Earworms

blue headphones on grass

Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head on repeat for hours or even days? I do. Constantly. One song always replaced by another. Sometimes only briefly. Others stay with me for weeks. My head is rarely quiet between the blasts of music and the billions* of thoughts constantly racing around. *this number may be a slight exaggeration*

Sometimes the songs in my head carry no meaning for me, are just sound beating away. Sometimes they express something that I am struggling with, feelings I have. Sometimes a tune I simply love with every fibre in my being. The tunes I hear with a mental finger on the repeat button can be anything. Television shows from my childhood (yep Littlest Hobo and Funhouse I’m looking at you), catchy pop songs, slow and sad songs, tunes that fit my mood or contrast wildly, literally anything. A particular favourite thing for my head to do is provide me with bizarre remixes of random tunes such as the Croatian entry for Eurovision this year (if you don’t know it, google it – it’s the one with the man singing with himself) remixed with ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen. I mean what is my head trying to do to me with that one?!

The clever people are not really sure why we get earworms (also known by the more boring scientific term ‘Involuntary Musical Imagery). They know that songs which niggle their way into our heads are usually ones we have heard either recently, repeatedly or have memory associations with them. They know certain patterns in music are more likely to worm their way in. They know that earworms are more common in musicians and last longer in women. But they don’t quite know why.

Earworms are also more common in people who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and OCD or by tired, stressed people. This makes sense I suppose as they are thought to be similar to involuntary intrusive obsessive thoughts. And it makes sense why I get so many. To some people, earworms are at worst a mild irritation, easily forgotten. For some, they can cause serious problems. For me, they fall in between. Sometimes they are funny, a little musical accompaniment to my daily life. Sometimes they crowd my brain, stopping me from focusing on anything. From thinking. Sometimes this is not a bad thing. It quietens down those billions* of thoughts that rattle around in my head. I often get to sleep by reciting my current/favourite earworm in my head in a weird this-shouldn’t-work-but-it-does way.

This last month or so has been tough and if I am honest, pretty bleak at times. The music has been ever present, always there, demanding and yet comforting. There have been many songs that have come and gone. Yet some have demanded my attention over and over again until I know the songs inside and out. These have been the soundtrack to this episode, have both driven me mad and supported me with their incessant presence.

Beautiful Mess‘ by Kristian Kostov – runner up at Eurovision this year (yes okay I am a Eurovision fan…don’t judge me). This has haunted me for months now.  A song that speaks to me of finding a way out of overwhelming darkness, of working out what matters to you and fighting for that against everything working to keep you down. There is a darkness yet there is also hope. The lyrics ‘water so deep, how do we breathe, how do we climb’ get-me- every-single-time.

‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got’ by Razorlight – heard it on the Hollyoaks Pride ‘boxset’ and that guitar sound at the beginning just got me.  It’s that simple really.

‘Back to December’ by Taylor Swift – not my usual cup of tea in the slightest, this song is currently my choice of getting to sleep song. No idea with this one why, it is just there in my head day after day.

‘The Night We Met’ by Lord Huron – my current main earworm. Haunting, sad, beautiful, full of sadness and heaviness. The female voices at the beginning, the lyrics, the singer’s voice and the little guitar twangs…quite simply I love this track.

Tom Hickox – an odd one this as it’s not really a song I hear. Since seeing him at Womad, I have been left with a feeling of his voice, the emotions in his songs in my head. As I say, odd.

I have learnt that the standard advice for getting rid of ear worms – distractions or engaging with the songs – doesn’t work with me. They are part of me, they are simply there. Sometimes you just have to go with the soundtrack to your life.

*This post was bought to you with the accompaniment of ‘The Night We Met’ by Lord Huron*

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9 thoughts on “Earworms

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  5. I certainly understand what you are experiencing. I’m embarrassed to say, though, that I never heard the term “ear worms”. It’s good to learn something new.

    With my past bipolar hypomania and mania I often had music and voices and other noises repeating in my head over and over again. There was constant noise. And then at some point I even began to have musical hallucinations, though my psychiatrist still thinks they were seizure-related. Strangely it has been quite a while that I have had a silence in my head. It turned out to be almost a relief after so many years of noise. I especially was happy to get rid of the music.

    Now the only sounds I hear are the voices of people that really talk to me, or the occasional TV, or birds or cars outside. When I write I do hear what I’m typing.

    Liked by 1 person

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