Echoes of the Past: Popular Music and Nostalgia in Modern Television Drama

“Nostalgia is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy.” Thus writes Svetlana Boym in the book The Future of Nostalgia, a book that explores a tendency in modern art and society: how we, as people and artists, look backwards while walking into the future, embracing retro-versions of phenomena that we vaguely remember or only know through media-created images and sounds. This phenomenon is also prevalent in the current TV landscape, where we hear the echoes of the past on the soundtrack- from the subtle musical echoes of the 1980s in Show Me a Hero (HBO, 2015) to the overt and prolific uses of period-specific music in shows like The Americans (FX, 2013-2018) and Stranger Things (Netflix, 2015-). In this audiovisual essay, Andreas Halskov explores the connection between nostalgia and popular music in modern television drama, focusing on a handful of prominent period dramas that are set in the 1980s.

SPOILER WARNING: The popular music in Stranger Things (Netflix, 2015-) is analyzed in this audiovisual essay, which also mentions the ending of the series.

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  • Screenplay: Andreas Halskov
  • Production and editing: Jan Oxholm
  • For study purposes only.

Excerpts from

  • Stranger Things (2015-) © Duffer Brothers, Netflix
  • Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017), © Cantwell/Rogers, AMC
  • The Americans (2013-2018) © Weisberg, FX
  • Show Me a Hero (2015), © Simon, HBO
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) © Cameron, TriStar/Live/Artisan,
  • E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), © Spielberg, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
  • St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) © Schumacher, Image Entertainment
  • Dark (2017-) © Odar/Friese, Netflix
  • Miami Vice (1984-1990) © Mann/Yerkovich, NBC/Mill Creek Entertainment.


  • Boym, Svetlana (2001), The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books.
  • Gorbman, Claudia (1987), Unheard Melodies. Indiana University Press.
  • Halskov, Andreas (2009), “Lad musikken tale“, 16:9, April.
  • Langkjær, Birger (2000), Den lyttende tilskuer. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum.
  • Smith, Murray (2006), “The Sound of Sentiment“, 16:9, November.