How Kate Bush became an unexpected Gen Z idol
Nearly 40 years have passed since the release of ‘Running Up That Hill,’ but the song is back at the top of the charts thanks to the Netflix show ‘Stranger Things,’ which has introduced the singer to a new generation of fans
When Kate Bush released Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) in 1985, it became one of her biggest hits. But against all expectations, 37 years on, it is back at the top of the charts, outperforming the latest releases by global stars such as Harry Styles and Bad Bunny. The song owes its surprise success to its appearance on Stranger Things, a 1980s-based sci-fi show on Netflix.
The series has introduced a new generation of young fans to Kate Bush, a British singer who was often criticized by those who misunderstood her work or disliked the fact that it was by a female artist.
“It was kind of sexist. People thought that Kate Bush was insane. People were embarrassed about admitting that they actually liked her and I think that is something, actually, one good thing about feminism nowadays is that she is not a threat at all,” said Icelandic singer Björk in an interview with Far Out.
Indeed, many global stars, including Rosalía, Adele and Lady Gaga, have spoken openly about the important influence Bush has had on their music. The English singer broke all the molds, she smashed expectations and paved the way for a new generation of pioneering female singers. She elevated her music videos into a kind of performance art, reinvented the concert experience and became a cult figure who endured despite her long absences from public life.
“You might’ve heard that the first part of the fantastic, gripping new series 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!” said Bush in a statement on her website. The singer is very protective of her music and does not normally allow it to be used in other media, but according to Variety magazine, she made an exception after reviewing the script and how the song was going to be included in the show.
Bush also tends to shy away from the media, so her statement in response to the comeback of Running Up That Hill has caused almost as much media attention as the news itself. The singer does not offer interviews and has only appeared at public events a handful of times in the last decades. She may be out there and dramatic as an artist, but as a person, she is much more timid and introverted.
“She is the older sister that every gay man wants. She connects so well with a gay audience because she is so removed from the real world,” said singer Rufus Wainright in an interview, in reference to Bush’s status as an LGBTQ icon.
Bush was signed to the music label EMI when she was just 16 years old. But under the agreement, the singer could not release any songs for two years. She used this time to take dance classes and perfect the moves that she would later showcase in her music video for her first single, Wuthering Heights. The song went straight to number one on the charts in the United Kingdom, making her the first female artist to take the top spot with a self-written song.
Since 1978, Bush has released just 10 albums, with decades sometimes passing between each one. The singer became one of the most important figures in pop music, not only for her avant-garde and genre-bending approach to music, but also because of her refusal to submit to an industry that wanted to impose its will upon her. Before releasing her first album, she demanded control to decide which songs would be singles and which musicians would play with her. She also became known as the first artist to use a cordless microphone headset on tour, which allowed her to move and dance while singing live.
Bush performed her first tour in 1979 and decided not to return to the stage again. It was not until 2014, 35 years later, that she performed another concert. It’s rumored that this long absence was due to the trauma caused by the accidental death of Bush’s lighting engineer, Bill Duffield, while on tour. Her most recent album Aerial was released in 2005, and there are no signs that she is working on new material.
The youngest of three siblings, Bush grew up on an isolated farm in a farming district in southeast London. Her father was an aspiring doctor and her mother a nurse who had been a dancer. The idyllic setting, coupled with the bohemian family’s love of music, provided the perfect conditions for Bush to unleash her creative talent.
Between 1973 and 1978, the year her first album was released, Bush wrote as many as 120 songs. Most of them have never seen the light of day, but the rejected demos did win over Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who shared a common friend with the family. Thanks to his support, EMI decided to take a chance and sign her to the label. It was a risk that paid off. Although Bush never sought fame, she became a global sensation. “One secret of the singer Kate Bush’s artistry is that she has never feared the ludicrous – she tries things that other musicians would be too careful or cool to go near,” wrote critic Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker.
This is not the first time that younger generations have been introduced to old hits thanks to TV shows and social media. Stranger Things gave the theme song Never Ending Story a new lease of life, while TikTok has brought back classics such as Dreams by Fleetwood Mac and Where Is My Mind by the Pixies.