The Music Industry Is Literally Brainwashing You to Like Bad Pop Songs — Here's How

By Tom Barnes  August 4, 2014 | Mic.com

Last summer it was "Blurred Lines." This summer it's "Fancy." Every year, there's a new song that we all hate until we don't anymore (seeplaycounts). And it turns out that's because we were brainwashed to like them.

Research suggests that repeated exposure is a much more surefire way of getting the general public to like a song than writing one that suits their taste. Based on an fMRI study in 2011, we now know that the emotional centers of the brain — including the reward centers — are more active when people hear songs they've been played before. In fact, those brain areas are more active even than when people hear unfamiliar songs that are far better fits with their musical taste.

This happens more often than you might think. After a couple dozen unintentional listens, many of us may find ourselves changing our initial opinions about a song — eventually admitting that, really, Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" isn't as awful as it sounds. PBS' Idea Channel's Mike Rugnetta explains, it's akin to a musical "Stockholm syndrome," a term used originally by criminologist Nils Bejerot to describe a phenomenon in which victims of kidnapping may begin to sympathize with their captors over time.

Most people assume that they hear a song everywhere because it's popular. That's not the case — a song is popular because it's played everywhere. It is technically illegal for major labels to pay radio stations directly to play certain songs, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. The phenomenon is called "payola" (an amalgam of the words pay and Victrola), and it was rampant in the 1960s up through the '80s, during which period the music industry was literally run by the mob. It still happens today, even though it isn't as blatant. Labels pay independent promoters to "incentivize" radio stations to play their music, or create program caps to make sure a song gets enough plays to have its effect. There's real neuroscience behind the strategy: If you hear something enough, you'll start to like it.

That Stockholm effect happens with culture, too. The scientific term for this phenomenon is the "mere exposure effect," discovered in the '60s by Robert Zajonc, and it can apply to anything — images, shapes, songs or people. In his study, participants reported liking songs more the second and third times they were exposed to them. This same response occurred even when participants weren't aware of any previous exposure. It seems then that people can easily mistake the fluidity of their ability to identify and fully comprehend a song with actually liking it. So once a song gets stuck in your head it may quickly transition from being irritating to being beloved. A good example of this is the inexplicable popularity of ear worms like the Black Eyed Peas' truly heinous "I Gotta Feeling."

Other scientific factors matter just as much, though. The context in which you hear a song is often just as important as the qualities of the song itself in communicating meaning, and the more times it's forced upon us the more opportunities we have to make positive associations. If someone hears Ariana Grande's smash hit "Problem" every time they're out with their friends, they will likely start to associate it with good times and good feelings regardless of the song's actual lyrics. Songs that the industry foists upon us constantly, then, have a far better shot at becoming popular than ones without the machine behind them.

Ultimately, we have way less of an idea of why we like the things we do. Numerous social and cognitive factors make it very easy for the pop music industry to gather an audience for artists they decide are worth promoting, and once we've been initiated to those artists, there's no turning back. The industry knows that well, and they manipulate it constantly. But even amidst all that science and big business maneuvering, there's one truth: If you play a really bad song too much, people will still figure it out for themselves.

Views: 15398

Reply to This

Best guide to hip hop, soul, reggae concerts & events in San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles & New York City + music, videos, radio and more

Connect

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to our EBlast

 Subscribe

Win Tickets

Marsha Ambrosius
Tue, Jan 29 @ Regency Ballroom, SF

Souls of Mischief
Wed, Jan 30 @ The New Parish, Oakland

Too $hort
Fri, Feb 1 @ The New Parish, Oakland

Lyrics Born
Sat, Feb 2 @ The Independent, SF

Elujay & Friends
Fri, Feb 8 @ The New Parish, Oakland

MassAppeal Starting 5 ft. Fashawn
Sun, Feb 10 @ The New Parish, Oakland

Sly & Robbie and the Taxi Gang with Bitty McClean
Wed, Feb 13 @ The New Parish, Oakland

J Boog
Thu, Feb 14 @ The Warfield, SF

Action Bronson
Mon, Mar 11 @ The Fox Theater, Oakland

TOP PICKS

Members

Photos

  • Add Photos
  • View All

Groups

Latest Activity

Struc Supreme posted blog posts
8 hours ago
Editor's Pick posted discussions
8 hours ago
TrueSkoolHipHop posted a blog post

Newport News Recording Artist, Gator Fresh Releases Official Music Video To Brand New Single, ''Caution Tape'', Produced By Quay Global

Virginia’s own Recording Artist Gator Fresh and Ceo of Apply Prezzure LLC was born and raised in Newport News, Virginia and is an Master at Work , Gator Fresh links up with Quay Global from QC the Label to Drop this monstrosity titled Caution Tape so Haters beware of the Drip, using his VA Touch and wordplay with spicy Trap Lines Such as “ Times hard I’m a go a Lil harder…See More
yesterday
Editor's Pick posted discussions
yesterday
Maria Wilson is now a member of True Skool Network
yesterday
Indie Castle posted a blog post
Sunday
Editor's Pick posted discussions
Saturday
Editor's Pick posted videos
Friday
Editor's Pick updated an event
Thumbnail

J BOOG at THE WARFIELD, SF

February 14, 2019 from 8pm to 11pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT.Thursday, February 14, 2019 GOLDENVOICE PRESENTS / ROSE PETALS WINTER TOURJ BOOGwith EarthKry and Eddy Dyno THE WARFIELD982 Market…See More
Friday
Editor's Pick updated an event
Thumbnail

MARSHA AMBROSIUS at THE REGENCY BALLROOM, SAN FRANCISCO

January 29, 2019 from 8pm to 11pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT.Tuesday, January 29, 2019 GOLDENVOICE PRESENTSMARSHA AMBROSIUSw/Elle Varner THE REGENCY BALLROOM 1300 Van Ness Avenue San Francisco,…See More
Friday
Editor's Pick posted discussions
Friday
Magassia Promotions posted a blog post

New Music Video NEW FLAVA by SMILEY

Hittown Records presents "SMILEY " . Smiley is a Broward County,FL artist with a bright future. "R.I.P 2 The Trap" the mixtape/album has plenty of flavor if your looking for something new. The edgy smooth voice and beats provide a sound and vibe for any occasion . The production and rhymes along with catchy hooks make this a guaranteed download to your playlist.Please make sure you follow and subscribe to all platforms.Get connected with Smiley on social media:Facebook:…See More
Friday

© 2019   Created by Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service