lately from Harry, Benito, Lizzo and others who have helped shake up the top 10, but it wasn’t that long ago that it was filled with years-old hits. While “Running Up That Hill” is a touch more than a year or two old, it truly does possess the makings of a timeless hit. And at a time when pop stars like Olivia Rodrigo are bringing icons of a generation earlier like Alanis Morissette out on stage, a veteran like Kate Bush can just as easily fit in with what’s resonating today — or perhaps even more easily, considering how high she’s climbed. All it took was a little reintroduction, and Stranger Things was happy to facilitate.

Gil Kaufman: As always with the Duffers, they employed it not just as a clever sync, but by making it part of the their intricate world — which is kind of like hiding the slimy, eyeball-popping dog treat in delicious brie. It’s a great, already kind of spooky, alluring and mysterious song wrapped in a very clever plot device on a show that, not for nothing, all of us were anxiously waiting for. Great song, great timing, great show. Triple threat!

Jason Lipshutz: “Running Up That Hill” is not just featured in Stranger Things, the biggest streaming show of the year, but the song is basically a character within it – tied inextricably to the action of season 4, soundtracking one of its most dramatic moments, and even name-checked (and shown onscreen in cassette form!) multiple times. There are successful TV syncs, and then there’s being exalted in an enormous series, and introduced to a new generation of listeners that weren’t born when “Running Up That Hill” peaked at No. 30 upon its 1985 release. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the greatest pop songs ever written, too.

Andrew Unterberger: The thing that makes “Hill” such a perfect song for this kind of moment is that it’s a highly enduring, widely beloved pop song… that a whole lot of folks have never heard before. It wasn’t a major stateside hit upon its original release, and because it’s such an emotional and challenging song, it’s not one you ever really hear on the radio or at weddings or parties or really just out in the world in the decades since — it’s the kind of song you either have to discover yourself or be actively introduced to do. (But it was just popular enough for it to be plausible as the kind of song an alt-leaning kid like the show’s Max might catch on radio or MTV late one night and instantly become obsessed with.) It was an ideal choice for the Duffers to press the button on, and they were smart enough to press it — multiple times, even.

2. Do you expect that this extreme first-week showing for “Hill” will essentially mark the full extent of its time at the center of 2020s popular culture, or do you see it hanging around for a couple weeks still — or possibly growing even bigger from here?

Katie Bain: As much as I love this song and want Kate Bush to have all the chart success forever, I can’t see this getting bigger than it’s been during this initial frenzy of the Stranger Things season four launch. That said, while the song may once again fall off the charts, its unlikely to fall off the playlists of all the millions of people who’ve learned about it via Stranger Things, and that’s definitely a win for Kate Bush, for the musical education of the youth and for culture, generally.

Lyndsey Havens: If someone like an Olivia were to cover it, I do think it could sustain, but I think this is probably its splashiest moment of the year. The song hasn’t even been tagged to a million videos on TikTok yet, and if I’ve learned anything lately, it’s that TikTok is a pretty good indicator of what is or will stick around.

Gil Kaufman: If feels like a big, momentary blip that will likely fade pretty quickly. Once people have binged on the series it’s hard to see this song hanging around out of context of the show. It doesn’t really have any qualities that would allow it to continue competing with the Harrys and Lizzos of the world unless Bush decided to really lean in and drop a surprise album or go on, gulp, a world tour. (Spoiler: never gonna happen.)

Jason Lipshutz: It’s hard to imagine the song climbing above its No. 8 peak on the Hot 100 – a glimpse at the streaming charts indicates that it’s cooling off a bit – but “Running Up That Hill” should certainly hang around for a few weeks, as more people binge the new Stranger Things season and those who already have keep the song in their rotations. Toss in some more radio spins, and “Running Up That Hill” isn’t tumbling down the chart anytime soon.

Andrew Unterberger: It may or may not ascend higher than its current No. 8 peak — though don’t forget that it took a couple days for the song to gain the momentum it currently has, so starting the tracking week from the place of already getting millions of streams a day will give it some degree of advantage on next week’s chart. But even if it doesn’t, I don’t see it just disappearing anytime soon; once a song like this has really gotten its hooks in the culture, folks don’t forget about it so quickly. Just look at Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”; it’s been nearly two years since that song first enjoyed its viral rebound and it’s still hanging around the bottom half of the Spotify US Daily 200.

3. The most obvious point of comparison for a 2020s cultural rebound of this magnitude for a long-beloved pop song is a couple years ago, when a viral Doggface208 video on TikTok catapulted Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” back to the Hot 100’s top 15. Which of the two rebounds do you find more interesting — or more telling about the kind of revitalized success catalog songs are able to enjoy in the early 2020s?

Katie Bain: All love and respect to Queen Kate, but I think the Doggface phenomenon is more interesting simply because it happened on TikTok, with that kind of virality — along with the juxtaposition of an extremely modern platform with a song released in 1977 — more unique and indicative of the era than a traditional TV sync.

Lyndsey Havens: I have to give it to Doggface, it’s a story that is so singularly of the times it’s hard to top it — especially with something as routine as a sync in a popular show. While both stories are amazing and hopeful for veteran songs and artists, the way in which TikTok felt like a more all-encompassing moment for anyone who used social media, compared to a moment for anyone who watches a show, made it more intriguing to me in terms of new frontiers for revitalization.

