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.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping Newsletter!

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

50 Years of Monday Night Football's Memorable Theme Music

iStock
iStock

Monday Night Football turns 50 years old today—notably on a Monday! And as the Raiders and Saints warm up for tonight's kickoff, fans will know it's game time when they hear four distinct, descending notes. But it wasn't always that way. The biggest game of the week has been soundtracked by a handful of theme songs, starting back on September 21, 1970.

When Monday Night Football premiered on ABC, it was accompanied by the thoroughly groovy, Hammond organ-heavy “Score” by Charles Fox. The composer had previously written the theme for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and he would later make a name for himself doing the theme songs for Happy Days and The Love Boat, as well as composing Roberta Flack’s Grammy-winning “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”

“No network had ever programmed a regular sporting event in the evening in prime time,” Fox wrote in his autobiography, and though no one could know what a juggernaut the show would become, he set about writing a funky soul-jazz tune. The song was released under the alias “Bob’s Band”—presumably because Fox was employed at the time by Bob Israel’s Score Productions, a music company specializing in theme songs and background music.

Fox retained its rights over that song, but the show moved on to a new opener after a few years. “Monday Night Football is still on the air, but my theme was replaced after seven years by someone named … Bob Israel,” Fox wrote of his former boss. Well, almost. First, there was a version simply called “ABC – Monday Night Football Theme” that aired from 1976 to 1981. Then in 1982, Israel’s Score Productions was brought in to update that song. The three composers of the 1976 piece unsuccessfully sued for copyright infringement.

Then, in 1989, Johnny Pearson’s “Heavy Action” rang in a new era of watching live sports from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy. Though the company had retained the rights to the song a decade previously, they used it primarily as background music and didn't make it an official theme until '89. The first four notes of the British composer’s opener became synonymous with American football, and the song is likely one of the most widely and easily recognized themes in television history.

Also in 1989, country star Hank Williams Jr. reworked his earlier hit "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" into a bar-room blues rocker that spoke of "turning on [his] TV for some pigskin fun." The song was a huge success and ran in various forms on the program for over 20 years. Williams enthusiastically growling "Are you ready for some football?" became as identifiable to the show as the opening notes of "Heavy Action."

Unfortunately, in 2011, Monday Night Football (which in 2006 moved from ABC to ESPN) dropped Williams' theme after he made controversial statements about President Barack Obama on Fox News. The network reverted to featuring "Heavy Action" most prominently, and in 2015 they reworked the theme yet again. That intro, which ran before each of the season's games, featured archive videos and computer generated players to highlight some of the greatest plays and playmakers in the history of the broadcast.

In 2017, Hank Williams Jr. and all his "Rowdy Friends" made their way back to the top of the football broadcast, but they've been replaced again in 2020 for Monday Night Football's 50th anniversary season with a cover of Little Richard's "Rip It Up," courtesy of Butcher Brown.

Yeah, we're definitely ready for some football.