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Tune in to the Science Behind Musical Hits

Ever wonder why songs like “Despacito”, “Call Me Maybe”, and “We Are The Champions”, which sound like they have nothing in common, made it to the top of the charts?  

Written by Eileene Lee


Ever wonder why songs like “Despacito”, “Call Me Maybe”, and “We Are The Champions”, which sound like they have nothing in common, made it to the top of the charts?  Although these songs and many of the other top musical hits sound different and come from different genres, they actually share some similarities. Despite what some critics might say, there is a reason why pop music remains popular.


“Earworms”, or scientifically known as involuntary musical imagery (INMI), are catchy songs that become ingrained in one’s head. When producer’s create music, they tend to follow some formulas to ensure a song’s popularity. A study by Kelly Jakubowski, Lauren Stewart, Sebastian Finkel, and Daniel Müllensiefen from the American Psychological Association has helped dissect the science behind what exactly makes a song catchy. [1]


  1. The ability to sing along.

Popular songs often have a higher number of pitches in the chorus hook. The reason for this is that the more sounds there are, the more infectious a song becomes. Combining longer musical phrases and a hook over three different pitches are an essential component to creating a popular song. [1]


  1. Higher pitched voices.

For males, strong, higher pitched voices, like those of Freddie Mercury of Queen and Jon Bon Jovi, are especially beneficial because they can signify high energy and purpose, particularly when combined with a smaller vocal range. [1]


  1. Sandwiching new songs in between already popular songs

In Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”, he explains that many radio stations are able to introduce unfamiliar songs by placing them between well-known ones. For example, and it might be hard to believe, “Hey Ya” by Outkast once faced poor reception by the general public, and sales were low. However, by inserting it between other more familiar songs, listeners slowly warmed up to it, and it soared to the top of the charts, making it one of the most defining songs of the 2000s. [2]


From advertisements to jingles to sitcom theme songs, the science behind producing an effective and catchy song plays a huge role of many entertainment industries. So to the many aspiring artists, songwriters, and producers out there, make sure to keep everything explored in this article in mind!



[1] Jakubowski, Finkel, et al. “Dissecting an Earworm: Melodic Features and Song Popularity Predict Involuntary Musical Imagery.” American Psychological Association. 2016. http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/aca-aca0000090.pdf

[2] Duhigg, Charles. The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business. New York : Random House, 2012. Print.

[3] Psychologies.co.uk. N. p., 2018. Web. 16 Sept. 2018. https://www.psychologies.co.uk/sites/default/files/styles/psy2_page_header/public/field/image/iStock_000036450854_happy%20music.jpg

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