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Here’s How Hit Pop Songs Game Your Brain

Written by James Arnold-Garvey on December 30, 2014

It’s already suspected that pop songs follow a set formula. The specifics of that formula weren’t entirely clear, but a new consumer psychology study may have shed more light on the subject.

According to new research conducted at the University Of Southern California, a pop song’s chart success may come down to simple lyrical repetition. After analysing 2,480 songs released over a 54-year period, researchers found that a song’s likelihood of chart success increases depending on the number of times its chorus is repeated.

Unfortunately, the recipe for success isn’t as simple as smashing out as many “if you wannabe my lovers” as you can. The same study also concluded that a song’s chance of chart success diminishes with each additional year in the age of the performer.

Reports The Telegraph, the study notes that, although relatively little is known about why people buy certain songs, or why some songs become hits over others, the constant reinforcement of repetitive pop songs “are processed more fluently and thus adopted more broadly and quickly in the marketplace”. Essentially, your brains processes the songs faster.

The author of the study, Professor Andrea Ordanini, says, “We established for the first time that more repetitive or fluent pop songs are more successful in terms of popularity. Despite the many factors that go into creating a hit song, we identify repetition of the chorus as one that has important real-world implications.”

The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, took in songs ranging from as far back as 1958 through to 2012, looking at 1,029 tracks that hit the top of the US’s Billboard Hot 100 charts and 1,451 songs that failed to chart higher than 90.

For each chorus repeat, a song’s likelihood of hitting the number one position increased by 14.5 per cent, but decreased by 6.1 per cent with each additional year in age of the singer. Gender and tempo made no difference to results.

“There appears to be a long history of humans’ affinity for the repetition of words in music, from earliest childhood with for example, Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” say researchers. “For many of us the songs that stand out in our minds are those in which we can easily hear the same words repeating themselves over and over again in our heads.”

The study also published a list of the two most repetitive number one songs per decade (below), with the chorus repeated at least seven times in each case.

These new results recall a list of the “catchiest modern pop songs”, released after a recent study developed by computational musicologist Dr John Ashley Burgoyne. Featuring songs like Spice Girls’ Wannabe and Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5, the top 10 results from that study can undoubtedly be classified as repetitive. Now we just need a little help cleansing those unwanted earworms.

Watch: Rihanna – S&M

Marty Robbins – El Paso
Zager and Evans – In The Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)

Ringo Starr – Photograph
Bee Gees – Jive Talkin’

USA For Africa – We Are The World
Tears for Fears – Shout

Amy Grant – Baby, Baby
Notorious B.I.G. – Hypnotize

Usher – U Remind Me
Jennifer Lopez – I’m Real

Rihanna – S&M
Adele – Set Fire To The Rain

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