The Science of Earworms (Lady Gaga, We're Looking at You)

iStock
iStock

You didn’t plan to have Katy Perry stuck in your head all day. It just happened, and now you’re a prisoner in your own treacherous, pop music–blasting mind. Never fear: We have answers. A study published today in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts [PDF] identifies the features that transform certain songs into earworms—and even offers tips for their extraction.

Scientists call this experience involuntary musical imagery, or INMI. Previous studies have suggested certain traits [PDF] that make a song ideal INMI fodder. First, it’s familiar; songs we’ve heard many times before are the ones most likely to jam in our brains. Second, it’s sing-able. So far, that’s really all we know. But researchers remain on the case.

In 2012, researchers in Finland and the UK conducted simultaneous surveys inviting their compatriots to complain about the songs that haunted them the most. The latter survey, called The Earwormery, amassed responses from 5989 disgruntled Brits. It was conducted by researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London, four of whom are co-authors on the current study.

For the current study, they pulled the responses of 3000 of those respondents and analyzed them for trends. They then identified 100 of the worst offenders and sorted them based on 83 different musical parameters, including length, melody, pitch range, and commercial success.

The songs most commonly found wiggling around in British brains had quite a few things in common. They were typically pretty fast pop songs, and their melodies were fairly generic, yet each one had a little something, like an unusual tonal interval or a repetition, that set it apart from others on the charts and made it stickier.

The top 9 list of wormiest tracks revealed a couple of other trends. See if you can spot them here:

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

Only one of those artists is even British—and three of them are Lady Gaga.

These results are specific to UK survey respondents, as are the musical qualities that inspired them. It's probable that stickiness is cultural; what's sticky in Mozambique may glide in one Japanese person's ear and out the other, and vice versa.

The researchers say their research could be beneficial for those in music-related industries. "You can, to some extent, predict which songs are going to get stuck in people's heads based on the song's melodic content,” lead author Kelly Jakubowski, a music psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, said in a statement. “This could help aspiring songwriters or advertisers write a jingle everyone will remember for days or months afterwards.”

Still, we’re not completely helpless. The researchers offer three tips for extracting an earworm. First, just give in. Listening to the song the entire way through can help get it out of your head. Second, find a musical antidote. The British survey respondents listed “God Save the Queen” as the best way to shake an earworm, but we’d like to recommend James Brown’s "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.” (Trust us. It works.)

Finally, stop worrying about it. Like a little splinter or an errant eyelash, that Lady Gaga will likely work its way out all on its own.

Aretha Franklin Concert Documentary Being Released, Nearly 50 Years After It Was Filmed

Al’s Records and Tapes
Al’s Records and Tapes

In January 1972, soul queen Aretha Franklin went to the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Watts  of neighborhood Los Angeles to record what would become the highest selling live gospel album of all time, her Grammy-winning Amazing Grace. With her was director Sydney Pollack, who was there to turn her two days of performances into a concert documentary to accompany the album. Unfortunately, technical and legal issues have kept footage locked away ever since. Now, as Konbini alerts us, it's finally getting its big-screen debut, 46 years after it was filmed.

Amazing Grace will premiere during DOC NYC, a documentary film festival in New York. Filmed when Franklin was just shy of her 30th birthday, the 87-minute movie—which DOC NYC artistic director Thom Powers calls "a lost treasure of documentary filmmaking"—captures the singer at her peak, performing for a packed house with the help of a live gospel choir.

Before Pollack died in 2008, the award-winning director behind 1985 movie Out of Africa and 1982 film Tootsie expressed his wish that his long-dormant film finally be revised and released. Producer Alan Elliott bought the rights in 2007. Though Franklin herself died in August 2018, Elliott worked with Franklin's estate—led by her niece, Sabrina Owens—to ready the film for its premiere.

It debuts on November 12, 2018. You can see some highlights in the trailer below.

Amazing Grace Trailer 072718 from alan elliott on Vimeo.

[h/t Konbini]

Does Hearing Christmas Music in Early November Enrage You? You're Not Alone

iStock.com/Ekely
iStock.com/Ekely

While some people still haven't gotten around to taking down their Halloween decorations, stores around the country are already blaring Christmas music. If the opening notes of "Jingle Bells" fill you with dread, you're not alone: a significant portion of shoppers find the seasonal soundtrack grating, and hearing it too early may be taking a toll on your mental health.

According to clinical psychologist Linda Blair, people who already find the holidays stressful may be triggered when holiday music creeps into early November. "It's a reminder that we have to buy presents, cater for people, organize celebrations," she told Sky News. "Some people will react to that by making impulse purchases, which the retailer likes. Others might just walk out of the shop. It's a risk."

This may sound like a no-brainer to anyone who's in touch with their inner Grinch, and past research backs up the claims. In a 2011 Consumer Reports survey of more than 1000 people, 23 percent of respondents cited seasonal music as the thing they dread most about the holidays, placing it above holiday parties and disappointing gifts. A Research Intelligence Group poll from 2014 [PDF] found that holiday music can be so bothersome that 36 percent of people have admitted to leaving a store because of it.

For many, holiday music straddles a thin line between comforting and annoying. If seasonal songs have you humming along rather than plugging your ears, it may have something to do with the "mere exposure effect"—a psychological phenomenon where people tend to enjoy things they're familiar with. But at a certain point this effect wears off, with some songs becoming so familiar that they're no longer pleasant to listen to.

Of course that's not the case for everyone. The holidays are a happy time of year for many people, and seasonal music and decorations are a reminder of that. If that applies to you, feel free to start blasting your favorite Christmas tunes before Thanksgiving. (You may just want to keep it at a low enough volume that you don't annoy your neighbors.)

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