Music is everywhere around us. The world we live in consists of rhythms and repetitive patterns. The human body consists of many rhythms too – the sound of our steps, our breath, heart beat and pulse. Some of us enjoy such patterns and find them calming. For example, I know a person who cannot fall asleep if there is no clock ticking in the room. For others these patterns are absolutely maddening and annoying. They have the most interesting effect on human minds. Such tunes and rhythms have the capacity of catching a human mind, trapping it inside the repetitive pattern and creating an endless loop.
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No matter how complicated and brilliant a human mind is – sometimes it has hard time getting out of such loop and the repetitive pattern in the brain will go on for hours or even days. Modern music industry is familiar with this fascinating phenomenon and uses it very successfully to create their catchy tunes and melodies that keep on spinning in the head. According to public opinion, popularity and success of a song happen spontaneously and depend on the singer’s talent; science offers another approach to this phenomenon. Officially, “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus is the success of a beautiful voice and a charismatic performance, scientifically it is a brainworm with many layers designed to penetrate human brain on the unconscious level.
I took the term “brainworm” from the article called “Brainworms, Sticky Music and Catchy Tunes” by Oliver Sacks, which explores the effects repetitive melodies have on our brain when penetrating it. Sacks explains that the terms “earworms” and “brainworms” first appeared in 1980s (46). The awareness of this phenomenon is not new. Most likely this happening first appeared in ancient times when our forefathers were just getting acquainted with music and tunes. It is interesting that old melodies that managed to survive through centuries and generations are actually the most contagious earworms. How many times each of us found ourselves playing one melody in the head again and again? How many times did we lose our sleep annoyed by the same catchy words endlessly spinning in our brains?
These catchy tunes do not have to be our favorite songs, in most cases they are the songs we dislike, yet they stick to us. Not only song’s lyrics work as a brainworm. It could also be the tune. Melodies with no lyrics can penetrate our brains the same way – good examples are classical melodies or soundtracks from the most famous TV shows or films. Melodies are not the only examples of brainworms. Basically, anything that has repetitive nature is able to trap a human brain into a loop. Brainworms appear as if out of nowhere. They also tend to disappear in the same unexpected way. However, in some cases they are not gone completely; they lie in wait to appear again later. They can wait like this for years (Sacks 50).
Most consumers say that they chose what to buy according to their tastes and preferences, yet brainworms are an acting proof that the product is able to sell itself without consulting the consumer’s opinion. Everyone can tell what they like, but not everyone can explain why exactly they like certain things. There is conscious and unconscious choice. Scientifically, brainworms are what we choose unconsciously. Even though brainworms are not a new phenomenon, in modern world they are more common than before. Contemporary industries have learnt the techniques of creating the most effective brainworms to, in a way, hypnotize their potential consumers and become more profitable.
Miley Cyrus’ song called “Wrecking Ball” truly deserves attention as a fantastic example of a brainworm. I chose the term “brainworm” instead of “earworm” because nowadays a song does not only consist of sounding. The song is a composition of layers such as lyrics, music, video, the artist’s personality and reputation, theme and character. The creators of “Wrecking Ball” put all these aspects into a great balance in order to achieve the best outcome.
As a result, this song blew up the music charts from all over the world. It worked as a massive brainworm that managed to trap millions of people’s minds. You do not need to listen to the song’s melody very carefully to notice that it consists of four simple repetitive patterns, easy to memorize and reproduce. Taking a closer look at the song’s lyrics we see that the earworm effect is achieved by perfect rhyming and short simple words. To catch the biggest amount of attention from the biggest number of listeners a song has to fit into the following criteria: raise a popular issue or theme, belong to a famous artist and be accompanied by some kind of a scandal. “Wrecking Ball” meets all of these criteria.
First of all, anyone could relate to a song about a failed relationship and two broken hearts, Miley Cyrus is a well known singer and this song together with her whole new album appeared on the wave of Miley’s new scandalous style and looks that are shown properly in the music video for “Wrecking Ball”. The young artist works through provocation and shock.
Obviously, the song was cleverly designed by its creators to match all of the expectations. Mission accomplished – the song has everything it needs to conquer and invade the hearts and brains of its listeners, including a clever and attractive metaphorical meaning. The artist compares herself to a wrecking ball and sings “I came in like a wrecking ball… all I wanted was to break your walls” (Cyrus).
The song uses simile as a device to better connect with the audience’s imagination and perception. Wrecking ball works here as a tragic symbol of ruination, of something that was broken to pieces irreparably. This comparison is perfect to reflect the key of the song, its mood. It increases the effect on the listeners, especially the ones that are familiar with the feelings and emotions the song describes, so, basically, anyone starting from teen age.
To design a good effective brainworm it takes a lot of understanding of the concept and the way it works. Modern music industry has proved to have many professionals working hard to achieve the best results, penetrate the brains of masses of people. The song “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus is a complex multilayered product professionally created to become mega-popular. The fame this song has these days is not a lucky turn of events. The role of the artist’s talent here is minor. Basically, it is a result of harmonious process of interaction of the song’s multiple brainworms with human minds. Critical approach and analysis of this song reveals its complicated structure and a powerful effort hidden behind the attractive video of a young beautiful girl riding a wrecking ball and destroying the walls with a hammer.
Cyrus, Miley. Wrecking Ball. RCA. 2013. CD.
Sacks, Oliver. “Brainworms, Sticky Music, and Catchy Tunes”. Musicophilia Tales of Music and the Brain. New York: A Division of Random House, Inc, 2008. 44-53. Print.