Do the Spice Girls have the catchiest song ever?

Nearly 20 years after the Spice Girls topped the charts with Wannabe, it has been found to be the world’s catchiest song.

The track, which sold seven million copies worldwide and reached number one in over 20 countries, was rated the most recognisable song of more than 220 bestselling singles since the 1940s, according to research by the University of Amsterdam in association with Manchester’s Museum of Science & Industry.

Researchers set up an online interactive game called Hooked On Music and participants recorded how recognisable the selected songs were. On average, users recognised Wannabe twice as fast as they recognised other tracks, spotting the Spice Girls hit in 2.3 seconds.

“We were particularly interested in music and memory and why exactly it is that certain pieces of music stay in your memory for such a long time,” Dr John Ashley Burgoyne, a computational musicologist from the University of Amsterdam told the BBC. “You may only hear something a couple of times yet 10 years later you immediately realise that you have heard it before. Yet other songs, even if you have heard them a lot, do not have this effect.”

Other songs that researchers found to be catchiest include Lou Bega’s Mambo No 5, Abba’s SOS, Lady Gaga’s Just Dance and Michael Jackson’s Beat It.

The study aimed to identify whether the catchiest songs had similar characteristics and Dr Burgoyne added that he believed that very strong melodic hooks seemed to be the most memorable, but more research would be conducted next year.

According to the academic, a better understanding of how our musical memory works could be applied to research into dementia. 

“There has already been some research that shows that if you can find the right piece of music, something that had a very strong meaning, playing that piece of music can be very therapeutic,” he explained. “But the challenge is figuring out what is the best piece of music.”

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