Since 2016, Stranger Things has welcomed viewers of all generations back to the 1980s, where some watch for pure nostalgia and others watch to escape into a world that existed long before they were born. Regardless of age, this sci-fi behemoth, which has become Netflix’s most-watched English language series, has something for everyone and its attention to detail and accuracy continues to serve as a secure foundation for a show with such astronomical, supernatural stakes.
The Emmy-nominated 4th season of Stranger Things is still rooted in what has made the show successful in the past, but it has a definite, mature feel that was missing from previous seasons. The kids are older, the stakes are higher, and Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) is scarier than any other monster in the Upside Down. With these changes, season 4 had to accurately portray some new aspects of ’80s culture. To extend the celebration of the new season’s release, here are a few ’80s pop culture elements featured in season four that make the world of Hawkins feel surprisingly familiar.
Hair & Clothing
With any project set in the 1980s, the hair and clothing need to be accurate; otherwise, things will quickly get cheesy. In season four, the hair and makeup team had to give the main kids more grown-up hairstyles and infuse a California vibe for the Byers. For example, Will’s (Noah Schnapp) bowl cut is shorter and more defined, while Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) hair is longer and more scraggly to reflect his stoner lifestyle. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has an extra-tall flattop, and Dustin (Get Matarazzo) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) have shaggy mullets, likely inspired by their new “hero,” Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), whose Eddie Van Halen-inspired hairstyle is arguably the best of the season.
The clothing department also did a fantastic job on season four, complementing each character’s hairstyle and fashion sense. Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) mismatched Joyce (Winona Ryder)-inspired wardrobe reflects her internal tension, Argyle’s (Eduardo Franco) bright, patterned outfit is an authentic ’80s Quiksilver look, and Max’s (Sadie Sink) clothes are still sporty but much baggier for her to hide behind. Mike’s clothes are a little edgier to reflect his admiration of Eddie, whose weathered denim vest is full of metal band pins and patches, while Nancy (Natalia Dyer) still has her pastel, professional tops, skirts, and boots. Overall, each character’s unique style is still rooted in the time period.
Stranger Things season 4 sees all the characters separated into different groups in various locations. As a result, the set design was varied but still needed to be realistic. Perhaps the most accurate set was the Byers’ house in California, an actual home that was never remodeled. The wood paneling, thick carpeting, massive stone fireplace, and vintage kitchen, all of which are different shades of brown and yellow, reinforce a retro California feel.
The main characters’ homes in Hawkins are also realistic, giving off a very Midwestern lived-in vibe. Mike’s basement is drab and littered with era-specific toys and board games, Nancy’s pastel room has a poster of Tom Cruise on the wall, and Eddie’s bedroom is covered in ’80s band posters and cassette tapes. Even Family Video is historically accurate, down to the vintage desktop computer and cut-out posters Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gremlins, among many others.
Since season 1, music has been an integral part of Stranger Things. In addition to the iconic theme music, songs like “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Never Ending Story” have regained popularity, but nothing has captured the zeitgeist like the music of season four. Specifically, Kate Bush‘s 1985 track “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” has taken the world by storm. After Max uses the song to escape Vecna in episode four, it went straight to number one on Apple Music, it was used in a ton of promotional content, and its Spotify streaming percentage went up 9,900%.
The other breakout hit of season 4 is Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” which also shot up the charts and increased by 650%. This resurgence is no surprise, as Eddie’s masterful performance of the then-two-week-old song in the “most metal concert in the history of the world” is one of the most epic scenes of the entire series.
Pop Culture References
Stranger Things has always been heavily influenced by the ’80s and includes countless references to the decade. The roller rink scene where Eleven gets bullied is reminiscent of CarrieEddie wears Max’s Halloween mask from season two, and perhaps the most iconic reference is having Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englundplay Victor Creel.
In addition, there are specific pop culture references that are verbally mentioned in season four. For example, Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) discuss the 1982 cult classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Dustin recites Han Solo’s famous line “Never tell me the odds” at the D&D campaign. Will references the 1983 film WarGames in the same scene that he starts singing “Never Ending Story,” and Eddie mentions Ozzy Osbourne famously biting the head off a bat in 1982.
The Latchkey Kid Phenomenon
According to Merriam-Webster, the term “latchkey kid” describes a school-aged child of working parents who must spend part of the day unsupervised. This phenomenon multiplied in the 1980s, as Generation X kids and teenagers were forced to deal with increased parental divorce rates and a widespread lack of childcare. These kids had to take matters into their own hands, but as a result, they grew incredibly close to their friends, which is a constant theme in the world of Stranger Things.
The kids in Hawkins are perfect examples of latchkey kids, especially given the supernatural circumstance of fighting Vecna. They refuse to get help from their parents or the cops, who are ignorant and entirely unaware of the Upside Down and Eddie’s innocence. They only rely on each other and El’s superpowers, and they purposely face death itself without regard for their parents, emphasizing the reality that their friends are their true family.
The Satanic Panic
One of the newest plotlines in season 4 is all about the Satanic Panic. During the 1980s, the Satanic Panic swept across the US, resulting in countless false accusations of cults and satanic ritual abuse. Dungeons & Dragons was also linked to the movement, as various conservative groups accused the game of luring young players to Satanism.
D&D has been a significant theme in Stranger Things since the very first episode, so the Duffer brothers wisely incorporated the Satanic Panic by introducing dungeon master Eddie Munson to the storyline. Whether the Satanic Panic seems either frightening or invalid to younger viewers, Eddie’s character gives it a human face. He allows the public to recognize that not all outcasts, metalheads, D&D players, or socially misunderstood individuals are people to fear or accuse.
After the end of World War II in 1945, and especially after Stalin died in 1953, the Soviet Union and Communism became America’s greatest enemy. Russian communists continued to be a significant threat in the 1980s, but Gorbachev’s actions gradually stirred up the party in 1986, the same year season four takes place.
The Russians continue to be one of this season’s villains after Hopper is imprisoned at the end of season three. The Soviet guards are ruthless, but having the characters of Enzo (Tom Wlaschiha) and Yuri (Nikola Djuricko) turn out to be good guys is an exciting twist. Like Eddie, Enzo and Yuri humanize Russian people who just happened to live in a Communist nation but didn’t necessarily share its ideals.
Any ’80s film or TV show wouldn’t be complete without typical high school social cliques, like the nerds and the popular cheerleaders. High school is a natural place for social cliques to form, as everyone is trying to make friends and find their tribe. However, especially in movies, these cliques can become divisive and unfair. Taking inspiration from The Breakfast ClubEddie, who is reminiscent of Judd Nelson‘s Bender, jokingly summarizes this concept in his introduction in the cafeteria as he strolls across the lunch table, saying that forced conformity is “the real monster.”
However, Stranger Things brilliantly flips this ’80s film trope on its head by giving the characters unique arcs. For example, Steve is a natural leader rather than a stupid jerk, Jonathan is a protector rather than a stalker, El is a superhero, not a monster, Eddie is a hero and not a villain, and Nancy is a fighter, not just a bystander Each character seemingly belongs to a particular social clique, but throughout the seasons, they reveal multiple characteristics that inspire viewers to be themselves and never be confined to a single label.
NEXT: 5 Reasons Why Season 4 is the Best Season of Stranger Things