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: 15388

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

Keys N Krates
Sat, Dec 15 @ Slim's, SF

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic
Mon, Dec 17 @ Independent, SF

MadeinTYO
Mon, Jan 18 @ Slim's, SF

Lyrics Born
Sat, Feb 2 @ The Independent, SF

TOP PICKS

Members

Photos

  • Add Photos
  • View All

Groups

Latest Activity

Editor's Pick posted discussions
20 minutes ago
Editor's Pick posted videos
2 hours ago
bosshogg posted a discussion

Kaio Kane - "Insidious"

Download The NEW Mixtape "Perfect Storm"https://itunes.apple.com/album/id1441146505Follow Kaio Kane on Instagram @IAMKAIOKANESee More
4 hours ago
Editor's Pick updated an event
Thumbnail

ERIC BENÉT at Yoshi's, Oakland

January 11, 2019 at 8pm to January 14, 2019 at 11:45pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT. ERIC BENÉTFriday Jan 11, 2019 Doors: 7:30 PM. Show: 8:00 PM. $49 - $95 >> BUY TICKETSDoors: 9:45 PM. Show: 10:00…See More
19 hours ago
An event by Editor's Pick was featured
Thumbnail

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe at The Fillmore, San Francisco

December 28, 2018 at 8pm to December 29, 2018 at 11pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT.Friday, December 28, 2018 Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe & Z-Trip with Dumpstaphunk@ The Fillmore, San FranciscoDoors 8:00 p.m. // Show 9:00 p.m. Tickets are $35.00 plus…See More
19 hours ago
Editor's Pick updated an event
Thumbnail

MELANIE FIONA at Yoshi's, Oakland

January 5, 2019 at 7:30pm to January 6, 2019 at 11:30pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT.MELANIE FIONASaturday Jan 5, 2019 Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, CADoors: 7:00 PM. Show: 7:30 PM. $44 - $84…See More
19 hours ago
Editor's Pick updated an event
Thumbnail

CON FUNK SHUN at Yoshi's, Oakland

December 27, 2018 at 8pm to December 29, 2018 at 9:30pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT.CON FUNK SHUN Pre-New Years Eve -Fan Appreciation PartyThursday Dec 27, 2018@ Yoshi's Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, CA Doors: 7:30 PM. Show: 8:00 PM. $34 - $79…See More
20 hours ago
Editor's Pick posted events
21 hours ago
Editor's Pick updated an event
Thumbnail

AMINE (WIN TICKETS) at THE REGENCY BALLROOM

December 16, 2018 from 8pm to 11:45pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT.AMINEwith Buddy, Kayo GenesisEARLY SHOW:Sunday, December 16, 2018 Doors: 7:00PM Show: 8:00PMLATE SHOW:Sunday, December 16, 2018 Doors: 11:00PM Show: 11:59PMTHE REGENCY BALLROOM 1300 Van Ness…See More
22 hours ago
Editor's Pick posted discussions
yesterday
Struc Supreme posted blog posts
Tuesday
SceneSquid SF Bay posted an event

COMPLEX OAKLAND NYE 2019 : FREE W/RSVP TIL 12AM at Complex

December 31, 2018 at 9pm to January 1, 2019 at 2am
OAKLAND NYE 2019. OAKLAND NYE 2019. MONDAY, DECEMBER 31ST 2018-2019 CELEBRATE NEW YEAR'S EVE 2019 WITH SOME OF THE BAY AREA'S BEST IN ENTERTAINMENT!COMPLE OAKLAND INVITES YOU TO... AT DOWNTOWN OAKLAND ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX COMPLEX OAKLAND Concert & Event Space420 14th St in Downtown Oakland 94612SAME LOCATION AS OUR LAST FOUR SOLD OUT NYE CELEBRATIONS!FEATURING MUSIC & HOSTED BY THE BAY AREA'S HOTTEST DJS...OFFICIAL DJS In the mix taking you on an unforgettable musical journey unlike…See More
Tuesday

© 2018   Created by Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service