Some of 2022’s biggest pop culture hits long for someone else’s yesteryear

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      It’s the 20-year cycle, baby. Everything old is new again. The low-rise jeans and over-tweezed brows of Y2K are back, as is the looming fear of another recession. But this time, we have the added knowledge that climate change probably, actually, will obliterate us! If only Al Gore had won Florida.

      But one layer of nostalgia isn’t enough. In our irony-poisoned times, so too is music experiencing the return of sparkly synth pop and metal bombast that are unmistakably '80s. And what about the groovy, psychedelic duds packing out Urban Outfitters with '60s callbacks? Time is collapsing. It’s a temporal tiramisu. Are we the cream or the cake? 

      Nowhere is this kitchen sink mish-mash of generational nostalgia stronger than in Netflix shows like Stranger Things and Wednesday, which have hit on a winning formula of making today’s teens really resonate with the shit that the creators loved when they were young. Case in point: the music. 

      After Season 4 of Netflix’s cash-cow franchise featured Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” in climactic scenes, both tracks experienced a huge popularity bump. It’s kind of like what The Sopranos in 2007 and then Glee in 2009 did for “Don’t Stop Believin’”: suddenly Journey’s iconic 1981 power ballad was everywhere, albeit in the latter instance as a weirdly soulless cover that felt painstakingly crafted in a Hollywood lab to extract as much fandom obsession as possible out of theatre kids. 

      While it’s not to the same extent, Wednesday has also brought about a bit of a streaming bump. There’s new attention on the Cramps’ 1981 track “Goo Goo Muck,” as the titular character dances to the spooky bop during her magic school’s prom. This track itself is a cover. Originally it was performed by Ronnie Cook & The Gaylads in 1962, and it’s a pop culture crime that a band with a name that incredible somehow doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. 

      And here we have the 20-year layers, yet again. The Cramps covered a song that was around when they were growing up. Wednesday is created by two men in their mid-50s who might remember The Cramps’ psychobilly surf punk from their own youth. Four episodes are directed by a man in his mid-60s who, yes, does happen to be Tim Burton, aka the man who made every movie that millennials thought was just so deep when they were 14. 

      (Does The Nightmare Before Christmas have a lasting cultural impact, as evidenced by the fact Blink-182 was using it as a model for whiny-piney love songs in 2004? Yes. Is living “like Jack and Sally” actually an aspirational thing? No, the Pumpkin King spends the whole movie ignoring the only person with half a brain, and then they sing half a song together. That’s love, folks!) 

      And Stranger Things is helmed by two men born in 1984. They don’t know what it was like to be a teen in the '80s; they’ve just imagined it, based on all the Spielberg movies they loved that were about teens in the '80s. They’re nostalgic for what it was like to be coming of age at the same time they’re born, the way teens now are nostalgic for the early '00s. 

      Gen Z think boob tubes and butterfly clips are cool because they didn’t live through it. And buying into that vision of the ‘80s from Stranger Things is like learning about the ‘60s by listening to the Monkees. It’s all rose-tinted. It’s the facsimile of a facsimile, the vibe of a vibe, a mixtape that’s been passed through so many hands that Ronnie Cook & The Gaylads has been rubbed off the tracklist and only the best-known names remain. 

      When the present day is unsatisfying—and, truly, is the present day ever more unsatisfying than when you’re a teen?—of course the past seems better by comparison. 

      Which makes me wonder where we’ll be at in 20 years’ time. Will the kids of 2040 be watching TikTok montages and recreating Jenna Ortega’s viral staccato dance scene? Or will today’s teens be the tastemakers, crafting smash-hit shows about their barely-remembered pre-9/11 childhoods when all we had to worry about was the Millennium Bug and boy band wars, making their own kids re-live the noughties nostalgia we’re currently contending with?

      To be fair, they’ll probably still be blasting “Running Up That Hill.” That’s not the ladyfingers or the marscapone: it’s the espresso.

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