Hooks and Earworms: What Makes Pop Songs So Catchy?

Summary: Researchers investigate why certain songs keep getting stuck in our heads and why these “hacks” are the guiding principles of modern popular music.

Source: University of Wollongong

“Hey, I just met you, and it’s crazy… but here’s my number, so call me, maybe.”

These wise and heartwarming words are from Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepson’s 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe.” The song topped music charts around the world, including the United States, Canada, and Australia.

But what was it about this song that made it so popular? Why, 10 years later, is it still memorable? What separates the songs and is easily remembered?

These questions are just some of many explored in ‘Hicks in Popular Music’ (Palgrave McMillan 2022) – a new book co-authored by University of Wollongong (UOW) researcher Dr Timothy Byrne and Dr Jeddy O’Regan (Sydney). is written Conservatory of Music).

This is a first book study of hooks in popular music that attempts to explain why certain songs get stuck in our heads and why these “hooks” are the guiding principles of modern popular music.

Dr Byrne, from UOW’s School of Psychology, said the book defines a hook as a musical moment or musical phrase that is clear and easily remembered. These are the pieces of music that are most likely to end up as “ear springs”, elements of songs that stick in our heads.

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“Kings are deeply personal – what is a devastatingly effective kick to one person, may go well beyond someone else,” Dr Byrne said.

“A beat can be a rhythm, a timbre, or a sound and it’s not something that’s added on top, it’s really the defining fabric of pop music.

“It’s not that other genres don’t use hooks, you see hooks in rock music, but for pop music itself, we think that’s the main reason why it’s pop.”

The book features a range of examples of hooks in popular songs from the past 30 years, including the catchy chorus of the 2001 hit “Can’t Get Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue, Third Eye Blind’s 1997 song “Sammy Charmed Life” and This is the 2022 monumental hit “The Way It Was” by Harry Styles.

Dr. Byrne said hooks are important to modern pop music because artists want to make their songs stand out.

Dr Byrne said: “In radio it has been said that if people hear a song they don’t know, they will wait about seven seconds before changing the station and this may be the same for modern streaming services.”

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“Pop songs have to make an impact and stick to the listener, they have to have a hook.

Dr. Byrne adds that the hook concept is not new.

“Through our research we discovered that the term hook has been used to refer to a piece of popular music that is significant in some way since at least the 1960s.”

The authors are both musicians but had different motivations for writing the book. Dr. Byrne’s expertise is in the psychology of music, and specifically the way music relates to memory. While Dr. O’Regan concentrated on teaching music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

“I’m very interested in the psychology of how songs appear and why certain songs are easier to remember and I wanted to explore that in this book,” Dr Byrne said.

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It shows people dancing at a concert

“For me as a psychologist, it’s interesting to remember something because there are so many things we don’t remember. We hardly remember what we did a week ago, So for people to remember, there must be something special about it.

It shows the recording in the record player
This is a first book study of hooks in popular music that tries to explain why certain songs get stuck in our heads and why these “hooks” are the guiding principles of modern popular music. Image is in public domain

“If some song grabs our attention, if there’s some song that we remember, then it does something right and it takes advantage of the characteristics of how we remember and pay attention.”

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The inspiration for the book for Dr. O’Regan came from her teaching background and experience.

“I teach contemporary music and many of my students are songwriters, producers and artists, and in class we often talk about ear candy,” Dr. O’Regan said.

“Students would ask me where they could go to learn more about these concepts, and I knew there was really nowhere I could send them.

“And then I realized we really needed to write something.”

The end result was a 459-page online textbook covering everything from the psychology of memory to the role of Hicks studies in popular musicology.

“Hicks in Popular Music” is an extensive body of work that fills a gap in the literature discussing the importance of what makes a song interesting, and as Alanis Morissette memorably put it in 1995, This is the kind of stuff you “must know.”

About this Music and Auditory Neuroscience Research News

Author: Press Office
Source: University of Wollongong
contact: Press Office – University of Wollongong
Image: The image is in the public domain


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