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June 12, 2017

Anatomy of an Earworm

From Open Culture:

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What's your current earworm?

For obvious yet sad reasons, "Raspberry Beret" and "Ashes to Ashes" have tunneled into my brain in the past year.

Wander through a shopping mall, go to a chain restaurant or grocery store.

You may pick up an unwanted passenger — the tune of a song you loathe, yet cannot for the life of you forget.

But can the Prince/Bowie soundtrack in my mind properly be called an "earworm?"

According to researchers at Durham University, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the University of Tubingen, this is a scientific question.

Music psychologist Kelly Jakubowski of Durham University and her colleagues published a study last year titled "Dissecting an Earworm: Melodic Features of Song Popularity Predict Involuntary Musical Imagery."

In it, they defined the properties of songs that produce involuntary recall.

One of the hallmarks of a successful earworm is simplicity.

Jakubowski and her colleagues found that earworm songs tended to be fast, with a common, simple melodic structure that generally went up and down and repeated, like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

However, earworms also unsettle our expectations of simple melodies, with surprising, unusual intervals, as in the chorus of Lady Gaga's insidious "Bad Romance" or — bane of every guitar store employee — Deep Purple’s "Smoke on the Water."

Research on earworms began in 2001 when James Kellaris, a marketing researcher and composer at the University of Cincinnati, translated the German word for earwig, "Ohrwürmer," into that cognitive itch he christened an "earworm."

Kellaris estimated that some 98% of people experience this phenomenon at some point in time.

In order to analyze earworms, Jakubowski and her team collected lists of songs from 3,000 study participants.

They attempted to isolate variables such as popularity and recency that could affect the likelihood of the song becoming stuck in the mind.

"Bad Romance" appeared at the top of a list of "9 Songs Most Frequently Named as Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI)."

It's a tune that might — under certain circumstances — be used as a weapon — along with two other Gaga songs at numbers 8 and 9.

The full list:

1. "Bad Romance" — Lady Gaga
2. "Can’t Get You Out of My Head" — Kylie Minogue
3. "Don’t Stop Believing" — Journey
4. "Somebody That I Used to Know" — Gotye
5. "Moves Like Jagger" — Maroon 5
6. "California Gurls" — Katy Perry
7. "Bohemian Rhapsody" — Queen
8. "Alejandro" — Lady Gaga
9. "Poker Face" — Lady Gaga

June 12, 2017 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


Comments

The more depressed I am, the more earworms have power to hang around and torment. Makes it hard to read, get to sleep, watch movies. Mine are fully orchestrated and complex and lengthy, which would be fine if they left after one performance.

Three driving me nuts right now:

The Infernal Dance from Stravinsky's 'Firebird' (wonderful performance by Les Siècles)
https://youtu.be/-qw9lSAR30s

An early Charlie Parker Recording of 'Cherokee' (alto sax)
https://youtu.be/RMfaDEsIjVM

Simple but beautiful, and super-earwormy - Richard Rodgers, Under the Southern Cross from Victory at Sea
https://youtu.be/sDuQp_AfVJk

Posted by: Flautist | Jun 13, 2017 8:44:17 AM

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