The opening chords of a synthesizer blare from my car speaker followed by the powerful voice of Kate Bush. The radio reads “Running Up That Hill,” a song that was originally released in 1985, yet made its way up the charts to the number 1 spot in the summer of 2022. How, after 37 years, did this song find a resurgence in popularity, uniting both past and present generations? The answer lies in nostalgia. “Running Up That Hill” first saw renewed recognition after being featured in the fourth season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, a show steeped in the culture and aesthetic of the 1980s. Coupled with one of the most critical, emotionally charged scenes of the season, this song not only formed new vivid associations in the minds of viewers, but was also able to ignite a sense of sentimentality for the 80s, even for those who had not even been alive to experience this era.
Because of the prevalence of music streaming platforms, like Spotify and Apple Music, individuals are able to access music from virtually any decade or genre they desire with a simple search. In this way, music can serve as a physical reminder of the past, conjuring nostalgic memories of childhood and the emotions we continue to experience. After listening to a certain album on repeat, the brain begins to subconsciously associate these songs with the specific memories and feelings experienced during the time they were primarily heard.
Creating highly-curated playlists can help to intentionally capture the memories and feelings of everything from a beloved TV show character to your favorite time of year. Listening to these playlists associates the feelings you have for the playlist’s muse with the music itself. Individuals might make a playlist of love songs when they are in a relationship, or conversely one full of heartbreak music when that same relationship ends. Hearing these songs, even in a random context, can elicit a nostalgic feeling of longing for the emotions you once experienced.
Music can also transport the listeners of different generations to a time of innocence in their childhood. My mom most often plays songs from the 80s and 90s because these are the sounds that she grew up hearing and experienced her formative teenage years with. For me, a song that I have a strong nostalgic connection to is “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen because I have vivid memories of singing this song with my sister in the backseat of our parent’s car when we were very little. Whenever this song happens to play on the radio, I am instantly transported back to the carefree essence of my childhood. Artists have actually begun to take advantage of the emotional appeal of music through techniques like sampling. In 2019, Ariana Grande sampled the song “My Favorite Things” from the 1959 musical The Sound of Music to create “7 Rings.” The modern twist on this classic song contributed heavily to the success of “7 Rings,” as its basic tune was something many individuals could instantly recognize and possibly had nostalgic connections for. In a similar way, Olivia Rodrigo’s hit song “good 4 u” was heavily reminiscent of Paramore’s “Misery Business,” a song from 2007. By imitating this older band’s style, Rodrigo was able to put a modern spin on a song with potential pre-existing associations in the minds of listeners, subconsciously attracting them to her song. Another way that individuals try to capture a nostalgic sound is through the use of vinyls and record players, which have a sentimental association to a time before modern technology. As a record spins around and around, releasing melodies into the air, it carries with it the power of nostalgia, eliciting memories of everything from love and heartbreak to childhood innocence.
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