Want to climb the pop music charts? Don’t put science in your lyrics

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Want to climb the pop music charts? Don’t put science in your lyrics

In the hands of a skilled lyricist, science can be the heart and soul of a catchy tune. “Balloons are full of helium, and so is every star/Stars are mostly hydrogen, which may someday fill your car,” the rock band They Might Be Giants croons in their modest hit “Meet the Elements.” Now, a team in Taiwan has put pop songs and lyricists under the lens. They culled 858 science-related phrases from 377 songs sung in Mandarin and three other Asian languages that were nominated for Golden Melody Awards (pictured)—Taiwan’s equivalent of the Grammys—between 1990 and 2012. Astronomy and biology reigned supreme in the lyrics, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of Public Understanding of Science, though in most instances the use of scientific terms was intended not to edify listeners but rather to serve as a metaphor or convey emotion. (“Chemical action is so hard to understand that I cannot guess your formula,” sings Feng-chi Chang in the 2004 song “Chemical Formula.”) The team points out that many songs with meatier science may never have been chartbusters, but they have nonetheless found a home for dedicated listeners in cyberspace.

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