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Stranger Things Isn’t the First Series Featuring Running Up the Hill, What Makes it Special?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CWU chapter.

Have you ever come up with a joke you thought was clever and once you said it out loud you didn’t receive the reaction you expected? And some moments later someone makes the exact same joke as you and receives an even better response than you? Suddenly so many questions run through your mind. Where did I go wrong? Why did they laugh when that person said it and not me? Aren’t I funny? A key aspect that determines success or a positive reaction to anything you do is the execution.

My screenwriting professor once said, “you can have the most unique idea in the world, and you could have the best story in the world on paper, but if your execution is pathetic, your story on-screen won’t be memorable. That’s just how it is.”

As harsh as those words may seem, they still resonate with me four years later. Those words struck me even harder when I recently discovered that a certain 37-year-old song that has seen extraordinary success due to its use in a popular series, was previously used in two other popular series.  

“The thing that keeps a business ahead of the competition is excellence in execution.” -Tom Peters

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a Spotify playlist of songs used in The Vampire Diaries across all 8 seasons.

I was scrolling through the songs and one title in particular immediately caught my attention: Running Up the Hill. If you spend a decent amount of time on TikTok, or even listen to the radio occasionally, you will have some familiarity with Kate Bush’s 1985 song Running Up the Hill (A Deal with God).

You’ll even be even more familiar with the song if you’re a Stranger Things fan.

Over 30 years since its release, Running Up the Hill gained immense exposure after its repeated use in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. The unprecedented success of the song has led to Kate Bush breaking three world records. One of the records includes the oldest female artist to reach number one on the UK’s official singles chart, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

When I saw the song listed in the Spotify playlist of the Vampire Diaries I was completely dumbfounded.  

My first reaction was “This can’t be the same Running Up the Hill from Stranger Things it must be a different one.” I thought there was absolutely no way that the nearly four-decade-old song that only recently catapulted to popularity, was already used in another popular teen drama about a decade ago. And low and behold, it was not the original version but a cover of Kate Bush’s song.

Now here’s where things got interesting for me. After I listened to the cover, I couldn’t remember ever hearing the song in TVD, let alone what scene it was used in.

Usually, it’s very easy for me to recognize a song if it was used in a movie or tv show, especially if the show happens to be one of my all-time favorites. I resorted to YouTube to check out the scene.

The cover, by Placebo, was used in the very first episode of The Vampire Diaries. In the scene, one of the main characters, Stefan, is confronted by his past. The song softly plays in the background as the plot unfolds. I then realized the reason I couldn’t remember the song in the scene is it wasn’t a key part of the scene like in Stranger Things, therefore, there wasn’t a grand execution.

If you search “the vampire diaries running up the hill scene” on youtube, you will most likely receive a recommendation for a clip of another teen drama that used the same cover, The OC. The OC is credited as one of the breakthrough teen dramas of the early 2000s and was extremely successful at the time.

So, what do the OC, The Vampire Diaries, and Stranger Things have in common?

They are all immensely popular and successful teen drama shows in their respective runs. Another common factor is they all featured the same song for their respective scenes. Technically two of them used a cover, but only one used the original which led to huge success.

Is this the reason only one of these shows made the song popular despite all the shows having huge fanbases?

Well, that could be one of the reasons. I’m not going to explain in great detail how Stranger Things made the song popular, there are plenty of articles on that. Instead, I’m going to briefly explain how different executions of the same idea can lead to vastly different results.

I think it’s safe to say that rarely do covers of songs beat the original in terms of quality. This isn’t to say that Placebo’s running up the hill cover isn’t as good.

I actually like their rendition of the song as it adds a soft almost melancholic feel to it. The original version consists of the classic 80s drums and Kate Bush’s soaring vocals which create a sense of urgency in a way.

Both versions can appeal to people with different preferences and provide different moods. The cover works well with the scenes it’s in and serves its purpose, as does the original in Stranger Things. *SPOILERS* In the OC, the song serves as the season four opener after the tragic season 3 finale in which Marissa, the main character Ryan’s love interest dies. The song plays as we see Ryan and Marissa’s sister deal with her death in their own ways. This is similar to Stranger Thing’s use of the song in the fourth season during which Max is dealing with her late step-brother’s death. As similar as the two plots sound, as I mentioned earlier, it’s the execution that makes the difference. Stranger Things used the song numerous times and made it the basis of Max’s arc in the season. It also cleverly combined an original score with the song to make for an epic orchestral masterpiece.

After all is said and done, the question remains, if Stranger Things had used the cover instead, would it have been as successful? Well, I pose this question as a trick question.

The main reason ST used the original is the same reason the soundtrack consists of 80s songs. The show is famously based in the 80s. Therefore, the use of the original 80s song works for the show given the context.

Another question would be, if The Vampire Diaries or The OC had used the original, would it have become successful much earlier? Well, if my repeated use of a certain word that sounds like the constitution has had any effect on you, I’m sure you might have an answer to the question.

Communication Studies She/her International Student