[WARNING: Mild spoilers for Stranger Things in the description and MAJOR spoilers in the tracklist at the very bottom.]
We love this show.
And there is so much that could be said. We could meticulously cite the 80’s horror and sci-fi tropes that are lovingly woven into the script (and sometimes subverted--looking at you, Hopper and Steve). There are too many influences to catch on a first watch, but they all feel intentional and never shoehorned (many of them even give you clues about the plot).
And we obviously couldn’t get enough of the music. There were enough standards to make the soundtrack familiar and the show placed in a certain time, but with enough deep cuts and instrumental tracks to turn it into a scavenger hunt/Shazaam party/gateway to your new favorite artist. And on top of all that, we get a layer of cute little winks in the form of music profiles for certain characters, almost like theme songs for the more glittery parts of Steve’s, Nancy’s, and Barb’s storylines (like kissing to Toto, or chatting about boys on the phone to “Body Language”).
We could gush about the referential-but-wholly-original tone, a.k.a “ what if The Breakfast Club were an extended season 3 Vince Gilligan/Chris Carter X-Files Episode. And Tron.”
We could praise the undercurrent of realism at the base of the supernatural happenings, especially as it relates to the actions and motivations of the characters. Joyce is an utterly believable single mother in crisis; deeply concerned and shaken but never treated as insane. The resolution of the Jonathan/ Nancy/ Steve triangle doesn’t treat us like a Disney audience, but as people who have weathered love and its associated heartache. The only one dimensional characters are made so by the way that the characters in the SHOW view them, rather than being throwaway plot-advancers for the audience. And the kids are kids, and damn good at it.
But the thing that differentiates Stranger Things from a Super 8 (enjoyable but hollow, sorry JJ) and Supernatural (ugh) that teleports it into PST (“Peak Stephen/Steven Territory,” where it occupies the same space as IT, Stand By Me, and E.T) is the stunningly evocative saga of A Boy and his Friends.
Nothing is more empowering, especially as a kid, than when someone recognizes where you’ve been. You know you're going to be tightly tied to that person. One of the most powerful moments in the show is when Mike explains why the bullies pick on him, and El simply says, “Mike, I understand” as they cart their bikes through the woods. Even though El has been dragged along a terrible path that is very unique to her life, she and Mike find overlap between their own experiences. And more than just recognizing Eleven’s story, the boys see a glimpse of themselves in the inscrutable mirror of El’s character. "Still pretty?" Yes, Mike says, and also still relatable, still human. Maybe El telling Mike “I understand” means that she feels understood, too. This is El learning about how friendship can empower a person, and there are too many examples of its effects on her character to count. And as this young, frightened, otherwordly girl learns what it means to feel nurture, camaraderie, and empathy, we as viewers learn with her.
All we can say is that we hope we’d have been friends with them when we were kids.
This is a list inspired by the curated soundtrack with some nods to the OST, along with (at the bottom) moments or characters that inspired each song (SPOILERS), which might give you some insight into our thought processes. If you haven't seen the show, you might want to stop at the Spotify playlist. But come back when you've seen it all, because the associated thoughts in the tracklist at the bottom are where all the fun's at!
Tracks and associated moments:
- Warzawa - David Bowie (General tone of the show; also some ET vibes)
- Lost in the Supermarket - The Clash (the boys)
- Can you kiss me first - College (Biking)
- This Charming Man - The Smiths (Steve)
- kiew mission - Tangerine Dream (Shadowy government goings-on)
- The Wolf - Fever Ray (the Demogorgon)
- Polaroid/Roman/Photo - Ruth (Jonathan Byers Photography Co.)
- All Your Yeahs - Beach House (Christmas lights lighting up for Joyce)
- Distortions - Clinic (Eleven)
- A Little Respect - Erasure (Nance and Steve)
- Steppin' Out - Joe Jackson (Steve's drive around the block with friends)
- Marquee Moon - Television (Will and Jonathan)
- Shout - Tears For Fears (Steve and the marquee)
- The Killing Moon - Echo & The Bunnymen (Boys, Nancy, Jon going back to school, parents blind to all their discoveries)
- Disorder - Joy Division (Jonathan processing Will's "death")
- Doot Doot - Freur (Joyce processing Will's "death")
- Motorhome - Underworld (Will in the Upside Down)
- The Passenger - Iggy Pop (Hopper)
- Just Like Honey - The Jesus and Mary Chain (Jonathan and Nancy)
- Souvenir - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (Mike and El's love)
- Your Love - Frankie Knuckles (Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve fighting the Demogorgon)
- This Is the One - The Stone Roses (Quarry scene after Eleven rescues the boys)
- Your Silent Face - New Order (Eleven's sacrifice)
- Always Crushing In The Same Car - David Bowie (Finishing the show)