Chas Sime/Getty Images
If you write or talk about music for a living, a few new unwritten rules have emerged in recent years. For example, the work of compiling best of the year lists has expanded to include a mandatory best of the year so far, usually in June. (Speaking of which, here are the album and song lists we just put together at NPR Music.)
Around the same time, we are required – not by law, but sometimes we are – to assess the landscape of popular music and begin to determine which currently ubiquitous tracks could be held up as “the song of summer”. Sometimes the answers will be obvious, like in 2019, when Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” Billie Eilish’s “bad guy,” and Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” seemed like the only tracks in existence between April and April. ‘october. . Other years we spend many weeks waiting for clarity as the cultural tides shift and shift.
This piece first appeared in NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss the next one, and receive weekly recommendations on what makes us happy.
Listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
After all, it is not a neat science. As with pornography, Status Song of the Summer is one of those “we know it when we see it” offerings, and each listener’s mileage is likely to vary. If you’re a Harry Styles fan, for example, you’re wondering why I haven’t already rated the effervescent and enjoyable “As It Was” or “Late Night Talking.” If you base your life on the teachings of Beyoncé — who: no argument here — you’ll clear your throat and nod to “Break My Soul,” whose defiant message fits right in with the current cultural moment. . Personally, I’m a fan of Lizzo’s “About Damn Time,” which (figuratively) teleports listeners right to the roller rink lit by a disco ball of their choice.
A complicating factor, however, is that the lifespan of a pop song has never been longer. A $200 million movie can play in theaters for six or eight weeks, and entire seasons of TV shows can appear and disappear from the public’s imagination in a matter of days. But a three-minute pop song with just the right audience buy-in can stay on the pop charts for many months or even years. Although Billie Eilish and Lizzo may disagree, “Old Town Road” was undoubtedly the song of the summer of 2019, given that it was at the top of the Billboard charts for a record 19 consecutive weeks from April to August. But that song was released in December 2018 and took months to gain momentum, going from a TikTok sensation to a Billy Ray Cyrus-powered crossover to a BTS-powered mainstay. Like Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” who was 18 months old when he really started to take off, “Old Town Road” was a living organism: ever-changing, eternally malleable, seemingly impossible to kill.
So it makes sense that the pop landscape of 2022 has been changed by another immortal body: Kate Bush’s banger “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” which originally peaked at No. 30 in 1985. When the first part of stranger things‘ the fourth season was dropped in late May, the song’s high-profile placement helped propel it back onto the US charts; it quickly became the first US Top 10 hit in Bush’s nearly 50-year career, as well as his first UK No. 1 hit since 1978, not to mention a true feel-good story in a summer. who badly needed it. With new stranger things episodes that dropped on Friday, the song may well get another boost.
What the resurgence of “Running Up That Hill” demonstrates, beyond the timelessness and craftsmanship of the song itself, is the sheer power of familiarity. For those of us who were kids in 1985, his return evokes childhood nostalgia. But it’s not like the song has been entirely relegated to the distant past: it played a starring role in the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, and Meg Myers’ faithful 2019 cover. has been a lingering presence in its own right. The return of the original doesn’t feel like a discovery, but rather an encore.
The return of “Running Up That Hill” says a lot about how songs help shape our common cultural language, even if we are siled in a thousand other ways. Barriers to entry are low with songs, which only require access to a device to play them on; we don’t need to subscribe to Netflix, like we do with stranger thingsand we don’t have to pay to sit in a movie theater like we do with, say, Top Gun: Maverick.
The songs live on the wind in a way that other forms of entertainment simply cannot.
This piece first appeared in NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Register to receive the newsletter so you don’t miss the next one and receive weekly recommendations on what makes us happy.
Listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple podcast and Spotify.