The world might be a strange place, but there’s still a certain predictability. For example, everyone knows sex sells. And not just for men, for women too. Till a while back, you could’ve brushed that off as a silly generalization, but now there’s a scientific study proving that truism in music.
Evolutionary psychologists – people concerned with studying thought processes that lead to evolution – Dawn Hobbs and Gordon Gallup are the authors of the study, the full report for which is ironically boring and long and can be read at http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP09390416.pdf.
Their undertaking began in 2009, when they sat down with a collection of songs that made it to the Billboard Top 10, to categorize themes related to reproduction – or to put it more succinctly, stuff that turns people on. They came up with a cross range from “genitalia” (gleaned from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”) to “long term mating strategies” (from Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek”). You’d have thought they’d get this off a dating site, but apparently no.
Anyway, the duo then proceeded to categorize these themes as they appeared in songs from three separate genres; pop, country and R&B. And surprise surprise, 92 percent of these songs featured the aforementioned ‘reproductive themes’. How they were dealt with varied, with country music themes touching base on commitment and rejection more often, since it’s mostly for people trying to get over, or get with, but not really getting any.
There’s even a decimal – 8.76 – to quantify the number of times these themes appear in every song that was popular in 2009. Really, are we that horny? Well, yes, but Hobbs and Gallup attribute this to our evolved thinking, which focuses our attention to “embedded reproductive messages” quicker than those about other things.
It’s still tough to see how “Baby Got Back” would’ve honed the listener’s parenting skills; the song even sacrileges the word “Baby”, but scientific proof is scientific proof.
Sure, they aren’t saying it’s all that makes a song tick, but Hobbs and Gallup are very confident of our mostly-subconscious susceptibility to things that are ‘evolutionarily relevant’. Strange as it may sound, they’ve even claimed to have traced these sex imageries in 16th century operas and concertos, before you go moralizing on the new generation.
But again, ‘evolutionarily relevant’ seems too fat a term. Shouldn’t it also turn us on to songs that have secret Mammoth-spearing, shelter-seeking messages encoded into the lyrics? On similar lines, death metal could even qualify as a disturbing alpha male mating call.
This holds more pertinence for women, since they’ve a vested interest in assuring the quality of the other 50 percent of their offspring’s genes, and the scientists acknowledge as much. They’ve even added a footnote about the popularity of novels that have titles that include love, bride, baby, man, and marriage. Hobbs and Gallup also speak of how this uncovers the female need for provisioning and protection, but I think they were just finishing off with a joke.
The study seems trustworthy, but they just seem to have skewed off onto a different conclusion than the obvious one. The obvious conclusion is that our favourite songs are those that tap into our deepest dreams and fantasies. As it so happens, love and sex are a large part of those fantasies, which could be triggered by any related aspect that either leads to, or leads from, being with someone you want. Call it what you will, we just love to love.
So, how about we celebrate our love of, erm, genitalia.