Gil Kaufman: No offense to Bush, but Doggface is the real out-of-left-field phenomenon. The “Hill” climb is really just lucky commerce: a great sync on a super popular show that strikes a cord with the curious, young audience who may never have heard the song and who might be home watching with parents who loved it the first time. But the Mac thing is a pure TikTok music phenomenon that came out of nowhere and, until later, didn’t have that corporate set-up feeling to it.

Jason Lipshutz: Both have their merits! As a longtime fan of Kate Bush’s singular artistry, seeing one of her songs in the top 10 of the Hot 100 — and introduced to a huge new population of listeners – feels wildly unexpected and extremely gratifying, although the path that it took to get there (a synch in a popular TV show) feels more well-trodden. On the other hand, Fleetwood Mac has the more well-known catalog, especially in the United States, but the fact that “Dreams” re-entered to the top 15 thanks to a clip of a dude skateboarding and chugging cranberry juice feels like some sort of mad-libs phenomenon that no one could have seen coming. Both are fascinating in different ways, and I’d bet we’d see more of each type of revitalization – synch-based and viral clip-based – in the future.

Andrew Unterberger: It’s “Dreams,” for sure, just because there were so many different component parts to that moment (which included the band itself getting highly involved, something we’re very unlikely to see from Bush in the coming weeks). But “Running” is probably the model that’s more easily replicated: “Dreams” was a fluke that nobody could’ve predicted or planned for, but though I doubt they’d admit it, I bet on some level the Duffers at least partly expected a moment like this for “Hill.” When you have a song that powerful in a moment that big from a show this popular, there’s almost a scientific formula at work — one that isn’t always repeatable, but is far from totally unpredictable.

4. Stranger Things isn’t the first major pop culture institution to launch an unlikely old song back to the Hot 100 this year — The Batman did it with Nirvana’s non-single “Something in the Way” a couple months ago. What’s another movie, TV show or other major entertainment property you could see having a similarly galvanizing effect on a catalog song’s assumption in the near future?

Katie Bain: Succession has played around with syncs — I’m looking at Kendall sonically bombing the Waystar Royco town hall meeting with Nirvana’s “Rape Me” and his “Bangers Only” birthday playlist — and I think if the show leaned into a full sync, the show’s many ravenous fans could push it up the chart.

Lyndsey Havens: We saw it with Euphoria plenty, and I’m sure we will again. It almost seems like the tides of music supervision are shifting, and it’s less about discovering what’s new and more what dusting off what’s older to be discovered again.

Gil Kaufman: As a huge Peacemaker fan who has delved into creator James Gunn’s insanely detailed musical mind, I think that show’s second season — tentatively slated for early 2023 — could definitely mine some forgotten/underappreciated hair metal gem from today or yesterday and turn it into chart gold.

Jason Lipshutz: Instead of selecting some mass-media IP like a Marvel franchise, let’s go with I Wanna Dance With Somebody, the upcoming Whitney Houston biopic. A little over 10 years after her passing, the time is right for a revival of the impossibly rich Whitney Houston catalog – maybe the film features one song in particular, or sends the world returning to her many hits, a la Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody. Either way, sign me up.

Andrew UnterbergerEuphoria is probably the best answer here, but let me dream here about two upcoming sequels/reboots: I’d love to see a major Kid n’ Play bump from the upcoming House Party redo, or a big look in Creed III leading to a revival of Rocky III’s classic pump-up theme, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

5. OK, you’re an advisor to the music supervisor for the upcoming second half of Stranger Things’ final season, and you’re getting a lot of pressure from the suits upstairs to create “another Kate Bush moment.” Which ’80s song (or artist) are you betting big on?

Katie Bain: I know it was already used (somewhat inexplicably!) in the end credits of a The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel episode, but Siouxsie & The Banshees’ haunting indie anthem “Cities In Dust” — released in 1986, the same year this current episode of Stranger Things takes place in — would be a killer, sort of Kate-adjacent and perhaps thematically appropriate soundtrack for whatever ends up happening in Hawkins, Indiana.

Lyndsey Havens: If I were an advisor to the music supervisor, I’d declare we should think outside the ’80s… and pitch a song from the mid-’70s: “Crazy on You.” A personal favorite by the Wilson sisters-fronted outfit Heart, the song only hit No. 36 on the Hot 100 in 1976. But with the right scene, or perhaps singular mood that comes up throughout various scenes, I can see a new generation of vengeful teens grasping onto this one.

Gil Kaufman: I’m torn here, so I’m going to cheat. The very first thing that came to mind was Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” because it’s so silly and hyped and such a perfect 1980s one-off smash that would match the Ocean Pacific/International male fashion vibe of this season. That said, given what the show runners have said about Will’s journey to possibly coming out on the show, I would absolutely love to see Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” (or “Why”) blow up on the charts.

Jason Lipshutz: The new season of Stranger Things is set during spring break, 1986… a few weeks before Pet Shop Boys’ synth-pop classic “West End Girls” reached the top of the Hot 100 chart. If Neil Tennant’s warble can’t get Vecna grooving, nothing can.

Andrew Unterberger: Following my “widely beloved songs that relatively few casual pop listeners in the U.S. actually know” model — how about The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”? It’s got it all: doomed romance, death wishes, feelings of alienation, and an absolutely unforgettable chorus. Just imagine the song’s sweeping strings playing out over a closing montage of the Stranger Things kids (well, young adults) saying their final goodbyes — even if you’ve never seen the show, you’re probably getting a little misty-eyed right now. Just gotta hope that Morrissey keeps his mouth shut in real life and doesn’t ruin the moment.

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