Opinion | Thanks to ‘Stranger Things,’ Gen Z discovers Kate Bush — and the timeless glory of ’80s music
Looking at this week’s music charts, I did a double-take.
Then I felt a jolt of nostalgia, recalling junior high classmates in popped-collar Lacoste golf shirts and fingerless Cyndi Lauper gloves as the closing bell in Grade 9 inevitably led to spontaneous outdoor music.
Some kids listened to Tears for Fears or Depeche Mode on Walkmans. Others had “ghetto blasters” in Adidas bags and would hold concerts on the field, playing everything from the Police to the Smiths, Talking Heads to Simple Minds, A-ha to INXS … Latchkey kids were never in a rush to go home.
Music is subjective. Music is also generational. And that’s why what happened this week is so unusual. Thanks to the new season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” hit No. 1 on the iTunes charts, 37 years after it was released.
According to Billboard, the track posted an 8,700 per cent increase in global streams since it was featured in “Stranger Things.” It’s No. 4 on Spotify’s Top 200 global chart. It is suddenly a Gen Z anthem.
And that warms the heart and ears of this old man.
It also suggests young people have been deprived of good tunes.
I have tried to expose my daughters to music they would not discover on YouTube or Spotify. This could run from Debussy’s impressionism to Johnny Cash’s rockabilly. Under the threat of a Shein boycott, I have forced them to watch Queen’s remarkable set at Live Aid.
I’ve played hundreds of songs for these little hellions.
They usually indulge me for a few seconds before retreating to their bedrooms to wash away the Beatles with Camila Cabello or Iggy Azalea.
They have zero interest in any music from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, save for Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Jazz was a total writeoff; I might as well have taken them to a construction site to listen to jackhammers. The ’90s were blah. The indie music I’ve loved this century is apparently “lame” and “boring.” I can’t win at this jukebox.
Except when it comes to the ’80s.
I’d notice my daughters would covertly add songs to playlists, including from Tom Petty or the Grapes of Wrath. They’d ask for an encore of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” and tell me to turn up Prince or Crowded House.
So many ’80s songs not only hold up, they keep getting stronger.
As Jeremy Erlick, Spotify’s global head of music, told Billboard: “It’s incredible to watch iconic songs get rediscovered and have global moments with new listeners. ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ is one of those ‘perfect storm’ examples. It’s a classic song that has been introduced to a wide fandom and has now taken on a whole new meaning.”
Yeah. And that whole new meaning is modern music is terrible.
Not all of it, obviously. Just the stuff that tops the charts. You know, the songs in which nobody plays an instrument and the singer needs Auto-Tune. The songs with no harmony, no gripping chord changes. The songs with lyrics so banal they sound like fortune cookie messages. The songs that place a premium on beat and ignore key signature, arrangement and artistry.
In other words, most songs that make the Billboard 100.
CNN’s Dana Bash interviewed Barry Manilow in April. He said he does not listen to modern music anymore because “melody” has vanished.
He’s not wrong. And that’s why this Kate Bush renaissance should be a wake-up call to Gen Z: the music industry has ripped you off. It keeps trying to shovel dreck into your cochlear.
An entire generation deserves better than Lil Nas X or Bhad Bhabie.
Gen Z? I’m not surprised you are smitten with “Running Up That Hill.” It’s like getting a bite of Wagyu after you were raised on Spam. And if you like that track, try Ms. Bush’s “Cloudbusting,” “This Woman’s Work,” “Hounds of Love” or “Don’t Give Up,” her 1986 duet with Peter Gabriel.
That one is a balm for jangled nerves in desperate times.
And the lyrical story in “Babooshka” will blow your mind.
It’s Pride Month, a perfect time to familiarize yourself with Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Culture Club. You want to understand the origins of hip hop as a powerful force against discrimination? Give N.W.A or Public Enemy a spin. Chuck D remains my lodestar. Concerned about the environment and our rampant dislocation, vis-a-vis mediated experiences? Listen to the Fixx’s “Driven Out” and tell me it doesn’t resonate even more today.
You can never go wrong with early U2 or Bowie. R.E.M. remains creatively unmatched. And I’ve always thought of the Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang” as a coda to “Running Up That Hill.”
That’s the thing about ’80s music. Even the cheesiest stuff had cultural nutrition. The songs keep punching with each passing year. I know my daughters will balk if I put on the Shins or the Middle East. But Duran Duran makes them sing and Michael Jackson makes them dance.
If you think of “Stranger Things” as a paranormal metaphor for the horrors of growing up, “Running Up That Hill” is a perfect track. And that’s the other thing about ’80s music: it unfailingly served as a coming-of-age soundtrack.
Gen Z has been robbed of this. It has been force-fed Top 40 that is Sub-0.
Screw it. Turn to the ’80s, Gen Z.
It’s time to realize what music should be as you figure out the world.
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