6 Ways Music Controls Your Life (That You Never Knew About)
Music has an almost magical effect on people. Some songs make us want to bone, some make us want to crawl under our beds and cry, and some make us want to punch Chad Kroeger in the face. We may not know exactly why these things happen, but isn't that what makes music so special? If so, too fucking bad, because science has looked into the matter and determined perfectly rational scientific explanations for long-standing musical mysteries. Such as ...
Why Do Certain Songs Get Us In The Mood For Sex?
Just from seeing the word "sex," this song popped into your head:
It takes different strokes to move the world and all (somewhere out there, some frenetic duo is humping to Skrillex), but most people will agree that the songs of Marvin Gaye have an inherent bone-ability to them. Now, how many of you thought of the following sexterpiece? Make sure your pants are on securely, in case they fly off:
As weird as it sounds, the classical "Bolero" is officially right up there with "Let's Get It On" in terms of sexitude, according to a survey of 2,000 Spotify users between ages 18 and 91. Dr. Daniel Mullensiefen, a music psychologist at the University of London, explains that both songs are "smooth and have no distracting orchestration," which is a smarter way of saying that they're very easy to listen to and thus not off-putting to your genitals. "[Bolero] has the perfect structure -- it's 17 minutes long, the right length for a sex episode," the incredibly optimistic Dr. Mullensiefen added. Also popular: "Take My Breath Away," "Unchained Melody," the entire soundtrack to Dirty Dancing, and literally anything by Barry White.
One time he farted in public and 47 people orgasmed.
Another thing these songs have in common is that they possess what Mullensiefen calls a "circular quality." Basically, they repeat themselves a lot. So if you come up with a simple, repetitive melody (adding raspy, high-chest vocals doesn't hurt), someone, somewhere will get laid to your work. Meanwhile, despite having been rated as "better than sex" by Spotify users, Mullensiefen claims that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is one of the worst songs ever for actually doing it, because it has too many sudden changes and sections that demand your attention. Plus, it's a real mood killer when both participants start yelling "Galileo!" at the top of their lungs.
Why Do Some Songs Get Stuck In Our Head?
Remember "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"? Yeah, that's probably all it took. Sorry.
If you have that melody stuck in your head now, at least you're not alone. "Earworm" infection rates are enormously high: One study found that 91 percent of people suffer from this at least once a week, with 26 percent suffering from multiple ear-invasions every single godforsaken day. Despite the difficulty in studying this phenomenon -- you can't consistently force someone to get it, and if you could, it would go against the Geneva Convention -- the researchers were able to determine some common characteristics in all earworm songs. Not only do the songs have to be simple and repetitive (and thus arouse you, per our last entry), but they have to have "some incongruity," like when the Baha Men go from "Who let the dogs out?" to "Woof, woof, woof, woof." Is it the dogs themselves singing or the person wondering about the dogs?!
Not even the cover art itself can decide.
Our dickish brains also seem to like songs that "have notes with longer durations but smaller pitch intervals," making them easier to sing. If a song takes no effort to sing in real life, it also takes no effort for some tiny part of your brain to repeat over and over like the guy who's had a few too many at the karaoke bar and thinks he's Billy Idol. And you can probably guess that you're likely to catch an earworm if you listen to a song all the time, but that's not all. They are also more likely to happen when you're "tired, stressed, or idle," which is naturally the ideal time for "It's A Small World After All" to start looping in your head like a skipping record player.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to get rid of an earworm that don't involve a screwdriver in your ear. Doing something related to language, like talking with someone or vainly attempting a crossword puzzle, can take up the brain resources that are used to power your head's eternal song loop function. Alternately, you could dive in and listen to the entire song a couple of times. Since you almost always have only a snippet of a song stuck in your head, listening to the whole thing helps put the earworm to rest like a vengeful ghost. At least, until some asshole says the words "We Built This City" and you-- oh, whoops. Sorry again.
Might as well give in.
Why Does Some Music Make Us Lose Our Shit?
If you've been to a concert for punk rock or EDM, you've noticed that the ruffians closest to the stage have a tendency to get rather rowdy. They'll form mosh pits, crowd-surf, show their boobs to Flea, and do other things that no sane person would do without the influence of music. This is hardly new; girls screamed until their bladders gave out at the Rolling Stones, and otherwise proper ladies were compelled to dance sinfully to the devil music of Duke Ellington.
Even the Egyptians twerked their butts off.
But why does some music make us flip the fuck out? Because when a song brings out the animal in us, it really is bringing out the animal in us. According to researchers at UCLA, "music that shares aural characteristics with the vocalizations of distressed animals captures human attention and is uniquely arousing," and not only to perverts with animal fetishes, as you might think. You consciously know that you're listening to some dudes playing instruments on a stage, but a primal part of your brain is going, "That right there is some animal dying." It's not that hard to make the leap. The high-pitched squeal of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo does sound a lot like a jungle cat being attacked by a pack of wild snare drums.
Which probably happened at Woodstock '99.
And what happens when an animal hears another animal in distress? They freak out. Their adrenaline spikes, and they have to choose whether to stay and fight or run like hell. Music can elicit a similar reaction in concert-goers ... but since we can't escape (the tickets were $67, dammit) or climb the stage and eat the singer, we instead reroute that energy into colliding our body with someone else's like we're trying to discover the Higgs Boson. So if the next time you go to a concert, you feel the inexplicable urge to throw feces at the stage, now you know why.
