At some point, humans realized music could be used for evil. Thus did we invent "earworms" -- insidious riffs of annoying but catchy music that loops in one's head long after they've stopped actually playing. That's such a perfect term, too. You imagine a parasite chewing through your gray matter, hijacking your very thoughts. When you hear some of these irresistible, grating songs, you may wonder what kind of diabolical geniuses created them, and why. Well ...
"It's A Small World (After All)" Was Engineered To Play On A Loop Without Driving People Nuts
Starting with their work for the Tiki (tiki tiki tiki tiki) Room at Disneyland, the Sherman brothers were Supercalifragilistic at writing earworms for Disney. But the ride Walt was creating for the 1964 World's Fair, filled with singing dolls modeled on the artwork of Disney colorist and children's author Mary Blair, would prove to be a ridiculously complicated songwriting challenge. And you don't dare disappoint Walt Disney, or someone in your family quietly disappears.
The ride's "It's a small world" theme presented several logistical issues. First was coming up with a song that could be heard for nearly a quarter of an hour (the length of the ride) without the people in the boats wanting to drown themselves in the shallow canal. Next was keeping the song simple enough that it could be translated into many languages without losing the cadence and turning into a cacophonous mess. Doing either one sounds borderline impossible, but both?
That said, the song is a terrific drill bit for grinding away at the cavities of our brains. James J. Kellaris, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, says that part of why earworms resonate the way they do is simplicity and repetition. And a song like "It's A Small World (After All)," which repeats the words "small world" 10 times in 22 lines, has plenty of both.