The culprit was the cheeseball ’80s band The Human League. The weapon was their synth-soaked hit “Don’t You Want Me.” For the past week, this diabolically catchy tune has been stuck in my head.
When I’m in class trying to learn economics, as I cook dinner or even now as I type this, I am accompanied by the constant presence of the lyrics “Don’t./Don’t you want me?/You know I can’t believe it, when I hear that you won’t see me.” Even worse, I am plagued by the song’s chorus, screaming “DON’T YOU WANT ME, BABY? DON’T YOU WANT ME? OHHH!”
I feel like an addict. I have this need to sing the song out loud. I crave the fix of hearing the lyrics again and again. But after I shamefully indulge myself, I am confronted by judging stares implying that people decidedly don’t “want me,” and they also kind of want to punch me in the face.
We’ve all been here. We’ve been infected by songs like the Kit Kat jingle, “My Sharona” or (God forbid) “Fergalicious.” These fiendish little tunes known as “earworms” can drive us all to the point of insanity.
This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by the scientific community. Vicky Williamson, a professor of psychology at the University of London, studies earworms and why it is that some songs inevitably get lodged in our brains.
Williamson’s research found that 90 percent of people get a song stuck in their head at least once a week. The research has found music to have a very powerful connection to memory. In an interview with NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” Williamson described earworms as “a very effortless form of memory” and a “good representation of the original tune that we’re remembering.” This can be helpful for things like teaching children, but it is also the root of songs unwarrantedly repeating in our heads.
Williamson and her fellow researchers have also developed a formula to predict a song’s “stickiness,” which increases with simplicity as well as certain pitches and rhythms. Though the formula is accurate 75 percent of the time, Williamson admits that earworms still remain largely a mystery.
Unfortunately, there is also no proven cure for earworms, like the absurdly addicting “Call Me Maybe,” leaving us all to struggle under the influence of asinine pop songs and cheap jingles. As for me, I’m putting my faith in the old adage: Spread the song to someone else and it will leave you alone.
On a totally unrelated note, feel free to give “Don’t You Want Me” a listen.