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The Absolute Thrill of a Good Kate Bush Meme

How did the reclusive U.K. songwriter become a favourite for very online fans in their twenties? Leading meme creators explain the phenomenon

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Two years ago, Natividad Alonso was scrolling through YouTube when the algorithm suggested she listen to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” At the time, Alonso — a photographer from Buenos Aires, Argentina — had been listening to a lot of Eighties pop, along with acts like St. Vincent, PJ Harvey, Sade, and Björk, and she was happy to give Bush’s 1985 hit a spin. “Then I saw her on a @notallgeminis post for Leo season,” Alonso, 23, remembers, “and as a Leo, I thought: ‘I’m gonna listen to that song again.’” Next, she tried starting a short-lived Twitter account to help connect and nerd out with other Kate Bush fans. When that didn’t do the trick, she turned to Instagram and started a meme page called @wileywindymemes.

Today, Alonso’s Instagram has more than 12,000 followers and an endless supply of Kate Bush-themed contributions to popular meme formats like the recent “two guys on a bus” and the classic “me, also me.” “They are just so silly and stupid and absurd,” says Alonso. “I mean that in a good way, because I enjoy my sense of humor. Maybe the joke makes little sense, but at least there’s a Kate Bush photo there and that makes it funny?” 

It can be hard to tell where the serious Kate Bush fan pages end and the jokey Kate Bush meme pages begin, because for her youngest generation of fans, they’re often one and the same. Alonso’s @wileywindymemes is a standout in the field, along with @katebush.420, which has more than 10,000 followers. While these are modestly-sized followings in the grand meme economy, they’re likely some of your favorite meme pages’ favorite meme pages. Big accounts like @nickcaveandhtebadmemes, @memetides, and @onadownwardspiral follow and repost these accounts’ content — further exposing hundreds of thousands of followers to some chaotic, out-of-context Kate Bush.

Memes have a special ability to circulate images, words, and jokes at astounding speeds. It’s no joke to suggest that these memes may be largely responsible for introducing a generation of young listeners to Kate Bush and her music. Take the viral Twitter meme from 2019 featuring a video of Kermit the Frog doing a little dance to Bush’s classic 1978 debut single, “Wuthering Heights.” Over 1.6 million people saw that initial Tweet, and this exact meme can now be found on more than a dozen meme pages across other platforms. One of the first comments under the video asks: “What’s the song?” 

Then, last December, TikTok went absolutely feral over Bush’s 1980 song “Babooshka” after a user named @tobeepaik played guitar over the original and an IMG model used that to soundtrack an outfit transformation. Once again, the comments were overflowing with people asking: “song?” 

Kate Bush memes are not just spreading the Bush gospel to new fans — they’re helping people make real friends. The trio behind @katebush.420 are all online friends, and they met through an odd network of Kate Bush fan pages on Facebook. Kaitlin Simotics, 22, says their mother collected Kate Bush memorabilia; Sunny Betz, 24, was introduced to Bush by older friends he made as a contributor to Rookie Mag; and Jamie Doyle’s mother was more of a casual Kate Bush listener. While all three learned about Kate Bush from older people close to them, the deep love that turns casual listeners into die-hard fans was cultivated online.

Doyle, who also works as a Kate Bush impersonator, feels that Kate Bush’s influence in today’s youth culture is grossly underestimated. “Kate Bush plays into the youth, I don’t want to say more than people are willing to admit, but just more than people are capable of knowing,” says Doyle, 24. She cites Caroline Polachek and Sophie as examples of Gen Z-favored artists who can be seen as descendants of Bush’s contributions to pop music. “Whether or not those artists were inspired by Kate Bush,” Doyle adds, “just the fact you can make that connection is so symbolic of Kate Bush’s relevance in today’s youth.”

Alonso is confident that her following is “100% queer” and around her age. (There are some exceptions: “Sometimes I get comments like: ‘Help! I’m straight! I don’t understand this meme!’” she observes.) For the admins behind @katebush.420, the queering of Bush’s work and yassification of her image are only the beginning. Simotics notes that since explicitly queer media has historically been so limited, fans find ways to make their favorite music reflect their experiences: “Even if it’s not made for gay people,” they note, “the lyricism is ornate enough that you can make your own narrative out of that. That’s why people find it such personal, spiritual music.” 

As a result, the memes depict an alternate version of Bush, one that might surprise older or straight fans. “I’ve seen her a lot in Sapphic meme pages and just in general queer shitposting,” says Amanda Brennan, a meme librarian who has worked for Tumblr and Instagram. According to Brennan, “queer meme pages are usually trendsetting”: “Even though [those pages] are more niche, they are a reflection of what is going to soon happen in mainstream meme pages.” 

More fans means a more diverse fandom and more variety in the ways people relate to Bush’s music. These memes document the many versions of Kate Bush that live in the hearts and minds of fans — scroll long enough and you can meet e-girl Kate Bush, Bushwick Kate Bush, and even Animal Crossing Kate Bush.

Betz brings up fan theories suggesting “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” is a trans anthem as proof of how loosely some fans are interpreting Bush’s work. “When you reach a certain level of fandom, you can kind of poke fun at the thing you love,” Betz says. “I think that what we’re doing with Kate Bush is we’re not taking her too seriously.”

The energy in these memes echoes the emotional intensity, artistic fearlessness, and high-flying camp that we get from Kate Bush’s music. “The thing with Kate Bush is that, in some ways, she embodies this sort of ‘otherness’ which is always present in queer experiences and lives,” Alonso adds in an email after our interview. The memes vibrate with the chaotic fangirl energy that today’s very-online queer youth is now known for, and each meme can be seen as its own little universe of admiration, curiosity, and emotion — both for the artist and for the person the fans become in knowing her

From Rolling Stone US