Spice Girls' 'Wannabe' Is Scientifically The Most Catchy Song In History Of British Pop Music

Spice Girls
Science has proven that the Spice Girls were truly the queens of catchy pop music. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have used science to find the most catchy song in the history of British pop music: "Wannabe” by the Spice Girls. Now, this isn’t saying the girl power anthem is the most loved pop song ever, but according to their results, it was the most recognizable. Still, one can’t help but wonder if these “listeners” were largely made up of 20-something-year-old females and if different participants would have resulted in a different Most Catchy Song Ever.

Knowing they couldn’t outright ask participants which song they believed to be the catchiest, the researchers developed a fun game to find this answer in a roundabout way. Developed by Ashley Burgoyne, a computational musicologist from the University of Amsterdam, the interactive game, called Hooked On Music, asks players how fast they could recognize a randomly selected song from more than 1,000 clips of popular music, the BBC reported. The songs span from the 1940s to the present day. Of the plethora of chart-topping hits, "Wannabe" proved to be the most quickly recognizable, with participants identifying the song in 2.3 seconds, compared with an average of five seconds for other popular hits.

The Most Catchy Songs in the UK

1. Spice Girls - Wannabe

2. Lou Bega - Mambo No. 5

3. Survivor - Eye Of The Tiger

4. Lady Gaga - Just Dance

5. ABBA - SOS

6. Roy Orbison - Pretty Woman

7. Michael Jackson - Beat It

8. Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You

9. The Human League - Don't You Want Me

10. Aerosmith - I Don't Want To Miss A Thing

Although the researchers may have been able to find the catchiest pop song in the UK, they have not yet figured out why the song is so catchy. “You may only hear something a couple of times, yet 10 years later you immediately realize that you have heard it before. Yet other songs, even if you have heard them a lot, do not have this effect," Burgoyne told the BBC.

Burgoyne has been involved with past studies that focus on the way our brains process music, and believes our preoccupation with certain songs may be linked to the ability of some songs to stay in your memory longer than others. “There are lots of ideas [about] why this is the case but very, very little empirical research,” Burgoyne said.

Around 12,000 participants have played the game so far, but these findings are only a part of the initial results. The game will remain online until the end of the year so that the public can continue to participant and add the already huge archive of data on international music preferences. “It does not matter whether or not people want to do the science per se; they can just play an online game for fun," Dr. Marieke Navin, the director for the Manchester Science Festival told the BBC.

The Dutch aren’t the first to take a crack at using science to find the catchiest songs of all time. However, this study obviously involved a completely different demographic of participants who instead found Queen’s "We Are The Champions" to be the "catchiest song of all time." Interestingly, this team believes they have found the secret to catchability and say it lies in the gender of the singer, phrase length, pitch complexity, and the number of pitches in the chorus’s hook.

“We’ve discovered that there's a science behind the sing-along and a special combination of neuroscience, math, and cognitive psychology can produce the elusive elixir of the perfect sing-along song,” explained Dr. Daniel Mullensiefen, music pychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, in the press release.

Goldsmiths, University of London Study’s Top 10 Most Catchy Songs

1. "We are the Champions," Queen (1977)

2. "Y.M.C.A," The Village People (1978)

3. "Fat Lip," Sum 41 (2001)

4. "The Final Countdown," Europe (1986)

5. "Monster," The Automatic (2006)

6. "Ruby," The Kaiser Chiefs (2007)

7. "I'm Always Here," Jimi Jamison (1996)

8. "Brown Eyed Girl," Van Morrison (1967)

9. "Teenage Dirtbag," Wheatus (2000)

10. "Livin' on a Prayer," Bon Jovi (1986)

Unfortunately, the two extremely conflicting results of these two scientific studies suggest a huge factor which both studies have ignored. The chances of a song getting stuck in one’s head are most likely to be largely influenced by the listener's choice of music and how likely they are to ever hear the song. Personally, I can point out songs in both lists I don’t even recognize, never mind recite by heart. 

Loading...
Join the Discussion