It happens to the best of us. You listen to a song that seems catchy and cluelessly start singing along. Then, many hours later, you realize that pesky song has set up camp in your brain and has no plans of leaving. That phenomenon is called an earworm, and scientists have actually investigated why it happens.
In 2016, scientists at the University of St Andrews developed a mathematical formula for explaining what makes an earworm. According to researcher Bede Williams, an earworm must possess five key elements: rhythmic repetition, predictability, surprise, melodic potency, and receptiveness (how the listener feels about the song).
The formula is expressed as receptiveness + (predictability-surprise) + (melodic potency) + (rhythmic repetition x1.5) = earworm.
Accordingly, the researchers identified the 20 most addictive earworm songs of all time based on this formula, and we’re sharing them with you here.e
20. Culture Club – ‘Karma Chameleon’
Album: Colour by Numbers
Awards: Brit Award for Best-Selling Single
Kids from the ’80s and ’90s are more than familiar with this catchy tune by the English pop band Culture Club.
The second Culture Club single to reach the top of the UK Singles Chart, after “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” is considered one of the most popular songs selling 7 million copies globally.
The song “comes and goes” for years after it was released in 1983—its addictive tune, Boy George’s smooth lead, and playful lyrics work for a major earworm.
19. Meghan Trainor – ‘All About The Bass’
Album: Title (EP)
Awards: Billboard Music Award for Top Digital Song, Billboard Music Award for Top Hot 100 Song
The cheeky doo-wop hit caused quite a stir when it was released back in 2014 as a debut single by Meghan Trainor. Some loved it, some hated it, and some criticized it, and we all couldn’t stop singing it—because it’s all about that bass, about that bass….
18. The Rocky Horror Show – ‘The Timewarp’
Album: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
It is astounding time is fleeting, and still, this dance number from the cult-classic movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” gets stuck in our heads. Featured in the 1973 rock musical, not only is the “Time warp” a huge earworm, but it comes with its own super addictive choreography.
So when it gets stuck into your head—forget about it— “madness take its toll.”
17. Kaiser Chiefs – ‘Ruby’
Album: Yours Truly, Angry Mob
Nominations: Brit Award for Song of the Year
The catchy song by the English indie band Kaiser Chiefs became an instant hit when it was released in 2007. It became the band’s first British number-one single and the year’s 10th-biggest-selling single in the UK, with total sales of 313,765 copies.
16. Michael Jackson – ‘Beat It’
Awards: American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Video, American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Video
The crown jewel of Micheal Jackson’s epic album “Thriller,” released in 1982, “Beat it,” is one of the most celebrated, recognized, and awarded songs in the history of popular music. So, it’s not a shocker the scientists selected the song as one of the biggest earworms of our time. Even when you scream from the top of your lungs—while doing the moonwalk— “don’t you ever come around here, you better disappear,” the song just doesn’t want to “beat it.”
15. Taylor Swift – ‘Shake It Off’
Awards: Grammy Award for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical, People’s Choice Award for Favorite Song
Love or hate-hate-hate her, Taylor Swift is the master of catchy songs. So, when her upbeat hit was released in 2014, very few of us could “shake it off” or out of our heads. It was one of the year’s catchiest songs, playing on an internal loop in our heads, and it was accordingly awarded numerous accolades, including Favorite Song at the 2015 People’s Choice Awards.
14. Mark Ronson – ‘Uptown Funk’
Album: Uptown Special
Awards: Grammy Award for Record of the Year, Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Brit Award for Song of the Year
Here you have it. Science declared the 2014 song by Britsh record producer Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mark—that was relentlessly pounding its catchy rhythms into our minds in cars, restaurants, and malls—an earworm. Well, “girls, hit your hallelujah.” Now we know why everyone, including “Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold,” were humming to the funky melody and catchy lyrics for years.
13. Journey – ‘Don’t Stop Believin’
Nominations: CMT Music Award for CMT Performance of the Year
Scientists selected this favorite ’80s sing-along tune as one of the catchiest songs of our time. The song, released in 1981, was actually a last-minute addition to the album Escape and went on to be Journey’s signature number and a rock anthem.
