let’s exchange the experience

Thanks to the gruesome new season of Stranger Things, me and everyone else on the internet have been reintroduced to Kate Bush’s time-tested banger “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” And it’s been stuck on repeat in both mine and Max’s head for good reason: it’s a true gem. Between the classic synth-pop drums, Bush’s otherworldly vocal delivery, and relatable lyrics jammed in an earworm chorus, there’s something for everyone.

There must be a reason this song has been captivating audiences since 1985. It’s a classic tale that begs the question of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes: “Do you want to feel how it feels?” she asks. Instead of a deal with the devil, Bush makes a deal with God to prove her point:

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,
Be running up that building.

Though in past interviews Bush has mentioned the song was originally written to communicate the fundamental disconnect between a man and a woman – and what it would be like to exchange those experiences – it has reshaped its meaning and interpretation overtime, notably as a queer anthem.  

It’s no surprise Bush’s hallmark hit has made its way into TV soundtracks that take place in the 80s: Stranger Things (Netflix), It’s A Sin (HBOMax), and Pose (FX) to name a few. The first time this song made its impact on me was back in 2018 when I heard it on the pilot of Pose, playing at a poignant moment during the affair between Angel (Indya Moore) and Stan (Evan Peters). 

Listening activity: Walking briskly as the wind blows your hair back, or when you’re levitating.

The force and energy of running, that uphill battle, can also indicate a core challenge, whether it be an adversity or trauma. In any case, the speaker forms a position – she’d “Be running up that hill/With no problems” if she were able to make this deal. There’s a power or privilege imbalance at play too.  

The heart of the song is a classic love story about a relationship miscommunication, and how greatly our experiences shape our own understanding of the world:

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.

Our intentions don’t always bear the results we hoped for (“don’t want to,” “unaware”), and the errors of intentionality and impact go both ways (“Tell me, we both matter, don’t we?”). Bush strikes a chord in calling out the hurt that the most intimate, close relationships sometimes cause (“Is there so much hate for the ones we love?”). 

The result is powerful. With each repeat of the chorus, Bush punches us further into another world, with piercing inflection and emphasis that help this track ring over and over.

I’m not a big 80s’ gal, but I’ll be shimmying to this song for a while. 

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