If Stranger Things 4 has a theme song, it is certainly Kate Bush’s ‘80s synth-pop classic “Running Up That Hill.” It’s Sadie Sink’s character Max Mayfield’s favorite, and even helps save her life, as it becomes her touchstone to pull her out of the clutches of the demonic Vecna. And in the first seven episodes of season four, they play it no less than three times. But why this tune in particular? What does this Kate Bush song say about where Max is as a character on Stranger Things? Let’s take a deep dive into just what this classic song is all about.
For those of you unaware, Kate Bush is a legendary synth-art pop singer from the U.K. who enjoyed years of popularity in her home country, and broke out with a couple of hits in the states. One of those was the duet “ Don’t Give Up” with Peter Gabriel, while the other was “ Running up that Hill (A Deal With God).” The song made its debut on Bush’s 1985 album Hounds of Love.
Its success was limited in the states, as it only hit #30 on the Billboard Hot 100. But over time, the song became a staple of college radio, and eventually, a classic. They have featured it not only on Stranger Things in a prominent way this year, but also on other series like Pose, The Challenge, and It’s a Sin.
But what is the meaning behind “Running Up That Hill,” and how does it relate to Stranger Things? The most remembered part of the chorus goes like this:
And if I only could,
I’d make a deal with God,
And I’d get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
With no problems.
In interviews, Bush has explained what the song was about, saying the following in a BBC interview (via American Songwriter):
“I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman, can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised! [Laughs] And I think it would be led to a greater understanding. Really the only way I could think it could be done was either … you know, I thought a deal with the devil, you know. And I thought, ‘Well, no, why not a deal with God!’ You know, because in a way it’s so much more powerful, the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you
Right there, you can see why the writers chose this song for Max. After witnessing the death of her stepbrother Billy last season, she fell into a deep depression, which alienated her from Lucas, the boy she was dating. Lucas moved on to the “popular crowd,” while Max retreated further into herself. Lucas can’t understand why Max has changed, and Max can’t understand why Lucas can’t see how things are different now. If only they could swap places, maybe they could finally understand each other. It’s all right there.
You don’t want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware I’m tearing you asunder.
Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts.
But Lucas just can’t relate to the level of trauma Max suffered last season. And it makes her feel even more disconnected. Not just from Lucas, but all of her male circle of friends. Right then and there, you can see why the song connects to her so much. Of course, Max may also just connect to Kate Bush as a person. In the early ’80s, male acts dominated the British New Wave scene (Annie Lennox aside). Bush faced an uphill battle (no pun intended) to get recognition. As the only “girl” in the D&D group now that Eleven is gone, Max surely felt a connection to Kate Bush in that way too.
We should also note, Bush changed the lyrics from “A deal with the Devil” to “a deal with God.” Simply because Kate Bush’s label didn’t think mentioning the Devil in a pop song would get radio play during the ’80s Satanic Panic. Yet another connection to Stranger Things 4.
We don’t know yet if Stranger Things 4 is going to draw on Kate Bush’s classic song yet in the remaining two episodes of the season as we see how Max does (or does not) escape Vecna. But we have a feeling it’s not the last we’ve heard of Kate Bush’s signature song on this series. We would not be surprised if it has one more spin to go before it’s all said and done.