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How is Netflix shaping the music tastes of teenagers?

This year, Netflix has released two of their biggest shows – Stranger Things 4 and Wednesday. Each show has amassed over one billion watched hours, making them two of the most-watched series on the streaming service, only championed by 2021’s Squid Game.

Both series have been hugely successful among adults and teenagers alike, perhaps due to the shows’ unique blend of nostalgia and relatable adolescent characters. With the rise of social media apps such as TikTok, it is now easier than ever for teenagers to discuss their favourite shows. You can find communities dedicated to discussing characters and creating fan theories in a few simple clicks. 

TikTok is partly to thank for the success of certain shows, such as Wednesday, as its trend-based formula allows fans to create viral sounds and challenges using material from the show, essentially advertising the series to unsuspecting app users. Upon the release of Wednesday, a scene in which the title character dances to The Cramps’ 1981 punk track ‘Goo Goo Muck’ went viral, spurring teenagers across the globe to recreate actor Jenna Ortega’s unorthodox dance routine. Subsequently, the track has now been streamed over 16 million times on Spotify. 

However, that is just one of many instances of an old song, otherwise unknown to many adolescents, becoming hugely popular on TikTok and, thus, amongst the younger generation. Earlier this year, a clip from a Stranger Things episode where Sadie Sink’s character Max plays her favourite song, ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ by Kate Bush, went viral. Soon, you could not swipe through the app without hearing, “And if I only could/ I’d make a deal with God/ And get him to swap our places.” Bush has stated her delight that the song is being discovered by a new generation of people; “The track is being responded to in so many positive ways. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this before!” The song shot to number one in a handful of countries, including the U.K., where it stayed for three consecutive weeks, and her album Hounds of Love even topped the U.S. Alternative charts.

Stranger Things also breathed a new lease of life into two other tracks this year: ‘Pass the Dutchie’ by Musical Youth and ‘Master of Puppets’ by Metallica. The latter is performed by Joseph Quinn’s character Eddie Munson in a dramatic sequence in which he attempts to distract the demo bats in the Upside Down. After its use in the show, the track entered the charts for the first time since its release in 1986, with the popularity of Quinn’s outcast metalhead character introducing Metallica to a new legion of young fans. With the recent announcement that ‘Master of Puppets’ will feature in the video game Fortnite, the band are only set to gain more teenage fans. 

Yet the streaming service has been shaping the musical tastes of teenagers for years before the release of Wednesday and Stranger Things 4. Channel 4’s risque teen drama Skins has remained a popular staple among adolescents over the years due to its availability on Netflix, as demonstrated by the wealth of screen grabs of characters such as the rebellious Effy Stonem and eccentric Cassie Ainsworth floating around the internet. Teenagers on TikTok seem to make audio bites and fan edits of the show as if it’s going out of fashion – which is far from the case. 

The unwavering popularity of Skins has coincided with the rise of the ‘indie sleaze’ aesthetic that has seen a revival this year. Think late-2000s Kate Moss and Alexa Chung, images of wild parties (as seen in Skins) and thrown-together messy yet chic outfits. Due to the show’s popularity among teenagers – trying to recreate a style they were too young to participate in the first time around – its soundtrack has also regained popularity. Artists such as Crystal Castles, who play a gig during one pivotal episode of the show, have found a new teenage fanbase, with songs such as ‘Crimewave’ and ‘Transgender’ going viral on TikTok. 

Moreover, contemporary artists such as Baby Queen, Beabadoobee and Wolf Alice have widened their fanbases through their inclusion in the Netflix original Heartstopper. The LGBT+ coming-of-age drama has amassed over 50 million viewers since it debuted in April, sky-rocketing the popularity of songs featured on its soundtrack. ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ from Wolf Alice’s 2017 Mercury-prize-winning album Visions of a Life found success when it was released five years ago – now teenagers that were perhaps just a few years too young back then are discovering the track. The song now has almost 68 million streams, compared to the other songs on the album, which mainly average two to six million streams. 

Due to Netflix’s hegemony, the streaming service possesses tremendous influence. Since a large percentage of its viewers are teenagers – the most easily-influenced social group – it is no wonder music featured in successful shows gains popularity. It’s reassuring that teenagers are open to listening to old classics, and refreshing to see artists such as Kate Bush topping the charts in 2022. However, this begs the question – which artists will be discovered by a new generation of fans next?