It's got a good beat and you can dance to it, but how is its "processing fluency?" The term, the Washington Post explains, is at the heart of social scientists' latest quest to explain why some songs catch on as the "song of the summer"—or the song of any season, really—while others fade away. The concept, laid out by USC researchers in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in April, isn't complicated. In fact, just the opposite: "Processing fluency" is explained by the Post thusly: "Human brains get really jazzed about things that are easy to grasp." And in the case of hit songs, that translates into repeating simple words over and over and over. “Tempo does not appear to matter,” say the researchers, who pored over Billboard hits going back to 1958.
"While every artist strives to create a catchy hook, they may also consider striving to write a coherent song in which the chorus is repeated frequently while utilizing a limited vocabulary.” Witness current summer hit "Shut Up and Dance"—the Post counts 12 repetitions of the title. Researcher Joseph Nunes elaborates on the simple but powerful market force: "If it's easier, it feels better. If it feels better, it tells me I like it more. If I have a positive feeling about something because it’s familiar, then I think I like it more." They did not, however, come up with a magic number of repetitions. More is basically more, says Nunes. (Spotify, meanwhile, ranks the most popular songs for couples in a certain mood.)