It only makes sense that “Running Up That Hill” is everywhere

If you’re writing or speaking about music for a living, some new unwritten rules have emerged in recent years. For example, the task of creating annual leaderboards has expanded to include a mandatory annual leaderboard, usually sometime in June. (Speaking of which, here are the albums and song listings we just put together at NPR Music.)

Around the same time, we’re obligated – not by law, but sometimes it feels like it – to assess the pop music landscape and determine which currently ubiquitous tracks might be remembered as “the song of the summer.” Sometimes the answers are obvious, like in 2019, when Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” and Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” seemed to be the only tracks that existed between April and October. In other years we spend many weeks waiting for clarity while the cultural tides wave and shift.

After all, this is not a clean science. As with pornography, song-of-the-summer status is one of those “we’ll know when we see it” deals, and every listener’s mileage is bound to be different. For example, if you’re a Harry Styles star, ask yourself why I haven’t noticed the bubbly and pleasant “As It Was” or “Late Night Talking” before. If you base your life on Beyoncé’s teachings—which isn’t an argument here—clear your throat and nod pointedly toward “Break My Soul,” whose defiant message fits right into the current cultural moment. Personally, I adore Lizzo’s “About Damn Time,” which teleports listeners (figuratively) right into their disco-ball-lit roller rink of choice.

A complicating factor, however, is that the shelf life of a pop song has never been longer. A $200 million film may run in theaters for six or eight weeks, and entire seasons of television shows can slip from the public’s imagination and disappear in a matter of days. But a three-minute pop song with just the right public buy-in can hang around on the pop charts for months — even years. Although Billie Eilish and Lizzo might disagree, “Old Town Road” was quite unmistakably the song of the summer for 2019, as it topped the list billboard Charts for a record 19 consecutive weeks from April to August. But this song came out in December 2018 and took months to gather steam as it went from a TikTok sensation to a Billy Ray Cyrus-powered crossover to a BTS-powered mainstay. Like Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” which was 18 months old when it really took off, “Old Town Road” was a living organism: ever-changing, eternally malleable, seemingly unkillable.

So it only makes sense that the pop landscape of 2022 was changed by another immortal organism: the Kate Bush smash “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”, which originally peaked at No. 30 in 1985. When the first part of stranger things‘ fourth season was canceled in late May, the song’s prominent placement helped propel it back onto the US charts; It quickly became the first US Top 10 hit of Bush’s nearly 50-year career, as well as her first UK No. 1 hit since 1978, not to mention a true feel-good story in a summer that badly needed one. with new stranger things Episodes that were canceled on Friday could well give the song another boost.

Beyond the timelessness and craftsmanship of the song itself, what the revival of “Running Up That Hill” demonstrates is the extreme power of familiarity. For those of us who were kids in 1985, his return evokes childhood nostalgia. But it’s not as if the song has relegated to the distant past: It featured prominently at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the faithful 2019 cover by Meg Myers was a presence in its own right. The return of the original doesn’t feel like a discovery, more like a memory.

The return of Running Up That Hill says a lot about how songs help shape our shared cultural language, even as we’re isolated in a thousand other ways. The barriers to entry are low for songs that only require access to a device to play; We don’t have to subscribe to Netflix like we do with stranger thingsand we don’t have to pay to sit in a movie theater like we do with, for example Top Gun: Maverick.

Songs thrive on the wind in a way other forms of entertainment just can’t.

This track first appeared on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter Plus, so you don’t miss the next one, you’ll also get weekly recommendations on what makes us happy.

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