Stranger Things expanded his grasp on pop culture in Season 4 by introducing a 40-year-old song to an entirely new generation. In the season, Sadie Sink’s Max Mayfield replays Kate Bush’s 1985 anthem “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” on a continuous loop. The attraction to a favorite song keeps Max from slipping into the dream-state clutches of new supervillain Vecna/001. In the process of saving Max’s life, 2022 Emmy nominee Nora Felder’s talent as a music supervisor helped Bush’s song become a bigger hit than it ever was… 37 years later.
Here, in an interview with Awards Daily, Felder shares the process of how she matches song to project. She also details how she convinced Kate Bush to license the song for Stranger Things. She talks about her reaction to the completely unexpected success of “Running Up That Hill” in the modern era. Finally, she talks about how this year’s success challenges her for the next iteration of Stranger Things.
Awards Daily: How do you approach a project in terms of proper selection of music?
Nora Felder: For me, finding music has not been a mechanical process, nor is there just one way in which an inspired idea comes to me. Over the course of working on any given project, the stories, characters, and scenes are often alive in the theater of my mind around the clock. Ideas can pop into my head randomly, whether it’s right after reading a script, watching a scene or entire show, or at an unexpected moment, including waking me up in the middle of the night. There really is no predictable manner in which ideas come to me.
Awards Daily: How did “Running Up That Hill” find its way into Stranger Things and was it a challenge to gain Kate Bush’s approval?
Nora Felder: Back when The Duffers were in the early stages of writing the Season 4 scripts, they were searching for the perfect song to capture Max’s emotional state – her pain, loss, disconnection from others and need for strength and support. When I had the idea to use Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” I knew it could be very special for its powerful melodic flow and very poignant themes. I felt strongly that it would resonate with Max’s experiences. Before sending the song as an idea, I reached out to the publisher rep (Amy Coles at Sony Music Publishing) and pre-vetted the song. Amy at that time told me that although Kate was very particular about allowing the use of her music, she was open. That was good enough for me to move forward. I sent this song to The Duffers along with some alternate choices, though this was my clear favorite. I was overjoyed that they ended up reacting so strongly to this and felt as deep of a connection to the song as I did.
Kate Bush is a true artist who is notoriously very particular about the way her music is used. She wants to make sure it fits with the story. My clearance coordinator and I wanted to give her as much context as possible, so we spent a lot of time fleshing through the scene descriptions. We really wanted her to understand The Duffers’ vision and the creative depth behind Max’s story, both of which were so important in showing her that this was the perfect song. I didn’t focus on a backup plan and was committed to doing everything in my power to make this happen. We were on the edge of our seats waiting for her feedback, and we were so thrilled to finally hear that she not only approved of the usage, but is actually a huge fan of the show!
Awards Daily: Season 4 seems to contain less pre-recorded songs given the shift into more of a horror tone. How did that change your approach aside from selection of the Kate Bush and Metallica songs?
Nora Felder: Actually, we did use quite a bit of pre-recorded songs this season including Episode 404, “Dear Billy,” that I’m nominated for alone had 12 songs. Perhaps it seems like less because quite a few of the episodes are much longer than was the case in previous seasons. When looking for songs, it can be about an overall tone, however for Stranger Things, it’s more about what the specific moments during a scene, locale, or characters that are involved. The Kate Bush and Metallica song placements were selected because they exemplified the personas of each character (Max and Eddie) and their individual journeys.
Some songs are meant to reflect the historical period and atmosphere of certain locales, such as the roller rink in Season 4. As an example, Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round Like A Record” represented not only the 1980s energy of a roller rink but also paid a nod to Eleven and her relationship with her friend Will. In this case, Will really seems flabbergasted by the seemingly delusional banter between Eleven and her boyfriend Mike. In this scene, Eleven is clearly misleading Mike to believe she was adjusting extremely well in her new home town causing Will to feel like he was spinning around in her web of false realities.
There’s another scene where we find Joyce and Murray experiencing heightened suspicions about a mysterious package from Russia that has arrived at Joyce’s house. I put forth Mae Arnette’s infectious classic gem, “Chica Mejacinita,” for this scene as it seemed to have the right kind of spice to highlight Murray’s delightful, offbeat, and comedic character. I also felt that this song perfectly captured the zany relationship between Murray and Joyce. As crazy and off-kilter as it gets for them along the way, the chemistry between them somehow gets them where they need to go.
Awards Daily: What has been your reaction to the incredible resurgence of Kate Bush and “Running Up That Hill” from Tik Tok to the Top 40 charts?
Nora Felder: Sometimes, I think I may be just as ecstatic as Kate Bush’s camp and my entire team on Stranger Things. At the same time, I can’t say enough about how humbled and grateful I feel about experiencing a music supervision dream I couldn’t have imagined was possible. Being the Music Supervisor for this electrifying and extremely significant moment in the history of music still feels surreal. To think that a decades old song has risen and maintained itself at the #1 spot on the charts worldwide due to its heartfelt connection with Stranger Things is still surreal for me. Having the good fortune to play an important part in this lightening in a bottle moment has been all the more uplifting and energizing for me because it has endured for some time and has never happened before. It’s truly a historic moment in music.
Awards Daily: Does that success create any anticipated challenges for what’s to come in Season 5?
Nora Felder: When I work on a stellar project such as Stranger Things, I feel a responsibility to raise the bar every season. Working on a show that is recognized as one of the best TV series in the world reinvigorates my feeling of responsibility to bring my ‘A game’ and make it the best show that in can be. This is a responsibility I never take lightly.
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