Why can’t you stop listening to pop music?

The name itself, indicating that pop music is most often listened to, does not doubt the audience. It is popular because many people reach for it. What makes us choose this music genre most frequently, even if we don’t want to?

What music listeners are reaching for and their favorite songs depends on who they are and the kind of musical template they have in their heads. A musical template is simply a set of musical expectations that each engages in as we listen to a piece. It reminds us what sounds are good and how we think music should sound. Like most parts of our characters, we derive it partly through nature and partly through nurture.

Popular music is well named. It’s just the music that the vast majority of people want to listen to. So what makes us make this choice? The elements of a typical pop song play a very important role here. It would not have been created if it were not for the beat and the lyrics.

Popular music uses electric enhancements via electric guitars and synthesizers to amplify and transform vocal and instrumental sounds. This is, of course, accompanied by an appropriate text that suggests what a given piece is about. Usually, it is catchy and easy to remember. Almost every song has a beat that makes people want to move in sync with it. That’s why popular music is different from classical. In the second one, the beat was subordinated in favor of melody and harmony. The role of rhythm is invaluable then. Cognitive neuroscientists still haven’t fully explained its power. However, one thing is clear: a repeated beat has a considerable impact on the psyche. Those sounds with forcefully recurring patterns are processes in the “time-measuring” neurons of the cerebellum. These neurons connect with motor neurons, causing us to make a physical response to the regularly recurring stimulation of the beat.

Another one that has an equally significant influence on popular music is the repetition of the melody. It has been confirmed that the human brain likes repetition, especially when it is easy to remember. And these are the melodies that are associated with popular music: repeatable and easy to remember. So, popular music causes the human brain to work while listening to it. Memory exercises are an essential activity while listening to music. Pop makes this exercise very easy.

Simplicity, repetition, and beat are not the only factors causing so many people in the world to listen to pop music every day. Volume and time also play a significant role. Pop songs are generally believed to be louder than the rest of the genres. Even if they are played at the same level as, for example, classical pieces of music, this causes listeners’ attention to be drawn faster and easier.

The timing of the song also makes listeners choose pop more. And although listeners have been contradicting the standards lately, such as the case of Taylor Swift, whose 10-minute version of “All Too Well” had the most plays among the “Red (Taylor’s Version)” album. However, musicians still focus on short 3-minute songs. And it was the phonograph that started it. In the 1920s, the machine could only store a 10-inch disc that held three minutes of music. Artists were forced to create songs of less than 3 minutes. Only in that way, the song could fit. Even later, when the music was played on the radio. There was no technical possibility to play longer songs. But when in the 80s, the CD was introduced, which could store longer songs, they would still last 3 minutes. Because of that, there was more space for advertisements on the radio. So, the initial technological limitations meant that the 3-minute songs became a permanent part of the music culture.

Time, repetition, and beat keep people reaching for pop music. However, the role of the audience cannot be forgotten. After all, music is created for them, and they still have the greatest influence on their character.

Anna Marek 

Craig Wright, “Listening to Music”
Music for Production: Why is pop music so popular?
Classic FM: Why are pop songs 3 minutes long?

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