It’s the bewitching song about “a deal with God” and getting him to “swap our places.” The main synth and drum machine make for an intoxicating mix. How literal or figurative it all is, can be up to you. When you heard it on Stranger Things as Max (Sadie Sink) fought for her life, it was thanks to the efforts of music supervisor Nora Felder. Singer Kate Bush has always been very selective of how her music is used. With a clearance coordinator, Felder created, “Elaborate scene descriptions that provided as much context as possible so that Kate and her camp would have a full understanding of the uses.” It worked out well, and it did not hurt that Bush was a fan of the series. But this isn’t the first time Bush’s original has been used in the mainstream.
If it is not her version, bands from Placebo to Track and Field give a distinct touch to their covers of “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” that feature on a number of shows. The song gives off a dramatic flair already, making it a suitable needle drop to play during some very big moments. From the shocking twists in How to Get Away with Murderto a tragedy on The OC, shows have been making use of those covers to ground an emotional scene for a while. And all of this was before Stranger Things skyrocketed the original song up music charts.
The Vampire Diaries
In the pilot episode, the opening sets up the danger of living in Mystic Falls when a young couple are killed on a dark road. Later, a relative accuses the mysterious Stefan (Paul Wesley) of the earlier killings, what has since been described as an animal attack, but this is Mystic Falls, and they have a growing vampire population. Cue Placebo’s alternative, gothic rock cover as Stefan pulls out a very old book and stares sadly at a photo from the mid-1800s. Staring back is the face of Katherine, an identical ancestor to Elena (Nina Dobrev), who he met at the local high school. It is safe to say Stefan has ulterior motives. It’s all very melodramatic; perfect for a teen-vampire-romance-drama.
Set in the 1980s, the show follows GLOW, or the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin head an ensemble cast, a cast that continuously builds with each season. By Season 3’s “The Libertine Ball,” the iconic Geena Davis is a guest star, playing new boss Sandy Devereaux St. Clair. The ball of the episode is an event to celebrate the queer life of Las Vegas. For a rare performance, Sandy wears her old Miss Las Vegas Showgirl 1962 costume, full of angel-white feathers and a headpiece. But it’s rudely cut short when smoke fills up the back of the venue. Kate Bush’s song is heard as all the performers and attendees, dressed lavishly and carefree, are confronted with an arson attempt and homophobic graffiti sprayed outside.
Max has to save herself from the skeletal Vecna, using memories of her friends to do so. Hearing it play during Max’s walk to the guidance counselor’s office is a fun enough way to include an 80s ballad. But the better surprise is how prominent the song becomes to Max’s survival. The sound design echoes, mixing into an orchestral rendition. Of course, we believe that Max will get out okay – but as Vecna causes debris to smash into Max’s path, it does become more uncertain. Maybe she won’t. At the last second, she does and wakes up back in reality. Catching her breath among friends, Max repeats, “I’m still here.” And the episode fades to black as “Running Up That Hill” softly continues into the credits.
How to Get Away With Murder
Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is a professor and active criminal defense attorney. She and her group of students get embroiled in a murder mystery while their lives become more and more embroiled in secrets and scandals. In “We Know Everything,” the ending montage brings together various elements of danger and mistrust with Placebo’s cover playing over it all. Michaela (Aja Naomi King) shows Gabriel (Rome Flynn), the son of Annalise’s murdered husband, his apartment is bugged, an attempt to show he can trust her, but his motivation is still murky. Meanwhile, a body is discovered, and an incriminating photo is posted on social media. All the while, the FBI has a whiteboard full of photos and names connecting various individuals, with Annalise and her students in the center.
Pete (Eddie McClintock), Myka (Joanne Kelly), and Artie (Saul Rubinek) track down special artifacts with a supernatural nature to them. To keep the average citizen safe, they need to neutralize each one and then store it in, you guessed it, Warehouse 13. Along the way, Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) and Steve (Aaron Ashmore) become important players in helping a day’s work go by smoothly, eventually turning into a brother-sister duo. By the Season 3 finale, a mastermind villain gets closer to causing absolute destruction thanks to the Warehouse and Steve does not make it out alive. In “Emily Lake,” the main gang discovers his body, set to Track and Field’s piano version of “Running Up That Hill.” It’s a moodier, more somber cover, matching the horrified reactions, especially Claudia’s.
In the pilot, Stan (Evan Peters) hesitantly picks up Angel (Indya Moore) at the Piers. The encounter does not go exactly as planned. Instead of having sex, Stan prefers if the two talk. The tenderness to it is different from what they have experienced before. When Angel hears Kate Bush’s song on the radio, she makes it their song. The song’s lyrics: “Let’s exchange the experience,” presents Angel and Stan’s relationship in a different light, not so gender-specific as Bush’s vocals might imply. Angel is a Black trans woman, making money through sex work. Stan is a white straight man, working his way up on Wall Street, who also has a wife and two children. The series presents these two as nuanced and complicated individuals rather than just what their stereotypes might define them as.
Bones (Emily Deschanel) and Booth (David Boreanaz) investigate the churned remains of an FBI agent. As the two look deeper into the case, evidence links them to a murder case three decades prior and a conspiracy involving the Bureau. Clues also lead back to Bones’ father, Max Keenan (Ryan O’Neal), a man with a dubious past. Sure, Kate Bush’s song is iconic, but there’s a moodier edge to Placebo’s cover. It makes sense that Bones would use this cover when Max sets fire to the body of another member of the FBI, although not everything is what it seems. A chilling way to conclude the episode, it also gives audiences a rare look at the before of a crime instead of just the after.
Big Little Lies
A death occurs in the first season, personally affecting five mothers living in Monterey, California. By Season 2, their personal lives are in even more turmoil. For stay-at-home mom Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), she’s experiencing the aftermath of cheating on husband Ed (Adam Scott). In “The Bad Mother,” he finds himself at a strange crossroads. Tori (Sarah Sokolovic), whose husband was Madeline’s partner, meets him at a café. Ed is full of anxiety, constantly looking around for who might recognize him. Tori, on the other hand, is cool and collected. She’s figured out the best way to heal from this affair, is to have sex with Ed, that way it evens the score. Placebo’s cover is heard softly in the background, once again, its lyrics hinting at what could happen if the two actually go ahead with the plan.
Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) gets adopted into the rich Cohen family. Coming from a troubled home, Ryan is now given a second chance. Cultures clash and relationship issues crop up that Ryan, his friends, and foster family must face. By the Season 3 finale, the long-building romance between Ryan and Marissa (Mischa Barton) ends on tragic terms. Killed in a car accident, Marissa’s death heavily affects the ensemble for the fourth season premiere, “The Avengers.” The aftermath is shown as Placebo’s “Running Up That Hill” plays. What makes it particularly bleak, is the sudden death comes right as the main cast are becoming high school graduates. Ryan has moved out of the Cohens’ home, entirely avoiding his adoptive family when they try to find him. Everyone, whether they want to or not, is forced to live in a future that isn’t so certain anymore.
It’s a Sin
From creator Russell T Davieseach episode of It’s a Sin spans one year in the lives of a group of friends. They struggle with coming out to parents, securing jobs, making the rent on time, all unaware of the rise of the AIDS epidemic. In “Episode 5,” the friend group has already been heavily affected, but there is still more to grapple with. Ritchie (Olly Alexander) takes his “cocktail,” an assortment of pills for his HIV infection, with gentle help from Jill (Lydia West). The lyrics of swapping places hold a darker tone. Jill, like many friends and allies of the time period, has to step up to support the people close to her when those in actual positions of power do little to nothing.