What do "Shake It Off" and the theme from Chariots of Fire have in common? Aside from the fact that they are among the select few songs in the universe that will make you feel like a certified badass as you cross the finish line for a 10K race, it turns out that they both have the same melodic elements that make you tick. Pianist Chilly Gonzales shows the exact science of why "Shake It Off" is so catchy, a feat that would prove much more impressive if he could actually tell us the science of how to get it out of our damn heads all of the time.
Even as a certifiable Swifty, I occasionally get to a point in most days where I have to look at my reflection in the mirror and physically tell myself to stop singing "Shake it Off" because I am not only torturing myself, but everyone around me. (It sounds something like, "THINK OF THE CHILDREN, EMMA.") This song, I'm sure you don't need me to tell you, has gone about as viral as a song can go. It has spread like the common cold this past few months, largely because it directly applies to 90% of the frustration in your life. But Gonzales explains there are scientifically valid reasons for the madness (which makes me feel slightly more justified about muttering "This. Sick. BEAT." under my breath in numerous public spaces over the past five months).
According to Gonzales, a lot of the catchiness of "Shake It Off" has to do with the way the melody fits in with the chords underneath it: Rather than letting the chords dictate how the melody is going to go, using a "bottom up" approach that a lot of other songs do, the melody is dominant and uses the underlying chords as its "frame." This, for better or for worse, is the perfect recipe for pleasing your brain so much that the song gets stuck in it for ever and ever and ever and ever.
Watch Gonzales explain the science behind "Shake it Off" and a few other popular hits below: