Thanks to the virality of the Running Man Challenge, Atlanta group Ghosttown DJs' eminently hummable single "My Boo" is back on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That's exactly 20 years since the last time it was on the chart, in 1996, when it peaked at 31. Its success stretches even further than that, though: it not only forms the melodic basis for Ciara's also-charting 2013 single "Body Party," but was sampled on the popular remix of Mariah Carey's "H.A.T.E. U".
"My Boo" has achieved a pretty remarkable—and irregular—amount of success for a single piece of music, then, having now charted three times altogether in its different forms. So while it's definitely clear by now that it's a great song, we wanted to dig a little deeper to see if we could find out the science of exactly why.
In a 2012 interview with the Wall Street Journal for a piece about Adele's "Something About You", psychologists Martin Guhn and Marcel Zentner shared some research they had done on songs that give listeners the chills. Overall, they found that the most emotionally powerful passages of songs shared four main aspects: they started softly and got louder quickly, featured a sudden and unexpected entrance of a new instrument or harmony, often included an expansion of the range of frequencies present in the song, and "contained unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony."
If you listen closely, "My Boo" checks off all these requirements, and in fine style, too. Its chorus starts with a full instrumental beat, acting as an empty pause before the vocal begins—there's check one—at which point Virgo Williams' voice leaps up an octave—check two—accompanied by the introduction of a couple layers of synths—check three. And of course, it's those "unexpected derivations" that make the chorus so catchy—there's all four.
So Guhn and Zetner's theory checks out, in this case. While that's definitely interesting, on another level we also feel like it misses something essential about the song, something that exceeds a formula. If you could put it perfectly into words, you wouldn't need the song anymore, right?
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