"In terms of artists coming up a lot, Lady Gaga won in this regard," the study's lead author Kelly Jakubowski, PhD, tells Billboard. "She had three songs in the top 10 of our earworm list, and she was the top-named song, with 'Bad Romance' named by 33 participants in our study. 'Alejandro' and 'Poker Face' were positions 8 and 9 on our list. So it seems certain artists stick out more than others."
Part of the reason "Bad Romance" topped the list of most-reported earworms could be that it features two equally unforgettable segments -- the proper chorus and the "rah rah" hook -- both of which were cited "fairly equally" by participants as segments that got stuck in their head.
As for what frequently cited earworms have in common compositionally, Jakubowski says successful ones tend to be fairly straightforward, but with a few curveballs thrown in to keep listeners interested.
"The overall contour of the entire phrase or melody tended to be quite generic [in theses songs], like you would find in a nursery rhyme or 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.' Despite the overall pattern, some of the interval structures within that melody were rare or unusual. You might find a bigger leap [between notes] or a bigger fall or rise in pitch than you would expect in a typical pop song," Jakubowski explains.
"The overall structure has to be simple enough that it can be recalled spontaneously in the mind, so it can't be so complex that you can't remember it. But within that, you have these interesting intervals that add unpredictability to melody," she notes. "Simple, but not too simple, so that the brain doesn't lose interest."
While the Earworm Project included songs throughout music history, Jakubowski confirmed their list shared a number of similarities with Billboard's 100 Greatest Choruses of the 21st Century, including songs from Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Katy Perry and LMFAO.
She also confirmed that despite not being a pop music fan prior to the study -- "I'm a classical violinist," she says -- her brain is now wired to Mother Monster's frequency.
"When I was working on this research, I would see 'Bad Romance' listed at the top, and I would instantly get it in my head. I had it in my head for weeks working on this paper. I didn't even know it that well before the study. Even when I haven't thought about the study for weeks, it still randomly pops into my head when I'm walking down the street. I'm like, 'where did that come from?' There's something in the data: 'Bad Romance,' it really gets stuck in your head."