When I discover or am reminded of a song I particularly like, I am one of those people who will listen to it over and over and over again. The song will be on when I am exercising, when I am running errands, when I am putting things in my online shopping basket to replicate the rush of actually buying them. It becomes, for a couple of days, omnipresent in my life, until another takes its place.
One such recent pick has been Babies by Pulp. This is a track whose chorus hook goes: “I want to take you home / I want to give you children,” but whose narrator at one point also hides in a cupboard to watch his girlfriend’s sister have sex with a guy called David from the local garage. I have played it to death lately, so it seems that researchers in the psychology department of the University of Toronto would have a field day with me.
The study involved asking 570 people about their favourite songs, the lyrics of which were then analysed by psychologists. The participants were then asked a series of questions about their relationship histories. The analysis of more than 7,000 songs revealed that people tended to like song lyrics that related to their attachment style in intimate relationships.
An attachment style comes from a psychological theory put forward by John Bowlby. Familiar to many parenting manuals, it suggests that attachments formed in our early years of childhood impact other relationships in our lives – and that people as a result have predictable patterns when it comes to managing intimacy and relationships.
For example, those with “secure” attachment styles are comfortable getting close to others and don’t tend to experience doubts outside what is normal, while those categorised on the “anxious” end of the spectrum tend to be the more uncertain type, who run every text message by the group WhatsApp, and call themselves “such a Carrie”, while laughing slightly too loudly. There’s also an “avoidant” style, which suggests a nervousness around interpersonal intimacy.
According to the University of Toronto study, those who displayed secure attachment styles (no need to brag, guys) favoured tracks that portrayed secure attachment in their lyrics, like All of Me by John Legend (“all of me loves all of you”), Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran (“And darling I will be loving you ’till we’re 70”), and others that people are always choosing as the first dance at their weddings before then going on to have a blazing row as a result of the free bar.
The “anxious” among the subjects, contrastingly, went for songs like Adele’s Someone Like You, while “avoidants” chose TLC’s No Scrubs and Irreplaceable by Beyoncé. For these contributors and those like them, the study’s lead author, Dr Ravin Alaei, had a word of warning: “As an anxious person, you should recognise that you’re vulnerable to a negative feedback loop and your emotions snowballing,” he said. “Music can be a very powerful exacerbator of that.” Tell that to the gluttons for punishment among us, who have been listening to Nobody by Mitski (“My god, I’m so lonely”) at least weekly for the best part of four years.
Of course, all of us tend to listen to and identify best with music we relate to (another of my overplayed favourites, for example, is Every Bottle (Is My Boyfriend) by the Irish musician CMAT; no comment) – although a pinch of salt is probably required: every person who finds themselves partial to a bit of Rihanna’s Unfaithful (“I know that he knows I’m unfaithful and it kills him inside”) is, realistically, not a raging charlatan, they just love emotional bangers they can air-grab to. Where Babies and I are concerned? Again, no comment.
Either way, it’s probably best, for example, to hold off on telling your next Hinge match that you’ve actually been really into the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me? recently. Thank me when you get a second date.
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