And now, for the exact opposite of this entry ...
What Kind Of Music Makes Monkeys Relax?
Obviously, this burning question has kept scientists up at night, and wars have been fought over the answer. Thankfully, some brave and brilliant scientists have stepped up to the plate in order to put our long monkey music nightmare to rest. And the answer is kind of surprising. Take a listen to these soothing melodies:
Yes, oddly enough, tamarin monkeys find the sounds of "Of Wolf And Man" by Metallica relaxing, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin. Scientists collected 14 tamarins together and played them four songs: "Adagio For Strings" by Samuel Barber, an unnamed piano piece by Nine Inch Nails (likely this one), part of "The Grudge" by Tool, and the aforementioned Metallica ditty. They wanted to compare how the monkeys reacted to our music, as opposed to some songs specially made to remind them of animal calls. It turned out that the only human music that got a reaction was Metallica -- but instead of making them bash their heads and do devil hand signs, they calmed down.
You see, monkeys have different uses for screaming than we do. Tamarins in particular have certain cries that essentially mean, "HEY, YOU GUYS! OVER HERE! I'M RELAXED!"
Though playing anything from St. Anger results in shit-flinging and violent urination.
While other cries spread agitation, these ones spread calm. So when these monkeys hear music that resembles monkeys screaming in a certain way (like James Hetfield's soothing voice), they chill out. This could lead to a breakthrough in "animal husbandry guidelines," which is a more delicate way of saying "helping animals fuck." We wish Metallica all the luck in the world in their new career as the Marvin Gayes of the animal world.
The parrots began repeating the melody and were promptly sued.
How Many Pop Musical Movements Were Truly Revolutionary?
Everyone thinks their favorite band was the most groundbreaking in history. YouTube is host to countless debates about how INXS changed the game forever, Creed took the entire world by storm, and One Direction practically invented music. In reality, who knows how many of the movements represented by these bands were legitimately influential? Science does, of course. And the answer is: three.
Researchers at Queen Mary University and Imperial College in London, while not busy taking all day to say the name of the institution, studied 17,000 songs from the Billboard Hot 100, looking at things such as timbre, harmony, and chord changes, and how they shifted over time across popular music. Doing that, they were able to determine which movements caused the most radical and permanent changes to the music people widely listen to (sorry, Velvet Underground). A few of you might have guessed the first one: the British Invasion, spearheaded by the Beatles. Check out the song at the absolute top of the Billboard charts in 1962:
And one of the top songs in 1965, after Beatlemania had changed the freaking world:
There's a clear, quantifiable difference in the music made before and after the British Invasion, meaning that everyone who says "the Beatles are overrated" is objectively full of shit. Then again, musical revolutions aren't necessarily all positive. The second one was in 1983, when music got more technology-focused and people like Eurythmics were using synthesizers to do everything, including hold interviews and answer fan mail. And the last one was the rise of rap and hip-hop in 1991, with acts like LL Cool J and Public Enemy bringing the biggest change yet. Because rap is spoken, the pop charts were suddenly filled with songs without harmonies. (They made up for it by dramatically increasing the number of instances of "motherfucker" compared to Mr. Acker Bilk, though.)
On the other hand, the study also determined which movements were the least revolutionary. Punk, for example, failed to make much of a splash in mainstream music in the '70s, while glam metal had the opposite effect -- for a while in the late '80s, everything sounded exactly the same. (Which is to say, like butts.)
If you look up the sheet music for this online, it's just poop emojis.
Why Does Popular Music Suck When We Get Older?
If there's one thing almost all adults agree with, it's that music today is bullshit. Popular music hit its peak when we were teenagers, when artists had real talent and wrote from the heart, unlike [current artist] and [second, horribly mispronounced current artist]. Of course, what's really interesting is that this applies no matter how old you are. It's almost as if at some point in your life, a switch flips inside you that makes you hate all that crappy new stuff. Actually, scientists have managed to pinpoint the precise moment when listening to the radio turns into utter torture: appropriately, at 33 years of age.
Another study performed using data from Spotify users determined that when people are in their 20s, they steadily stop listening to popular music on the radio and start listening to older music. They are sophisticated adults who know what they like, and what they like is mostly "what was popular when they were young."
"Damn, 'Elmo's Song' never gets old."
By the time you're in your mid-30s, you've morphed into a crusty old curmudgeon who actively stays away from the current trends (of which you are as derisive as you are ignorant).
There are a few reasons for this change. Around the time you hit adulthood, scary new genres have formed and are getting popular, and you decide that you'd like to start listening to the comfortable cuddly music of your youth. On top of that, your ability to distinguish different sounds starts to decrease as you age, and your ears literally can't handle this new EDM shit that's on the radio all the time, so you retreat into the familiar instead.
"Aw, yeah. Now that's what I'm talking about!"
So unfortunately, our kids will be correct. Their music won't be terrible; you just won't get it. And there's probably nothing you can do about it. You should go ahead and start shopping now for tweed jackets and high-waisted pants.