Hooks and earworms: what makes pop songs so catchy?

Summary: Researchers are exploring why certain songs constantly get stuck in our heads and why these “hook” are the guiding principle of modern popular music.

Source: University of Wollongong

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

These wise and catchy words are those of Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen from her 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 had made it so popular? Why, 10 years later, is it still so memorable? What makes a song stand out and easy to remember?

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

This is the first book-length 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 principle of modern popular music. .

Dr. Byron of the UOW 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 bits of songs that are most likely to become “earworms”, the elements of songs that get stuck in our heads.

“Hooks are deeply personal – which is a devastatingly effective hook for one person can slip right past another person unnoticed,” 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 fabric that defines pop music.

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

The book gives a series of examples of hooks in popular songs of the last 30 years, including the catchy chorus of Kylie Minogue’s 2001 hit “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, the 1997 song by Third Eye Blind “Semi Charmed Life” and the memorable 2022 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.

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

“Pop songs need to have a quick impact and to stand out to the listener, they need to have a hook.

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

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

The authors are both musicians but had different motivations for writing the book. Dr. Byron’s expertise lies in the psychology of music, and in particular how music interacts 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 sets a song apart and why certain songs are easy to remember and I wanted to explore that in this book,” Dr. Byron said.

See also

This shows a strand of DNA

“For me, as a psychologist, it’s fascinating to remember something because there are a lot of things that you don’t remember at all. We barely remember what we did a week ago, so for people to remember anything there has to be something special about it.

This shows a recording on a record player
This is the first book-length 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 principle of modern popular music. . Image is in public domain

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

For Dr. O’Regan, the impetus for the book came from his training and teaching experience.

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

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

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

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

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

About this music and auditory neuroscience research news

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

Leave a Comment