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

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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 “Sexmachine.” (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.

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30 Fierce Barbra Streisand Quotes
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Barbra Streisand is an artist of many talents. In addition to her famed singing and songwriting career, she’s also a celebrated actress and filmmaker with a host of accolades and awards—including two Oscars, nine Golden Globes, 10 Grammys, six Emmys, and one Tony—on her resume (so far). While Streisand, who turns 76 years old today, may be one of the best-selling artists of all time, what truly makes her memorable is her total originality. While her creative talents made her a star, her no-nonsense attitude has made her an icon, as evidenced by the quotes below.

1. ON HER WILD YOUTH.

“I was kind of a wild child. I wasn't taught the niceties of life.”

2. ON PURSUING YOUR DREAMS.

“As a young woman, I wanted nothing more than to see my name in lights.”

3. ON REMAINING TRUE TO ONESELF.

“I arrived in Hollywood without having my nose fixed, my teeth capped, or my name changed. That is very gratifying to me.”

4. ON INSTINCT.

“I go by instinct—I don't worry about experience.”

5. ON BEING CONTRADICTORY.

Barbra Streisand on stage
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

“I was a personality before I became a person—I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven.”

6. ON TRUSTING YOURSELF.

“You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it.”

7. ON THE DEFINITION OF SUCCESS.

“Success to me is having 10 honeydew melons and eating only the top half of each slice.”

8. ON APPLAUSE.

“What does it mean when people applaud? Should I give 'em money? Say thank you? Lift my dress? The lack of applause—that I can respond to.”

9. ON BAD REVIEWS.

“I wish I could be like [George Bernard] Shaw, who once read a bad review of one of his plays, called the critic, and said: 'I have your review in front of me and soon it will be behind me.’”

10. ON THE DEFINITION OF “EGO.”

Barbra Streisand addresses her fans
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

“To have ego means to believe in your own strength. And to also be open to other people's views. It is to be open, not closed. So, yes, my ego is big, but it's also very small in some areas. My ego is responsible for my doing what I do—bad or good.”

11. ON DOUBLE STANDARDS.

“Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work ... a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work.”

12. ON SAYING WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND.

“I knew that with a mouth like mine, I just had to be a star or something.”

13. ON THE LESS GLAMOROUS SIDE OF SHOW BUSINESS.

“I don't enjoy public performances and being up on a stage. I don't enjoy the glamour. Like tonight, I am up on stage and my feet hurt.”

14. ON GETTING IT RIGHT.

“I don't care what you say about me. Just be sure to spell my name wrong.”

15. ON FOLLOWING YOUR HEART.

A photo of Barbra Streisand
Harry Benson, Express/Getty Images

“Nobody on this earth has the right to tell anyone that their love for another human being is morally wrong.”

16. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUTH.

“I can take any truth; just don't lie to me.”

17. ON KEEPING IT SIMPLE.

“I like simple things. Elastic waists, so I can eat.”

18. ON WHY BEING “DIFFICULT” CAN BE A GOOD THING.

“I've been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.”

19. ON LIMITATIONS.

“I just don't want to be hampered by my own limitations.”

20. ON THE TRUTHFULNESS OF AN AUDIENCE.

"The audience is the best judge of anything. They cannot be lied to. Truth brings them closer. A moment that lags—they're gonna cough.”

21. ON FINDING THE PERFECT MATCH.

Barbra Streisand and James Brolin
Sonia Moskowitz, Getty Images

“What is exciting is not for one person to be stronger than the other ... but for two people to have met their match and yet they are equally as stubborn, as obstinate, as passionate, as crazy as the other.”

22. ON THE FUTILITY OF MYTHS.

“Myths are a waste of time. They prevent progression.”

23. ON THE NATURE OF PERFORMING.

“Performing, for me, has always been a very inner process.”

24. ON THE DOWNSIDE OF STARDOM.

“I think when I was younger, I wanted to be a star, until I became a star, and then it's a lot of work. It's work to be a star. I don't enjoy the stardom part. I only enjoy the creative process.”

25. ON THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE.

“Sometimes you resent the people you love and need the most. Love is so fascinating in all its forms, and I think everyone who has ever been a mother will relate to this.”

26. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOUBTING YOURSELF.

Barbra Streisand poses for the press
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"Doubt can motivate you, so don't be afraid of it. Confidence and doubt are at two ends of the scale, and you need both. They balance each other out."

27. ON AMBITION.

"I've always liked working really hard and then doing nothing in particular. So, consequently, I didn't overexpose myself; I guess I maintained a kind of mystery. I wasn't ambitious."

28. ON CONSTANTLY EVOLVING.

“I'm a work in progress.”

29. ON HER FAMOUS NOSE.

“I've considered having my nose fixed. But I didn't trust anyone enough. If I could do it myself with a mirror.”

30. ON BEING AN ORIGINAL.

Barbra Streisand with Barack Obama
Alex Wong, Getty Images

“I guess if you have an original take on life, or something about you is original, you don't have to study people who came before you. You don't have to mimic anybody. You just have a gut feeling inside, an instinct that tells you what's right for you, and you can't do it in any other way.”

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Everything You Need to Know About Record Store Day
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The unlikely resurgence of vinyl as an alternative to digital music formats is made up of more than just a small subculture of purists. Today, more than 1400 independent record stores deal in both vintage and current releases. Those store owners and community supporters created Record Store Day in 2007 as a way of celebrating the grassroots movement that’s allowed a once-dying medium to thrive.

To commemorate this year’s Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21, a number of stores (a searchable list can be found here) will be offering promotional items, live music, signings, and more. While events vary widely by store, a number of artists will be issuing exclusive LPs that will be distributed around the country.

For Grateful Dead fans, a live recording of a February 27, 1969 show at Fillmore West in San Francisco will be released and limited to 6700 copies; Arcade Fire’s 2003 EP album will see a vinyl release for the first time, limited to 3000 copies; "Roxanne," the Police single celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will see a 7-inch single release with the original jacket art.

The day also promises to be a big one for David Bowie fans. A special white vinyl version of 1977’s Bowie Now will be on shelves, along with Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), a previously-unreleased, three-record set. Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, and dozens of other artists will also be contributing releases.

No store is likely to carry everything you might want, so before making the stop, it might be best to call ahead and then plan on getting there early. If you’re one of the unlucky vinyl supporters without a brick and mortar store nearby, you can check out Discogs.com, which will be selling the special releases online.

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