Pop music makes up the largest part of consumed music today. It’s radio, tv, in the grocery store you shop & it’s blasting from the car that passes you on street on your way to work. And this isn’t something that’s only happens in your city: Adele’s music is as famous in Beijing as it’s in London.
So why is pop music so … popular? Is it mere exposure effect, it’s mostly upbeat and catchy character or are there more factors accountable for it’s high praise?
First of all let’s define pop music: Pop music is a genre which was derived from rock and roll in the Western world around 1950s. It’s not to be confused with popular music which describes all music that is popular. But yes, pop music is popular music and it appears there is scientific explanation for it’s popularity.
Several studies have shown that the parts of brain responsible for emotions and especially our brain’s reward centers respond more actively to a piece of the music that it’s already acquainted with than to an yet unfamiliar song, even if the latter fits the person’s musical taste far better.
Really, this is no surprise. Humans love repetition. We feel more safe and comfortable interacting with something we are already familiar with; such experience is more compelling and enjoyable for the majority. Repetition invites the listener into the music as active participant – It doesn’t take long until one’s tapping the feet following the rhythm of the song.
Repetition factor plays an important role in two ways: First, repetition is a characteristic trait for a music in general, but more so in case of pop music. Additionally to that pop music is the one genre that we are most exposed to. We assumed that we hear a song everywhere because it’s popular when actually it’s exactly the other way around: a song is popular because it’s played everywhere.
The context of exposure matters as much as the scale of it. Humans are complicated creatures, our brains perform millions of operations every second without us being aware. As a result of this we experience feelings and make memories. If you hear a certain song every time you are out with friends having fun you’ll start to associate the particular song with positive feelings. The more often a song is played the better chance it has to stick to one of your positive memories and become a hit. This is a trick music industry uses daily. So next time you hear a particular song for the 15th time day, know you might be manipulated into liking it but as long as it’s making you feel good, what’s the difference really?