Have you ever had a nasty case of earworms? Don’t get grossed out. That simply means you’ve had a catchy song stuck in your head that keeps looping uncontrollably. Like dinner guests still showing off their vacation photos after midnight, it just … won’t … leave. The harder you try to get rid of that poppy hook, the more determined it is to pitch a tent in your temporal lobe. And if you ever do find relief, all it takes is a tiny taste of that ornery chorus to start the process all over again.
Research out of Finland suggests that nine out of ten people experience earworms. Women are more susceptible than men, and the younger generation deals with it more than older folks. Those are the findings of Lassi A. Liikkanen, who recently published papers about earworms in the journals Psychology of Music and Musicae Scientiae.
“Sometimes these involuntary music experiences are tied to a life experience and it is congruent with mood,” Liikkanen told MSNBC. “People consider [earworms] entertaining and fun occasions when they emerge.”
Oh yeah? Speak for yourself, Doc.
The irritating musical parasite I’ve had a hard time shaking lately is Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” Against my will, that tune has burrowed into my subconscious. It’s not entertaining. It’s not fun. And sometimes it’s not even Carly Rae, but rather that blasted Cookie Monster parody somebody pointed me to on YouTube. And like Logan Marshall-Green’s character in Prometheus, the madness from this soul-sucking little chigger tempts me to implore a colleague to put me out of my misery.
“Songs with lyrics are reported as most frequently stuck (74%), followed by commercial jingles (15%) and instrumental tunes without words (11%),” writes James J. Kellaris, a PhD with the University of Cincinnati, who found that episodes typically last for several hours.
Several hours? Great, so now what do I do?
Some experts recommend singing the song in its entirety to give the mind a sense of closure. They argue that, until we fill in that unfamiliar lyric or pick up a certain musical cue, our brains will keep replaying the part we do know like a vinyl record that keeps skipping until it finds the next groove. An interesting theory.
My wife, on the other hand, is among those who’ve discovered that focusing on a new song will help to evict the old one. Apparently, there’s only room to spin one record at a time on the jukebox of the mind. I always know when Julie’s battling earworms because I’ll hear her singing “I Feel Pretty” from the musical West Side Story. The side effect? That perky number is now a major earworm to my 11-year-old son (“Mom, will you please stop singing that song?”).
Earworms aren’t always awful songs. Sometimes they’re bouncy tracks we’ve invited in, only to have them turn on us like bad potato salad. Or they’re hits so overplayed in public that there’s no escaping them. I couldn’t walk into a store or scan the radio dial last summer without stumbling on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Great song … the first 347 times.
Other tunes that have given me fits include Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” “Friday” by Rebecca Black, and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” And for the record, Eiffel 65’s infectious techno single “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” has been looping in my head since 1999.
So which pop singles have driven you to the brink? And what home remedies have helped you cure those dreaded earworms?