12. Rick Astley – ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’
Album: Whenever You Need Somebody
Awards: Brit Award for Song of the Year
When the pop legend Rick Astley promised in 1987 that he would never give you up, he meant it. And science agrees with him. The catchy ’80s hit that topped the charts in more than 25 countries and sold around 40 million records across the globe was voted as an earworm and one the catchiest songs of our time.
11. Psy – ‘Gangnam Style’
Album: Psy 6 (Six Rules), Part 1
Not only are earworms an annoying occurrence that tortures you and the people around you, but it also makes you do bizarre things. So, back in 2012, when we were all doing the crotch dance in elevators, making lasso motions with our arms, and singing in broken Korean, it was evident that we had a major earworm on our hands. Gangnam Style by South Korean artist Psy was one of the Payoneer videos of the “viral culture” and the first video ever to get 1 billion views on YouTube (as of 2022, it has 4.6 billion views). Not to ruin your day but “Op op op op, oppa Gangnam style.”
10. Baha Men – ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’
Album: Who Let the Dogs Out
Awards: Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Recording
It’s been 20 years, and we still live our lives without knowing the answer behind one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th century—whom among us let those naughty canines out? Meanwhile, we got an answer to another question – why can’t I get rid of this song? Science says it’s an earworm, that’s why.
This worldwide smash hit by Bahamian junkanoo band Baha Men managed to stand the test of time, and against all odds, the song is still a fan favorite.
9. James Pierpoint – ‘Jingle Bells’
One of the most celebrated Christmas songs of all time is also the oldest earworm on our list. Written by James Lord Pierpont in the autumn of 1857, the song was originally published under the title “The One Horse Open Sleigh.”
8. Bon Jovi – ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’
Album: Slippery When Wet
Awards: MTV Video Music Award for Best Stage Performance in a Video
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Bon Jovi released their rock anthem “Livin’ on a Payer,” and the catchy song has been lingering in the airwaves ever since to the point it was proclaimed an earworm. In 2013, the song went triple platinum in the United States after selling over 3 million copies.
7. Europe – ‘The Final Countdown’
Album: The Final Countdown
Having reached the top spot on the Billboard charts in 25 countries, “The Final Countdown” is undoubtedly the signature song of the Swedish band Europe. It was also one of the most-played party songs of the ’80s and, according to science, a major earworm.
6. Queen – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
Album: A Night at the Opera
Awards: Brit Award for Song of the Year, MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film
After “scaramouch—ing the fandango” for almost 50 years, now we have scientific proof that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not only one of the greatest rock songs of all time but is also one of the catchiest as well. “Bismillah!
5. The Village People – ‘YMCA’
Nominations: Juno Award for International Single of the Year
Surprisingly, Village People’s 1978 disco classic “YMCA” never reached No. 1 in the United States, but it became a No. 1 hit throughout the world and has remained popular at parties, sporting events, weddings, and functions ever since. Besides, it has a special place in our heads where it’s been stuck on loop for years.
4. The Proclaimers – ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’
Album: Hollywood Soundtracks
Nominations: MTV Movie Award for Best Musical Moment
We bet you would roll 500 miles, and you would roll 500 more, but it would still be impossible to get this catchy classic out of your head. The Proclaimers’ ’80s classic did so well that it came as a shock for the band itself.
“You get the performance report through every three or four months saying where it’s being played, and some of it is ridiculous. It has been used on TV shows in places from Serbia to Brazil, and you don’t know why or in what sort of context, “band member Craig Reid spoke about the song in an interview with The Scotsman.
3. Queen – ‘We Are The Champions’
Album: News of the World
Yet another Queen song has all the properties of an earworm, according to scientists. “We Are the Champions,” released in 1977, has often been used or referenced in popular culture as an anthem for victories, especially at sporting events, including the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
2. Pharrell Williams – ‘Happy’
Awards: Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance
When Pharell Williams’ upbeat, energetic song was released in 2013, we were all “happy.” After listening to it 80 million times in our heads, the “happiness” changed to a cry for help. No wonder it was voted the second catchiest song in the study.
1. Queen – ‘We Will Rock You’
Album: News of the World
Queen’s “We will rock you” was declared the ultimate earworm of our time as it not only meets t all five of the criteria for an earworm song, it surpasses them by a mile. The “stadium song,” by and large, it’s a favorite among audiences because of its melodic, rhythmic nature, satisfying repetition, and some nice surprises.