Editorial: The science behind top 40 radio

Pop music can be hard to escape. You turn on the radio, you walk into a mall, it’s playing. As bad as it can be, it’s hard to deny.

Even the music snobs in your life have probably danced to Iggy Azalea, or found themselves humming along to a One Direction song.

Take, for example, Taylor Swift’s latest album, 1989. It sold more than a million copies in its first week. (I may or may not have been one of the million).

With that many people buying, there’s got to be something to it, right?

So what is it about pop music that makes it so catchy?

A quick Google search shows that the science behind pop music is something well studied.

“#HookedOnMusic,” a study done by the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and the University of Amsterdam, aims to explore the science behind songs and what makes a song catchy or memorable.

The study set up an online game, asking users to identify when they recognize a song.

Spice Girls “Wannabe,” the study found, is the catchiest hit single. Other songs on the list included “SOS” by ABBA, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance”.

The study’s findings about music memory will be used to conduct Alzheimer’s research.

A researcher in the study told BBC that studies have shown playing music meaningful to dementia patients can be therapeutic.

A research team from the University of Bristol has even come up with something called “The Hit Equation”. Or, rather, a hit potential equation.

The math is complicated, but basically the team looked at U.K. top 40 hits from the last 50 years, analyzed features in the songs, like 80s hits “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and came up with an equation to show whether a song will be a hit or a flop.

“Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music,” a study in Scientific Reports, found many patterns across popular music in the last 50 years have not changed.

Two interesting findings show there is less variety in pitch progressions in pop music, meaning songs could sound more and more the same, and loudness levels are getting, well, louder.

It seems there could be reasons for the catchiness of a Taylor Swift hit.

So sit back, and just give into the pop music. It’s science.

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