After a headache, the second worst feeling in your head is the chorus of a popular radio song clinging to your brain on repeat. And what is worse is that the only two remedies include hurrying to YouTube and searching for the song that has over a million views, just so your brain can become tired of it, or you need to find another equally popular song to replace it with. However, the latter remedy brings you right back to where you started, making it so you can never escape the pop music cycle.
The problem lies in the question why: why does my brain enjoy or select this music to repeat to no end? I ask this question every time I compulsively start singing a song in the shower after hearing it earlier that morning. But, fortunately the answer is relatively simple, yet unfortunately it does not prevent getting a song stuck in your head. Sorry guys!
Our current notion of “Pop” music originates from the 1950s rock and roll scene in the Western world. The parts of rock such as the chord progression, tempo, song structure and melody inspired people to create a nuanced version of this genre. The chord progression, or the sequence of chords that establish the harmony, are reused constantly and have become the cornerstone for most pop artists. While the tempo, or the pace of the song, determines if you will only tap your foot or get up and dance. The song structure, or the music components that form the song arc, is always the same in pop songs, similar to the way we all know how a romantic comedy is going to play out. Pop songs force us to constantly wait for the chorus by throwing in some verses, bridges, and instrumental sections, but as listeners we would not want it any other way.
With this in mind, artists add in a few more common pop characteristics and then they have a hit. Usually, most pop songs contain lyrics that have simple language and concepts that can make the song’s topic easy to decode. Plus, pop songs are usually about something that a mass audience can relate to, such as hooking up with an attractive person, or going through an awful break up. Most songs stay away from mysterious lyrics that require the listener to look deeper into its meaning. Instead, most pop songs pull us in with a hook, such as Justin Bieber’s ubiquitously known lyric, “baby, baby, baby ohh”. The genre uses extreme emotions of happiness and sadness to their advantage, making us feel connected to the artist.
Besides this, most pop songs are generally have the effect of making people feel happy. When people listen to a familiar song the reward centers of our brain light up, and since pop music makes up the largest consumed music genre in the world our brains are constantly lighting up with familiarity.
Considering pop music is blasted everywhere from our car radios, commercials, and retail stores, it gives us a better chance of connecting one or more pop songs to a happy experience. For example, most of us know or have heard in a movie about a group of friends, who are usually girls, that have ‘their song’. And considering most pop music uses a systematic approach to making songs, older pop songs feel just as fresh as they were in the past, making the song a nostalgic experience.
Also, unlike some lesser known or liked genres, pop music makes unbelievable money. This money allows pop artists, such as Katy Perry, Beyonce and Britney Spears to use the best publicists and marketers in the entertainment business. If it is not about their newest album, then it is usually about their lives. In the line of every grocery store we see People Magazine sharing articles about a ‘supposed’ affair or someone being impregnated by another celebrity, in order to get people interested in these pop powerhouses of the industry. Many pop stars, such as Taylor Swift, will say the line “haters gonna hate” about people who dislike their music. This common line makes their fans more devoted to them, increasing their likeability.
For those of us that dislike the genre it is hard to really believe that any of these reasons make pop music better. From the lyrics to the overused song structure, pop music seems to lack authenticity. Most of the songs are not written by the artist themselves, but are bought to sell as their own. This seems to suck the fun out of music overall, as if it is all about who can make it to the top 40s list, and not about the happiness in creating music.
Next time you have a song stuck in your head, you might start thinking about why it is there in the first place. But if you do, just do us all a favor and keep the contagion to a minimum by not singing it out loud.