Hooks and earworms. What makes pop songs so catchy?

Summary: Researchers are finding out why certain songs keep getting stuck in our heads, and why these “hooks” are the guiding principle of modern popular music.

Source: University of Wollongong

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

These wise and catchy words come from Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen, from her 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe.” The song topped music charts around the world, including in the US, Canada and Australia.

But what was it about that song that made it so popular? Why is it still so memorable 10 years later? What makes any song stand out and easily remembered?

These questions are just some of those explored in Hooks in Popular Music (Palgrave McMillan 2022), a new book co-authored by University of Wollongong (UOW) researcher Dr Timothy Byron and Dr Jade O’Regan (Sydney). Conservatory of Music).

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

Dr Byron, from UOW’s School of Psychology, said the book defines a hook as a musical moment or musical phrase that stands out and is easily remembered. These are the parts of songs that are more likely to end up as “earworms,” ​​the elements of songs that get stuck in our heads.

“Hooks are deeply personal. what is a devastatingly effective hook for one person may slip by another,” Dr. Byron said.

“Hooks can be a rhythm, a timbre or a melody, and they’re not something added on top, they’re really the defining fabric of pop music.

“That’s not to say that other genres don’t use hooks, in rock music you see hooks in the riff, but for pop music itself, we just think that’s the main thing that makes it pop.”

The book provides examples of a number of hooks in popular songs over the past 30 years, including the catchy chorus of Kylie Minogue’s 2001 hit Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, Third Eye Blind’s 1997 song Semi Charmed Life. ” and this 2022 memorable hit “As It Was” by Harry Styles.

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

“In radio, if people hear a song they don’t know, they’ll wait about seven seconds before changing the station, and that’s probably the same for modern streaming services,” Dr Byron said.

“Pop songs need to make a quick impact and stand out in the listener’s eyes, they need to be caught.

Dr. Byron adds that the concept of a sickle is not new.

“During our research, we found that the term hook has been used for a subset of popular music composition that is somehow remarkable that has occurred since at least the 1960s.”

The authors are both musicians, but had different motivations for writing the book. Dr. Byron’s specialty is in the psychology of music, and specifically the interaction of music with memory. While Dr O’Regan concentrates on teaching music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

“I’m very interested in the psychology of what makes a song stand out and why certain songs are easy to remember, and I wanted to explore that in this book,” Dr. Byron said.

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“For me as a psychologist, it’s intriguing to remember something because there are so many things that we don’t remember at all. We barely remembered what we did the week before, so for people to remember anything at all, there must be something special about it.

This shows the record on the recorder
This is the first book on popular music hooks that attempts to explain why certain songs get stuck in our heads and why these “hooks” are the guiding principle of modern popular music. The image is in the public domain

“If a part of a song catches our attention, if there’s a song that we remember, then it’s doing something right and almost tapping into the characteristics of our memory and attention.”

For Dr. O’Regan, the impetus for the book came from her experience and expertise in teaching.

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

“Students were asking me where they could go to learn more about these concepts, and I realized there wasn’t really anywhere I could send them.

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

The end result was a 459-page online textbook that covers everything from the psychology of memorability to the role of hook studies in popular musicology.

Hooks in Popular Music is a comprehensive work that fills a gap in the literature discussing the importance of making a song catchy, and as Alanis Morissette memorably put it in 1995, it’s “You Should Know” kind of stuff.

About this music and auditory neuroscience research news

Author: Press office
Source: University of Wollongong
Contact: Press Office – University of Wollongong
Image: Image is in the public domain

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