At a hen party I was at recently, some attendees were surprised when another guest queued up Kate Bush’s 1978 debut single “Wuthering Heights” on the karaoke machine. No one in that small, dark room had been born earlier than 1995, and there were a few raised eyebrows when the bride and one of her bridesmaids began their warbling (“Out on the wily, windy moors” was quite the contrast to the Beyonce and Taylor Swift lyrics we had otherwise been singing).
But the moment spoke to the brilliance of the contemporary music era: that nearly every song ever recorded is available to discover and enjoy, to find your own interpretation of, and to make important in your own relationships – even if your parents were barely out of school when the song was released.
It is another Bush song, “Running Up That Hill”, the first single from her 1985 album Hounds of Love, that has recently made headlines. Following its inclusion in the soundtrack to the fourth season of the popular supernatural Netflix drama Stranger Things, Spotify streams of the song have risen by 153 per cent, it has topped the iTunes chart, and is trending on TikTok and Twitter – all largely thanks to a Gen Z audience indulging in and sharing their new musical discovery. The song only ever reached no 3 in the UK singles chart previously.
Twitter users were quick to poke fun at the story: some expressed dismay that people were first hearing Bush’s music via a television show in 2022. Others joked about the shock Stranger Things fans will have when they investigate Bush’s more recent releases. The overall sentiment was of an eye roll: “How lame that these people weren’t already Kate Bush fanatics!” “Where have they been all this time?” “I loved her before the hype.”
[ See also: Muso snobs don’t own Kate Bush ]
Bush is hardly a niche artist. In the late Seventies and Eighties she had mainstream success, becoming the first British solo female artist to top the UK charts and the first female artist to enter the album chart at no 1. Today her music seems eccentric and is easy to parody, but she maintains a mass appeal. I remember reading fervent articles about her 22-date “Before the Dawn” residency at Hammersmith Apollo, west London, in 2014. A 2018 Guardian ranking of every Bush single caused numerous arguments online.
But why should that mean that everyone is obliged to know about her music? There is enough new music to keep on top of – an estimated 60,000 new songs are uploaded to Spotify each day – without listeners feeling compelled to know every formative artist’s back catalogue too.
Besides, the beauty of recorded music is that it exists beyond the artist and the context in which it was made or first performed. Part of the satisfaction many artists feel in recording their work is in knowing that it now exists beyond them, for future listeners to interpret as they wish. Streaming platforms do not fairly remunerate artists, but the opportunity of receiving a comprehensive musical education via the vast amount of music they hold is exhilarating. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing that 50 or 100 years after the fact.
The very best songs remain life-changing no matter who is listening, or where, or when. In 1992 Bush told Radio 1 that “Running Up That Hill” is about a man and a woman swapping roles to better understand each other. It has more recently been adopted as a queer anthem: Bush “directly” gave Russel T Davies permission to use the song in his BBC Aids drama It’s a Sin. It makes sense that it would play a pivotal part in Stranger Things, given the series’ nostalgic Eighties aesthetic.
And it makes sense too that a younger generation would find such solace in it, because behind the electro-pop beat and the interpretive dance of its video, at its heart “Running Up That Hill” is a song about empathy – and the need for that is timeless.