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After the latest installment of Stranger Things’ became one of the most-streamed Netflix seasons ever, a new generation of listeners are being exposed to the sounds of the 1980s, most notably Kate Bush‘s alt-pop gem, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).”
Bush’s track jumped to No. 4 on this week’s Billboard Hot 100, 37 years after its initial release. The single, off of Bush’s 1985 classic Hounds of Love, previously peaked at No. 30 on Nov. 30, 1985. The track’s chart explosion was mostly due to a surge in sales and streams – the song topped both Billboard’s Digital Song Sales and Streaming Songs chart this week, dated June 18 – but it has also started to gain momentum with a notable surge in radio airplay, a platform that even the most viral retro internet hits often have a difficult time crossing into.
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The song posted 5.3 million in all-format radio airplay audience among reporters to Billboard‘s Radio Songs chart for June 9-15 — up 162% over the prior seven days, according to Luminate. On Billboard‘s Alternative Airplay chart — where Bush has had most of her career radio success, including a No. 1 with “Love and Anger” in 1989, and where Meg Myers’ version of “Running Up That Hill” was a 2020 No. 1 — Bush’s “Hill” debuts at No. 26 this week, marking her first hit on the listing since 1994. (When “Hill” originally hit in 1985, the chart was still three years away from its debut.) But the song is also getting increasing airplay on adult and even mainstream top 40 stations, trending to break onto Billboard‘s Adult Pop Songs listing, and perhaps Pop Songs, too, next week.
Melissa Chase, brand manager at Houston’s adult pop station KHMX, says that while the song’s recent surge in popularity is surprising, it’s not unwelcome. “One of our jobs as a pop music station is to be on the pulse of what is resonating with our audience,” Chase says. “When a song from the ‘80s comes back as a major point plot in a massive show [and] jumps back on the charts and tops the downloads and streaming charts, you have to pay attention and realize there is an appetite for this song.”
With the appetite comes the TikToks, viral tweets, and various Kate Bush memes from a younger generation who are devouring the song, some for the first time. “When I sing along to Jerry Garcia, I don’t think of the music only belonging to my parent’s generation,” Chase continues. “In the case of ‘Running Up That Hill,’ an artist’s magical power to connect across generations is a beautiful thing.”
As “Running Up That Hill” connects with a younger audience, it also causes older listeners to re-discover the track. David Corey, director of FM programming for Detroit adult pop station WDVD station says the station has been playing the track for the last two weeks, averaging about five times a day. “It sounds like it fits, even after all these years,” Corey says of the track, which is often sandwiched on the station in between the likes of Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes. “I have actually loved this song since the day came it out, and can’t believe it’s turning into a hit again.”
Not only does it sonically match some of the most popular music of the last few years’ ‘80s pop revival, but it’s a lyrically relevant song as the themes of the track could reflect the current social climate. Chase believes that the introspective lyrics about viewing a situation from another perspective is something that listeners “could all use a little more of right now.” She adds that “comfort music” has been a big trend in a post-pandemic world, where songs that might sound familiar are more popular than newer tracks. “Our research has shown an increase in ‘comfort food music’ [which are] typically older songs that are [the listener’s] favorite. On many Hot AC stations now, you’ll find more hits from Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Nelly, Usher, Kesha.”
Chase says that a track going viral in a video can make it seem familiar, even if it’s relatively unknown among its audience. “Now that’s expanded further to music that has had a nostalgic resurgence, [like songs from] viral videos, like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams.’” (“Dreams,” one of the other major “bringback” hits of recent years, returned to the Hot 100 in 2020 for the first time since 1977, reaching No. 12, thanks to a very pure viral TikTok of user Doggface208 listening to the track while longboarding.)
Still, no matter how viral or thematically resonant the song is, radio programers could still be forgiven for being skeptical about a 37-year-old song working on the airwaves as a current in 2022. Taking the chance to give it airtime is something that Mike Kaplan, SVP of programming at New York’s WNYL ALT 92.3, said was a no-brainer as soon as it resurfaced in the public consciousness.
“We added ‘Running Up That Hill’ immediately into heavy rotation based on the Stranger Things phenomenon,” Kaplan explains, highlighting that the data spoke for itself. “The track’s No. 1 in streaming and the most Shazamed. This strong empirical evidence made the decision easy to support.”
Kaplan also thinks that nostalgia is a huge factor in why the song stuck with older audiences who might have grown up listening to the song, while the exhilarating Stranger Things scene kept new listeners on board. “Between Kate’s alternative music roots and how en vogue nostalgia is, it’s the perfect track to reflect in the moment.” (Though 92.3 would occasionally play Kate Bush on their weekly alternative segments, he says this is the first time it has been played in such a heavy rotation.)
KLLC San Francisco Music Supervisor Jayn says that this moment goes beyond chart success, and puts the power back with the listeners. “We’re singularly focused on reflecting our audience rather than just a chart, and a moment like this is a perfect chance to do precisely that,” she explains. “We’ve been playing ‘Running Up That Hill’ an average of 3 to 4 times a day, and it fits perfectly into our mix. Much the same as we played Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ when that was the zeitgeist. This is a moment we want to be part of.”
As for the future of the song, Chase explains that this could be the beginning of a Kate Bush renaissance, something that has happened to the likes of Fleetwood Mac and alternative acts that have begun to gain a wider audience in the 2020s.
“Even though Kate is a well-established musician with multiple Grammy and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations, she isn’t an artist you can buy on a t-shirt at Hot Topic or a tote bag with her picture on it at Target – but Fleetwood Mac is,” Chase says, noting that Bush might be heading to a similarly legendary status among younger generations as they begin to devour her discography. “There is a surge of excitement that so many people feel when they are among the first to discover ‘the next big thing,’ and those unfamiliar with Kate Bush’s history may be attempting to claim that.”