Popular songs spread like epidemics


Calling a song “viral” might be more accurate than you’d think.

New research suggests catchy songs spread through a population much in the same way infectious diseases do, The Guardian reports. Researchers applied a mathematical technique typically used to model the spread of disease to a data set of half a million U.K. listeners who downloaded popular songs from a streaming service called MixRadio between 2007 and 2014.

They found the epidemic model fit the downloads of a particular song over time just as well as it fits the movement of disease through a population.

This suggests music and disease “infect” people through a similar process—social connections—researchers report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

But different song styles had different degrees of contagion: Electronica, for instance, was the most “contagious” genre, at 26 times more transmissible than rock music; compared with measles in susceptible populations, it was 190 times more transmissible.

The big difference, of course, is that people don’t have to be physically near each other to spread their musical tastes.