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Opinion – Kate Bush’s surprise revival exemplifies a shifting industry

The 1985 ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ single by Kate Bush is currently top of the UK charts, nearly four decades on from its release. It demonstrates how the current social media age allows old songs to become recontextualised for a new audience.

I’m sure you’ve either seen or heard about the latest series of Netflix’s hit 1980s sci-fi series, Stranger Things, by now.

The insanely popular franchise has returned with a record-breaking fourth instalment, which is proving to be a sizeable cultural juggernaut. In fact, its appeal is so widespread that it’s having an impact on industries outside of just television.

Kate Bush’s 1985 single, ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’, is currently sitting at the top of the UK and US charts after being heavily featured in the show. The longevity of its newfound popularity has surpassed many expectations, too, having floated around the number one and two spots for well over three weeks.

Bush herself has issued a statement on the sudden career boost, saying that the attention is ‘nothing like’ she expected. ‘What’s wonderful is that this is a whole new audience and I love that, it’s so special. I have to admit I feel really moved by it all.’

This makes Bush the oldest female ever to reach the Official Singles Chart summit in the UK, beating Cher’s 23-year-long record for her 1998 single ‘Believe’.

All this buzz for a song that has been available for nearly four decades demonstrates a changing music industry, one that is more intertwined with social media metrics, pop culture, and celebrity endorsement than ever before.

Access to nearly every album ever made via Spotify is recontextualising tracks and albums that were previously only associated with the era they first released in.

We’ve seen this before, of course, with old classics like Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ becoming internet hits before memes were part of mainstream culture. The difference today is that these viral moments are translating into commercial success stories, pushing distant records to the very top of today’s music charts, beating the likes of Harry Styles and Bad Bunny and regaining relevance with a fresh, younger audience.

Which other songs have received this treatment?

It’s not just Kate Bush that’s getting a slice of the Gen Z listening pie.

In the last few years we’ve seen older records become the soundtracks to specific trends on TikTok, bringing a new wave of listeners flocking to songs that were otherwise long-forgotten or largely slept on.

For example, ABBA’s ‘Angeleyes’ has been doing the rounds on social media as TikTokers use the sped-up lyrics ‘sometimes when I’m lonely I sit and think about him’ in snippets to share things they miss from their childhoods (explaining a trend this way is making me feel like a square, but I digress).

The song is now ABBA’s third most popular on Spotify, having been considered an album deep cut until recently.

Another notable track is ‘I Love You So’ by indie band The Walters. Though not as old a song as the others mentioned so far, this 2014 release failed to chart when it first dropped and wasn’t notable until the end of 2021, when it went viral on TikTok.

The popularity of the track on the app caused it to explode, charting in four countries and spurring the band to reform after breaking up in 2017. It now sits at 532,000,000 streams at the time of writing and a new music video was even filmed last year.

The Walters have since released a new EP and are back to touring – all off the back of one eight-year-old track.

Other records that have found new fame include ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac, ‘Talking To The Moon’ by Bruno Mars, and ‘505’ by Arctic Monkeys, to name but just a few. Though these songs vary in age, they were all long considered to be tracks of the past and were understood exclusively within their original release window.

TikTok, Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, and other streaming platforms have caused a whirlwind of accessibility, ushering in new ways to interpret music and reimagine it for the current moment. Deep cut tracks are no longer guaranteed to remain buried deep within an artist’s hazy, decades-old discography.

Instead, they could be hidden gems of monetizable attention, should the right trend or TV show come along.

How could this have implications for the industry moving forward?

While all this change and evolution is incredibly exciting, particularly as far as our interpretation of music in popular culture goes, it could also have pitfalls for the future of music marketing and chart strategies.

Record labels are already notorious for shamelessly adopting any trendy tactic that’ll generate revenue. Whether it be weaponizing sex to attract attention, exploiting artists and robbing them of royalties, or pushing acts to pump out albums when they don’t want to, the industry is always exclusively dictated by money.

The new age of TikTok music may be reviving age-old songs, but it is also pushing labels to focus solely on catchy snippets rather than constructing an all-round quality product.

Whether this is done through explicitly telling listeners to dance a certain way, such as Drake does in his 2020 single ‘Toosie Slide’, or shamelessly ripping the entire chorus from another song as an extremely generous sample like Jack Harlow in ‘First Class’, it’s obvious from the outside that industry executives are trying their hardest to orchestrate viral moments and capitalise on trends artificially.

This also causes frustrating limitations for some acts, as they’re told they must generate a certain amount of pre-saves and produce twenty or so promotional TikTok videos before they’re allowed to release anything. Halsey recently spoke about this online, though how much of it is genuine and how much is clever, inverted marketing is unclear.

Kate Bush’s 2022 chart topping milestone is a positive outcome of this industry shift, however, and we should remain optimistic about the potential that recontextualising old songs could have. It may further boost the already eclectic nature of Gen Z’s music consumption, and help to revitalise older styles and aesthetics into newly-made tracks.

Whichever way things go, there’s no doubt about it – the industry is changing. Like the days of MTV, Napster, Spotify, and now TikTok and Netflix, the means of consumption continue to shift and evolve. The difference this time is that we may be able to bring older artists along for the ride.

It’s better to be running up that hill than be over it, right?