Are you in the habit of binge-listening to certain songs? Here, a psychologist explains why listening to music on loop is so common.
We’ve all been there: pressing replay on a song for the fifth consecutive time and getting just as excited when you hear its opening lyric. It’s a habit you might be embarrassed by, particularly if the song in question is a catchy pop tune that maybe doesn’t accurately reflect the rest of your music taste. But with the annual release of Spotify Wrapped, the streaming site’s deep dive into your personal music history, there really is nowhere for your questionable music taste and habits to hide.
Spotify users everywhere have been shocked at their stats from the year, surprising themselves with their most-listened to artists and songs. But one of the most interesting things to come out of the data is the statistic that shows how many times users listened to their top song. For most people, the number is much higher than expected.
This is certainly true for 22-year-old Kirsty from Scotland, who discovered she had listened to Gold Rush by Taylor Swift an impressive 21,530 times this year. Kirsty explains that she is in the habit of listening to songs on repeat: “I listened to it on repeat every day when I was writing my undergraduate dissertation for about four months,” she says. “I enjoy listening to things on repeat because it doesn’t distract me. I also become very obsessive when I find a song I like.”
Although your Spotify stats might not be quite as high as Kirsty’s, listening to a song on repeat is very common. 2013 research conducted by the University of Michigan found that 60% of people re-listen to their favourite song immediately after it finishes. So why do we become so obsessed with certain songs?
“Music has the power to stimulate the pleasure centres in our brain, notably the neuro-transmitter dopamine,” explains psychologist Dr Audrey Tang. She explains that the brain wants to continue engaging in activities that activate dopamine, which is one of the reasons certain songs can feel ‘addictive’.
Lucy, 23, from Nottingham, listened to It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You by The 1975 281 times in 2021, according to Spotify, and she says that the song has “infiltrated every aspect of my life”. Lucy explains that The 1975 were the last band she saw live before the pandemic, which is why she’s felt so connected to them over the last two years. She also finds this particular song comforting, and re-listens to it as other people might rewatch a favourite film or TV show.
“A song that we know well can bring us comfort through its predictability,” explains Dr Tang. “Having a sense of certainty can bring us a much-needed feeling of control, especially during an unpredictable time like the last two years.”
Often a song can remind you of a particular experience or person, which you might also find comfort in. Kirsty’s best friend passed away at the end of the first lockdown in the UK and she explains that this was one of the reasons she listened to Swift’s song that was released shortly afterwards so often. “It was my favourite song on the [Evermore] album and I think it comforted and relaxed me,” she says.
There might be no specific reason as to why you’re playing a song on loop, however. In fact, you may find yourself replaying a catchy song you don’t feel connected to at all. “Our brains make associations very easily,” says Dr Tang. “If we have had the experience of a certain song making us feel a certain way, we can almost be sure that listening to it again will generate those same feelings.” Your brain therefore might have formed a connection to a song without you even realising, which is why you can’t resist playing it over and over again.
Lucy admits that she felt embarrassed about how much she was listening to The 1975 song: “I was worried about my Spotify Wrapped so there was about two months when I tried not to listen to The 1975 at all,” she says.
But, clearly, music is intuitive and whether Spotify is tracking what we listen to or not, there’s not much that is going to stop us from listening to our favourite songs. “The songs we loop also can help us with our identity. Music is as old as humanity and our playlists remind us of who we are and even where we fit into society,” explains Jordan West, a music expert at POM, the dating app that matches people based on their emotional connection to music.
The songs you binge-listen to are almost definitely forming a part of your identity, even if you don’t quite understand how. And if they’re bringing you joy, there’s probably no need to question how often you listen to them. And remember, you don’t have to share your Spotify Wrapped on social media anyway. You can keep your guilty pleasures as a regular but private part of your life.