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: 15359

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

Hannibal Buress
Saturday, Sept 29 @ Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Jedi Mind Tricks
Sun, Sept 30 @ The Independent, SF

Lecrae x Andy Mineo
Wed, Oct 3 @ The Masonic, SF

How The West Won Ft. Ice Cube, Too Short +more!
Sat, Oct 13 @ Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View

Treasure Island Music Festival
Sat-Sun, Oct 13–14 @ Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, Oakland

TOP PICKS

Members

Photos

  • Add Photos
  • View All

Groups

Latest Activity

Indie Castle posted blog posts
9 minutes ago
2 videos by Editor's Pick were featured
14 hours ago
2 events by Editor's Pick were featured
15 hours ago
Editor's Pick posted discussions
18 hours ago
Jonathan White posted events
18 hours ago
Editor's Pick posted an event
Thumbnail

Talib Kweli at Cornerstone, Berkeley

December 9, 2018 at 7pm to December 10, 2018 at 2pm
SUNDAY, DEC 9 Hip Hop for Change & …See More
19 hours ago
Editor's Pick updated an event
Thumbnail

GOLDEN ERA (Classic Hip Hop Night) at Hello Stranger Bar, Oakland

October 11, 2018 at 9pm to October 12, 2018 at 1:30am
THURSDAY, OCT 11 True Skool presents GOLDEN ERA 2nd ThursdaysFeaturing Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist (True Skool) spinning your favorite hip hop classics@ Hello Stranger Bar, 1724 Broadway, Oakland 9pm til 2am | No cover!RSVP here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1641008442692131/ ABOUT REN THE VINYL…See More
yesterday
Editor's Pick updated an event
Thumbnail

Elevation feat. Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist @ Layover, Oakland (1st Fridays) at The Layover, Oakland, CA

October 5, 2018 at 10pm to October 6, 2018 at 2am
FRIDAY, OCT 5 True Skool & Layover present Elevation (1st Fridays)Elevating your mind, body and soul to new heights as you take a journey through musicWith your pilotRen the Vinyl Archaeologist (True Skool) @ The Layover, 1517 Frankin St, OaklandFREE before 9pm, $5 after, 21+, 10pm-2amClick here for Guest List:…See More
yesterday
Jon Schroeder is attending Editor's Pick's event
Thumbnail

Treasure Island Music Festival at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park

October 13, 2018 at 12pm to October 14, 2018 at 10pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT.SATURDAY-SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13–14 Treasure Island Music Festival One of the West Coast’s most celebrated and beloved music festivals that is produced by both Noise Pop and Another Planet Entertainment, is proud to reveal the full music…See More
Monday
Jon Schroeder is attending Editor's Pick's event
Thumbnail

Hannibal Buress at Paramount Theatre, Oakland, CA

September 29, 2018 from 8pm to 11pm
ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS. WINNER WILL BE DRAWN RANDOMLY AND ANNOUNCED 2 DAYS PRIOR TO EVENT. SATURDAY, SEPT 29 Hannibal BuressParamount Theatre,…See More
Monday
Jon Schroeder replied to Editor's Pick's discussion 'Win Tickets'
"How do I enter the contest to win tix. This format seems different than it used to be but it's been a minute since I've been on here"
Monday
Magassia Promotions posted a blog post

"Aint My Style" (Official Music Video) | K-Styles @kstylesworld

K-Styles releases visuals for his reflecting track "Aint My Style". The song dives into reflecting on how alot of the hip hop culture works is not how he handles situations and also includes some self reflection. "Aint My Style" is also available on all stream sites and online music stores.Connect With K-styles On Social Media:Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/kstylesworldInstagram:…See More
Monday

Music

Loading…

© 2018   Created by Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service