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Why exactly is the song 'Baby Shark' so catchy?

byDonyChristie8d17th May 20194 comments

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(Epistemic status: low-level infohazard, class Earworm. You have been warned.)

The video, "Baby Shark Dance", has over 2,773,743,743 views as of the time of this post. It bit into me while captive to a parent soothing their child on the BART subway some time ago and has occasionally reared its ugly snout ever since.

I am curious what models of music psychology have to say about this phenomenon and also what those explanations would suggest for increasing the virality of a given piece of music, audiovisuals, or any memetic content in general if applicable.

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There was a Durham University study running from 2010 to 2013 where they asked the public to record their earworms (I contributed a few).

They suggest a few features that go into a particularly persistent earworm. A couple that stood out to me:

- Simple exposure. Songs that are currently popular tend to predominate. (There is a lot of Lady Gaga in their corpus.)

- A melody in the 'sweet spot' where it's generic enough to be easy to remember and sing but also has some kind of distinctive 'hook' like an unusual interval.

The popularity feature definitely fits Baby Shark. I think the melodic-sweet-spot feature does too: it's overall an extremely generic and repetitive tune, but also has the distinctive, painfully memorable 'doo doo do doo doo' bit.

The paper they published is here (pdf link). From a quick skim I'm not convinced that the stats are going to be all that great, but you'll have to read it more closely to judge for yourself. At the least it might give you some useful hints on other references and some terminology to google.

(And if you find anything interesting, let us know! I'm extremely prone to getting songs stuck in my head and would also like to know more about earworms.)

Simplicity, repetitiveness, and plenty of "doot".