What’s old is new again. Take Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” Resurrected by “Stranger Things” and overnight virality on social media, the synth-pop anthem is a chart phenomenon (No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending June 30) 37 years after it was first released in 1985.
While revivals of that magnitude are rare, release dates have been obsolete on TikTok for years. Be it Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 classic “Dreams” or Tom Odell’s 2012 single “Another Love,” songs that should be well past their use-by date regularly spring back to life. The question is: what happens next?
In the case of Kate Bush, Warner Records couldn’t ignore 85 million global streams (this week alone) and re-serviced “Running Up That Hill” to radio. Without a sync on a cultural juggernaut like “Stranger Things” to open doors, artists and their teams are tackling this increasingly common scenario in a variety of different ways — from approaching radio stations and DSPs individually, to releasing new videos and alternate versions. The goal is to extend the viral moment and hopefully make an impact across the wider music ecosystem.
One of the artists to successfully leverage virality is Odell. “Another Love,” the Brit’s acerbic breakup anthem, went hyper-viral on TikTok in 2022, a decade after it was released, when the ballad was used to soundtrack emotional “creates” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Another Love” soon started charting globally, amassing more than 900 million streams on Spotify alone. But even with those numbers, breaking the song in the U.S. has been tricky.
For starters, a lot has changed since Odell first released “Another Love” — including his record label. That left U.S. co-manager Joe Riccitelli (alongside Sam Eldridge of UROK) in an unusual position. “Tom was signed to Columbia and licensed to RCA in the U.S.,” Riccitelli, the founder of Gold’n Retriever Ent. and former co-president of RCA Records, explains. “The song is now considered legacy, so it’s catalog. It’s hard to get the label involved because it’s not frontline music. … Catalog divisions are inherently not built to work current singles. They’re just not made that way.”
So Riccitelli took radio promotion into his own hands. “I have to do it literally station by station, programmer by programmer, and try to get one of them to take a shot on the song,” he says. “If the artist isn’t even signed into the ecosystem anymore, does it really make sense to go out there and spend the money on it?”
Elly Duhé’s management team found themselves in a similar situation with “Middle of the Night,” a 2020 synth-pop anthem that recently broke into the top 20 of Spotify’s Global chart after going nuclear on TikTok. Due to the song’s comparatively recent release, they decided to self-fund a promo campaign when the label showed reluctance. After all, Duhé had parted ways with RCA the week it was released. “It was a unique situation,” J. Hill, CEO and founder of Not Fit For Society admits. “We felt we should have picked up where we left off.”
Instead, Hill and Not Fit For Society President and co-founder Tabari Francis were largely left to their own devices. “We invested our own money in the record,” Hill says. “We found a TikTok team, we found influencers, we hired people, and we reached out to Spotify and Apple Music.” When “Middle of the Night” landed on Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” playlist, Hill and Tabari knew they had made the right decision.
The execs then brought the song to pop radio but had little luck. “We did attempt to [get airplay], but we decided that it didn’t really make sense for this situation,” Francis says. Regardless, “Middle of the Night” has amassed more than 380 million Spotify streams and charted in countries as diverse as India, Australia, Malaysia, France, and the U.K. Moreover, it shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
Given the current, anything-goes musical landscape, it’s unsurprising that the situation often plays out differently. Take New York-based duo Cafuné. They struck viral gold with their 2019 single “Tek It” in early 2022, which attracted the attention of Elektra Records. The band signed to the label and the indie-pop track is now being actively worked at radio and DSPs. “There’s often a moment with TikTok, but then it’s the label’s job to extend that moment,” says Zack Zarillo, co-founder of Public Consumption Recording Co. — a joint venture with the Warner Music label.
Johnny Minardi, VP of A&R at Elektra, concurs. “We listened to what was happening on TikTok,” he says. Knowing the power of alternate edits on the platform, the band got to work on acoustic, sped-up, and the ever-so-popular “slowed + reverb” versions. However, Minardi also kept an eye on the bigger picture. “We immediately took agents very seriously, and wanted to make sure we transferred the excitement to real fans and touring.”
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, however. “Some bands don’t like releasing multiple versions,” Minardi continues. Ultimately, it’s the artist’s decision. Cafuné wanted to take ‘Tek It’ to whatever level it can go,” he says. “When we played it for the staff, there was genuine excitement from each department, including radio,” which seems to be the final frontier for most viral revivals.
There definitely seems to be more leeway on radio for indie-rock revivals. Zarillo also guided Vundabar’s 2015 single, “Alien Blues,” to hundreds of millions of streams when it went viral in 2021. “Radio’s really hard, these people are just getting inundated,” he says. The genre helped, however. “‘Alien Blues’ was an outlier. It’s usually more pop or hyper-pop that goes viral. I think that gave us an edge. There’s more space for these songs to succeed when they rarely do.”
For his part, the band’s lead singer, Brandon Hagen, took the viral flare in his stride. “We’ve always been a slow burn band,” he says. “People just find our music when they find it.” When it came to leaning into promoting a belated hit, Hagen opted for a conservative approach. “We took the middle road of not pretending like it’s not happening, but not focusing on it. Obviously we want the band to work as well as it can.”
Perhaps the real value of viral revivals lies in their ability to promote future projects. “We were in the process of rolling out a new record already,” Hagen says of Vundabar’s 2022 release “Devil for the Fire.” “So we tied ‘Alien Blues’ into the rollout for the new record, and used one to bolster the other.”
Odell found himself in a similar situation when “Another Love” exploded as he was gearing up to release new single “Best Day of My Life.”
“I’m working both songs at the same time,” Riccitelli says of Odell’s belated and current hits. “There’s no doubt in my mind that ‘Best Day of My Life’ got off to a better start because of ‘Another Love.’ Streams for the song have been extremely steady and we had our best ticket numbers ever on the U.S. tour that we just wrapped.”
Duhé is also hoping to leverage the virality of “Middle of the Night” to promote her new project. Not only that but Not Fit For Society secured a seven-figure artist funding deal from music funding platform beatBread, which will allow Duhé to release new music independently. “It gives us the opportunity to do things properly,” Francis says. “[Duhé] hasn’t released anything in a year, but she’s still the 174th or 175th most streamed artist on Spotify. That lets us know she’s building a community around her fan base that is anticipating her at this point.”
That’s the main goal for Vundabar too, in order “to keep adding credibility to the band,” Zarillo says. “We know another viral moment is unlikely to happen. So to me, as a manager, I’m using ‘Alien Blues’ as a building block.” In his opinion, working a viral song is still a small piece of the puzzle. “It was a cheat code forward, but now we need to be smart and go back to that one step at a time, one tour at a time.”
Chicago indie outfit the Walters also saw its 2014 hit, “I Love You So,” have unanticipated consequences. The band had been broken up for years when the pandemic weary masses grabbed hold of the uplifting song, catapulting its Spotify tally to over half a billion streams and reuniting its members for new music and a tour.
The general consensus appears to be that viral revivals are here to stay. “I have a feeling this is just the beginning of a trend when it comes to catalog pieces for a generation,” Riccitelli says. “Clive Davis used to call them copyrights. That was his word for this kind of a song. And that’s what ‘Another Love’ is — a copyright.”