Even Bill Nye purists will approve of the new theme song penned by Tyler, The Creator for the new Netflix show Bill Nye Saves The World. While the new version swaps the former’s ‘80s-dance beats for a warped bass line and Odd Future-inspired (RIP) chants of “Bill! Bill! Bill!,” it retains all of the former’s catchiness — and in doing so sticks to the scientific principles that made the original so impossible to forget.
Tyler’s theme — much like the theme song for his old crew’s show, Loiter Squad — is sparse, featuring a droning, spacey beat, syncopated cowbell, and the aforementioned chanting. That’s enough for it to meet all the criteria of a musical earworm, as laid out by Durham University scientists in a 2016 article in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. The researchers of this paper determined, after analyzing the most persistent earworms reported by 3,000 participants, that the stickiest songs have three major characteristics: a common melodic shape, an unusual interval structure, and a fast tempo. Tyler’s song ticks all the boxes.
While the song may not strike you as immediately melodic, its bass line has distinctive ups and downs. Furthermore, its one, half-sung lyric — “Saves the world” — has a shape similar to what The Patterning called the “millennial whoop,” a melodic see-sawing between a scale’s third and fifth notes that’s been noted in songs from pop artists from Katy Perry to The Lonely Island. (To be fair, Tyler’s characteristic flatness gives the interval a smaller, minor feel, but it’s arguably still just as distinctive.)
The “interval structure” that the researchers refer to is the anatomy of the song — specifically, how it balances repetition and unexpected elements. It’s hard to vary a theme song that’s barely a minute long, but Tyler does so by dropping in two unanticipated melodic bits, one at 0:05 in the tweet above and the other at 1:31.
And then, of course, there’s the upbeat tempo, which is a nod to the original beat and seemingly the entire reason Bill Nye tapped Tyler to write the theme in the first place. In the video, when he’s asked why he chose Tyler, Nye says, “He understood the beat. Which…goes back to the original song.” Tyler “loves the fast pacedness” of the original and adds that it “could have been a house beat, if it wasn’t for the snare.”
A different study on earworms by Bucknell University researchers found that the stickiest parts of songs were singable, simple, and repetitive, much like playground chants. Is there anything that meets these conditions more than schoolyard-like repetition of “Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill”?
Neither Tyler nor Nye has explicitly mentioned their deliberate use of these brain hacks to make an especially sticky theme song. Still, we wouldn’t put it past these two science lovers to use science to game the brains of science fans, just like the original did when it got stuck in our heads — and in the brains of fans around the world — nearly 25 years ago.
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