How Cyndi Lauper and the Police Added Deeper Meaning to ‘Stranger Things 2′
Stranger Things viewers came for the tween supernatural genre thrills, but they've stayed partly because of the Netflix's hit's rich period detail — an element of the show that only strengthened in its second season, which doubled down on pop culture ephemera from the '80s.
Of course, music is a huge part of the way show creators Matt and Ross Duffer have set the tone for the show, and as the duo explained during the aftershow series Beyond Stranger Things, many of their song choices were not only deeply deliberate, but laid into the framework of the season long before it had been completely sketched out. Their soundtrack choices, peppered into a soundscape whose foundation was already set by an analog synth score courtesy of Survive co-founders Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, sharpened the show's nostalgic hook while hinting at what lies in store for the characters in season 3.
A perfect example arrives in the season's final episode, which concludes with the holiday Snow Ball attended by the younger crew of Stranger Things kids — as well as Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), who's on hand as a chaperone and steps in at a pivotal moment after Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) suffers a painful social setback. Emboldened after getting some dating and hairstyle advice from his new monster-battling buddy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), he strides into the auditorium and asks several girls to dance, only to be shot down. Alone on the bleachers, Dustin's deep in the throes of adolescent misery — until Nancy pulls him onto the dance floor for a pep talk set to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."
"We always had that moment with Dustin and Nancy," explained Ross Duffer. "That was an early moment. You know, you have these ideas early on that become sort of the building blocks, and that scene was one of the big pieces that goes up on the board and you're like, 'That's staying, no matter what, and how do we get there?'"
Given that Stranger Things' second season is set in 1984, it makes perfect sense that "Time After Time" would be playing at the Snow Ball; one of several Top 10 hits from Lauper's She's So Unusual LP, it was one of the biggest singles of the year, and although it had run its course on the charts by the time the holidays rolled around, it definitely would have been in any DJ's arsenal for a school dance. Whether the song's lyrical themes will end up holding a deeper meaning for Nancy and Dustin — or the show in general — obviously remains to be seen, but it's worth noting that when Dustin enters the gym, another song referencing time and second chances is playing: Olivia Newton-John's "Twist of Fate," a soundtrack anthem from Two of a Kind, the 1983 movie in which Newton-John and John Travolta play a man and woman who wind up being responsible from saving the world from the wrath of God.
In Beyond Stranger Things, the Duffers say they only stumbled on "Twist of Fate" the day they ended up using it, so its inclusion is likely little more than period-appropriate coincidence. But that definitely isn't true of another song heard during the Snow Ball — "Every Breath You Take," the massive No. 1 hit by the Police that soundtracked countless '80s love stories even though its lyrics described a stalker's decidedly sinister relationship with his prey. As Matarazzo pointed out, despite its status as an evergreen favorite at weddings, it's a "creepy" song, which caused some to question why it's playing when Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) enters the gym and dances with Mike (Finn Wolfhard).
As Matt Duffer pointed out, "Every Breath You Take" was one of the songs that was deliberately written into Stranger Things' second season — and, as director Shawn Levy quickly interjected to point out, that particular track was chosen not just because it was a huge hit during the era when scene takes place, but because of the thematic parallels between the lyrics and the way the show's canvas is arranged at the end of the second season. Although our young heroes have healed the rift between their world and the Upside Down and vanquished the Mind Flayer, he's still out there...and he hasn't forgotten who defeated him.
"The idea of 'I'll be watching you,' given how the season ends, and the fact that there is still something watching," Levy said of the song choice. "Not accidental."
Supernatural threats aside, much of what fuels the closing moments of Stranger Things' second season is good old-fashioned adolescent angst, which was another of the Duffers' very deliberate choices — and something that was drawn from real-life experiences that have been shared by pretty much anyone who made it through their teen years. Hopefully, no one watching the show has ever battled a Demogorgon, been trapped in a dark parallel dimension, or been held captive in a lab by a shadowy government organization. But who hasn't fretted over unrequited love or worried that they'd never be one of the cool kids? Those fears were uniquely well captured by the mainstream pop of the '80s — songs recorded at a moment when technology added increasing layers of postmodern sheen, but before irony and cynicism became the default stances for a generation of rock stars.
"I think a lot of people watching this show probably identify with the moment of, you know, reluctantly going to a dance and having nothing to do. And standing kind of in the corner. That's a really hard moment," said Matt. "Everyone has that anxiety when you're growing up of feeling like you're gonna be left behind, or you're being left behind in certain areas. Especially socially, I was always behind. In fact," he laughed, "we were held back in kindergarten for this very reason."