Stranger Things Helped Kate Bush Hit A Major Music Milestone

Even though cinema began with silent films, those sound-free movies were usually accompanied by music, which was either produced from a phonograph recording or performed live by a variety of musicians. Initially, music accompanied films to overpower the whirring of the projector, and maybe that one loud, drunk guy a couple rows up, but music quickly became as important to the medium as the visuals. Films have always been an art of visual and auditory perception, and the newest season of "Stranger Things" is a perfect example of how the two elements combine to create magic.

"Stranger Things 4" focuses on the themes of trauma, depression, and death, which are explored through the eye-catching visuals of a milkshake-covered dress, boxes of peanut butter, and corpses with contorted limbs. These moments are important, and impactful, but the visuals of the season's most successful scene wouldn't be as successful without its accompanying music.

"Stranger Things" use of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" produced one of the most emotionally impactful scenes of the year, and breathed life into a 37 year old song.

'TBD Max Song'

Season 4 of "Stranger Things" is a rough one for Max (Sadie Sink). The memory and aftermath of her brother's brutal death leaves her traumatized and depressed, which causes her to isolate herself from her friends. This makes her a perfect target for this season's monster, Vecna, who feeds on emotional pain. By the end of episode 4, the dark entity focuses all of his attention on Max, and brings her into his realm to torture and kill her, but music literally saves her life.

The show's music supervisor, Nora Felder, was tasked with finding the perfect song to save Max from Vecna's claws. She spoke to Variety about the emotions Max's song needed to communicate:

"Consequently, each of the prospective song placements in the initial scripts was tagged with the placeholder, 'TBD Max song.' From there, I made an effort to internally align myself with what the Duffers felt were the most important elements needed, and my own intuitive grasp of Max's complex feelings."

Felder found those feelings in "Running Up That Hill," a Kate Bush song from 1985:

"It immediately struck me with its deep chords of the possible connection to Max's emotional struggles and took on more significance as Bush's song marinated in my conscious awareness."

Regardless of how perfect Felder believed the song to be, she couldn't use it without Bush's approval, and the singer rarely gives it. When approached about the use of her song, Bush requested a description of the scenes her songs might be used in before she would approve the request. 

A deal with a dark wizard

Determined to use Bush's song, Felder worked hard to provide Bush with as much information as possible:

"I sat with my clearance coordinator, and laid out all the scripted scenes for song uses that we knew of at that point. Knowing the challenges, we proceeded to create elaborate scene descriptions that provided as much context as possible so that Kate and her camp would have a full understanding of the uses. ... When we finished, we were on edge, but excited and hopeful."

Felder also provided script pages and footage from the relevant scenes for Bush to review, which resulted in her approval.

"Running Up That Hill" appears several times throughout the series, but its most memorable use is at the end of episode 4. When Max's consciousness is trapped in Vecna's dimension, he tangles his vines around her neck and tries to kill her. In the nick of time, her friends place her headphones over her ears, and play Bush's song, which opens a portal back to her reality.

Suspended in the air by Vecna's vines, Max finds hope in her happy memories as she sees her friends through the gateway, and she breaks free from the monster. Massive boulders clatter around her as she runs away from Vecna and toward her friends, with Bush's voice filling the air. As Felder predicted, the emotional impact of the song playing over Max's struggle to break free from Vecna is gripping. It's a huge reminder that visuals are greatly aided by powerful music, and, luckily for Bush, the inverse is also true.

Reaching new heights

According to Variety, "Running Up That Hill" was first released in November of 1985, where it climbed to #30 on the Billboard Charts. After appearing on "Stranger Things," the forgotten song climbed to new heights, breathing new life into the track. The singer took to her website to praise the series and thank its fans for the tunes newfound popularity and success:

"You might've heard that the first part of the fantastic, gripping new series of 'Stranger Things' has recently been released on Netflix. It features the song, 'Running Up That Hill' which is being given a whole new lease of life by the young fans who love the show – I love it too! Because of this, Running Up That Hill is charting around the world and has entered the UK chart at No. 8. It's all really exciting! Thanks very much to everyone who has supported the song."

At the time of this writing, "Running Up That Hill" is currently the most popular downloaded song, and it's sitting at #8 on Billboard's Hot 100, giving Bush her first top ten hit. It only took 37 years and the curse of a dark wizard to get it there.