The Youth Lab


Young generations are rediscovering iconic pop cultural phenomenons from decades past, like books, fashion, and of course music, and using social media to drive them back into the forefront of culture again in new ways. While trends can be cyclical, digital worlds and creators are enhancing the power of this - the Celine Dion TikTok challenge is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2021, #90sthings was the number one trending hashtag on TikTok around the world. From a report by Dolby in the US, 80% of young people feel like they were born in the wrong decade. So it’s not a surprise that this week a new (old) classic song from 1985 has got Gen Z all excited. This week’s 52INSIGHTS explores how Gen Z is discovering and uncovering music, making it go viral.


Thanks to the newest season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, the internet has been busy proclaiming its obsession with Kate Bush. Stranger Things fans span in age - younger fans loving the authentic teen protagonists, while older fans appreciate the aesthetic & 80s references. In the new season Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights plays a key role in the narrative, out in the wily, wily Upside Down. For a lot of young fans of the show, it’s their first time hearing of her. Bush’s ethereal power ballad is now climbing the charts, with streams increasing more than 8700% on Spotify worldwide. Max Mayfield, the young actor playing Sink (whose character loves Bush), hadn’t even heard the song before being in the show:

“Now I’m a mega fan. Like the ‘Wuthering Heights’ music video, where she’s like doing the things with her arms? Big fan.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. We asked our Love Network to share an old song that was completely new to them thanks to shows and social media. TikTok revealed both Celine Dion and Billy Joel with big new (old) hits used in challenges. Netflix production Halston revealed this song to one person and Southern Nights in Guardians of the Galaxy was another new discovery.


A catalyst in all of this are new forms of cultural discovery, like streaming platforms, Discord Communities, or trending songs on TikTok, where fan conversations thrive on fresh takes. The Spotify Culture Next report states that 62% of Gen Z believe that streaming platforms at large, including audio, have significantly shaped how they discover and connect with a broader culture. By discovering something like a song that could already have been well-known and celebrated, it’s given a new digital life and made relevant again. Mediums like TikTok and Reels (where audio selection can be integral to content reach and success) are giving young people tools to chop, change, recreate the old with the new, reproducing and reimagining cultural hits in new ways.

Watching teens discover bands from the past and claiming it as their own can be entertaining for those watching. For some though, the belated Bush discovery is getting spicy with takes like “Kate Bush did not go through wuthering heights, run all the way up that hill to make a deal with god & shout babooshka for y’all to be finding out about her in 2022!” However, for most, it’s something to celebrate. Liam Hess wrote on Vogue: “We all have to make those discoveries sometime and somewhere, even if that is through a show on Netflix, and gatekeeping our favourite artists serves nothing but our own egos. Part of the wonder of discovering Bush is the sense that her various oddities validate your own experiences as an outsider.”


Music success was historically measured based on radio plays - now in this exciting time of uncovering music in a multitude of ways means there are so many songs going viral on different platforms based on how other people are using it. However, it doesn’t always mean long term success. Sometimes a song going viral again can seem so random and unexplained, purely based on what reinterpretation by someone else, not the original creator. The pressures placed on the people, in particular young women, has been reflecting the impact of needing to go viral ahead of releasing a new track. A tweet started doing the rounds with artists like Charli XCX and FKA Twigs being under pressure to post TikToks that will go viral (which is the opposite of how the platform itself encourages advertisers to use the platform).

“As an artist, all your platforms become about promoting yourself. It makes you feel super self-conscious because you are borderline seeking approval and people can be so nasty.Rachel Chinouriri, Artist, via source

The need to be relevant in so many different ways is raising the stakes and opening doors to trolling as well. It’s more about the personal narrative rather than the song itself. For Kate Bush and her new-found viral success through social noise around a show, this pressure isn’t there and she hasn’t been a part of this new social discovery as an artist releasing something new. She describes herself as “quite a private person and I like my work to do the talking,” - something to be considered when it comes to coordinated efforts to create something to purely go viral rather than embracing more (arguably authentic) creative expression and seeing where it goes.


Gen Z is constantly surprising us - reflecting a desire to be different from generations before. It’s getting more difficult to predict what content will go viral or catch on, because there is a general appreciation and love for the ‘random.’

There can be a tendency in marketing to always look to the new and the next, but there is huge opportunity in the space of reinvention. You can still land the ‘unexpected’ through the lens of nostalgia. Youth’s infatuation with nostalgia and eagerness to reinvent and put their own stamp on cultural phenomena of the past equals endless potential to integrate this into creative strategy. Music choice is such an integral part of creative campaigns now, and a particularly important consideration on digital with TikTok and Reels. Dylan Newe, Senior Manager, Social & Digital Innovation, THINKHOUSE, says this is a hugely exciting opportunity:

This age of unexpected music virality and discovery across TikTok can be a really exciting space for brands. It just allows for more creativity and invention than you might have with a traditional media rollout where you’ve licensed one particular song or the entire campaign. Everyone is getting in on it too - from Scrub Daddy using The Wanted’s 2010 song ‘Glad You Came’ in their recent viral TikTok collab with DuoLingo to M.I.A’s ‘Bad Girls’ being the TikTok soundtrack to the new Guess campaign, there’s freedom and imagination there which I love to see. Im excited to see what classic song goes viral next on TikTok!”


Each year we review and publish the environmental impact of our operations. Our 2021 report is now complete and available on our website. It might not be your bedtime read of choice, but it's part of making sure we achieve our goal to reduce our environmental impact and meet the 2030 global ambition to halve emissions.

Comparing our baseline impact in 2019 (47.9 tonnes), we reduced our footprint by 40%. However, compared to 2020 (26.4 tonnes), we are up 7.5%. An ongoing challenge with managing our impact is our growing headcount.

Alongside this work we continue to explore innovative actions to drive scope 3 impact reductions. This includes company-wide training programmes and pilots of tools to transform how our teams operate and respond to client briefs.