Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, chances are you’ve seen the long-awaited conclusion to Stranger Things. After Spotify collaborated with Netflix to create personalized “Upside Down Playlists,” YEM was inspired to make our own! Whether it be rock, pop, or anything in between, these songs have that certain something that will give listeners the upper hand against Vecna.
It’d be impossible to make this playlist without “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”! Originally released in 1985, this song has since experienced a massive revival after its Stranger Things feature. If this song was a show, Kate Bush’s expressive, passionate vocals would undeniably be the star. It slowly builds to a crescendo of increasingly intense background vocals and a sweet combo of synth beats and drums.
“Dilate” is off Ani DiFranco’s album of the same name. It’s the kind of song that weighs on a person’s heart, heavy in its relative simplicity. The lyrics tear into you, and DiFranco’s wailing voice and acoustic guitar are all that’s necessary for “Dilate” to make a lasting impression. Her raw vulnerability unlocks something in listeners that isn’t easily forgotten.
Next up is a slow burn queen, Scout Niblett. “Second Chance Dreams” is the fourth song off her 2013 album It’s Up to Emma. Unfortunately, she hasn’t been active since its release, but songs like “Second Chance Dreams” are more than enough to satiate. Her music has an unnamable quality that’s equal parts otherworldly and aggressive, the kind of sound you’d expect from a faerie queen picking up the guitar and singing grunge. In other words: it’s awesome.
Equally as awesome is independent band THE FEENS’ “All Worked Out.” The British band’s latest single is great for an emotional, headphones-on-eyes-closed jam sesh. Get misty-eyed! Feel that nostalgia! THE FEENS are inviting listeners to take a dive into their song and explore memories gone by (which, for someone facing off against Vecna, will be much needed). “Change” by independent artist lostboy, with its extra helpings of wistfulness, is the perfect follow-up. As the first song off their EP “Love Among Angry People,” the scratchy electric guitar adds an underlying sense of urgency to an otherwise stable song. It slowly builds until it bursts, in true Kate Bush fashion.
BONNIE PARKER’s “Nicotine” marks another hit by independent artists. Off their 2021 EP ACTRESS, it touches upon a very human experience (“Do you think of me too?/Just like I think of you?”) that’ll remind anyone caught in Vecna’s clutches just how much better it is to be alive than…well, Vecna’d. Sure, that doesn’t take much convincing, but “Nicotine,” however angsty, is a touching reminder of love’s ups and downs. Not to mention that the melody’s intermittent rise and fall is bound to keep people hooked.
Next up is a bona fide 80s hit. “Call Me” by multi-genre band Blondie was released in 1980; its high-energy will give listeners the necessary strength to make the mad dash back to Hawkins. “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” by My Chemical Romance is just as lively. It’s one of their most popular songs, off their 2010 album Danger Days. Anyone who listens is guaranteed to feel like they’re in an action movie (the music video, which features an epic battle scene in a dystopian society, may have a little something to do with that).
Coming in at number nine is rock classic “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns N’ Roses. It’s a classic for a reason – though every band member shines, it’s the guitar that’ll really get people through the Upside Down. The solo is to-die-for (and is often considered one of the greatest of all time), making it one of the most popular classic rock songs to date, at over one billion Spotify listens.
Speaking of sick guitar solos, next up is “Back In Black” by AC/DC. Off the 1980 album of the same name, it’s a track that absolutely demands attention. And with over a billion Spotify listens, it’s received it in droves. Brian Johnson’s incredible, memorable vocals give it pretty much all the necessities for a legendary classic rock anthem. Eddie Munson would approve.
Can’t get enough of that high-octane rock? Journey knows how to dish it out. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” was released in 1983, with a recognizable chorus that made it the perfect pick for a Stranger Things remix. Its incredibly intense mix of synth and guitar is what makes it especially ideal for a battle with Vecna.
On the pop side of things is Lady Gaga’s “Americano.” This song is audible adrenaline. Lyrics like “don’t you try to catch me” would be great motivation for kids narrowly escaping death at the hands of a telepathic murderer. Speaking of which, “Pump It” by the Black Eyed Peas offers a little bit of everything – namely rap, singing, and a Misirlou sample. It’s pretty much impossible to name a bad Black Eyed Peas song, and “Pump It,” which came out in 2005 off their album Monkey Business, is a classic at this point.
When it comes to early 2000s classics, what could be better than Lizzie McGuire? Hillary Duff’s “What Dreams Are Made Of,” off the 2003 Lizzie McGuire movie soundtrack, is a cheery earworm. It’s almost stubbornly upbeat, which is great for those who need to pick up the pace while sprinting away from Vecna’s army of Demogorgons and creepy monster bats. Not to mention that Vecna would have no clue how to burst the happy bubble that Hillary Duff creates.
“Dollhouse,” by independent band Grumpy Plum, is just as fun (contrary to the band’s name). With angry lyrics and a sunny sound, Grumpy Plum brings a touch of brightness to their song’s otherwise angsty, rebellious spirit. This combination is not only great for the song (it’s got over a million Spotify listens!), but is ideal for rebelling against the virtual lord of another dimension. What’s not to love?
BB Bean is another independent artist, whose most popular song is “Bianca Stratford.” It’s a super funky and danceable track, whose harmonies and beats work in tandem to create something that’ll have people as smitten as a first crush. This next song, by independent singer Stella Smyth, is just as sweet. “Downtown” is meant to evoke good memories, with snippets of conversation intermixed with the song itself. Smyth’s strong vocals artfully convey the wholesome message.
With “Anybody Else,” KALI proves that her sound is as fresh and unique as ever. Her music is cool, she’s cool, and that coolness would probably save a life if Vecna was real. People would be sprinting back towards Hawkins just to hear the rest of the song. The truth is that there’s nobody else doing it quite like KALI. As an independent artist, she’s definitely going places. Keep an eye out for her!
KALI fans are sure to love independent musician JDM Global’s “Easygoing.” JDM Global doesn’t need telekinesis: his music could part clouds all on its own. The awesome beats are like nothing else, and paired with a perfectly scratchy guitar solo at the 2:20 mark, it’s easy to say that this song rocks!
Wrapping this playlist up is Boy Jr. with “Smart Man.” It’s a delicious slow burn with sick beats and sly vocals that make it worth every minute. It’s off their latest album Pay Attention To Meee, and with a song as compelling as this one (released and produced independently!), they deserve all the attention they’ve been asking for.