When I started writing for Mad Art Lab, I was so full of hope and optimism. “Science hasn’t really looked at music enough,” I said. “When we really delve down into the biological mechanisms and anthropological tendencies that drive the way we make and choose and listen to music, there’s gonna be so much interesting stuff it’ll make my head spin!” And it’s true, science and music have done really cool things together! Like show musical chills happen on an fMRI and apply evolution to music!
But really dumb music-related things have also been done under the guise of science. For example, getting a massive music streaming service to fund a fluff study to find out what the best songs for sex are. Not by scanning brains or putting recording devices in (willing participants’) bedrooms, but with every skeptic’s favorite method: a survey.
I’m not going to beat up the scientist who did this too much. Clearly, this was an effort to get something amusing into what passes for a news outlet’s science section while name-dropping a popular brand, not a journey to find some deeper meaning in human existence. But when my Google alerts start filling with headlines like Music is Better Than Sex, Survey Says and Spotify Study: Music More Sexually Arousing Than Touch, I have to say something.
Here’s the gist: a psychology researcher in the UK named Daniel Müllensiefen was apparently approached by Spotify to do this survey (I like to imagine the proposition went a little bit like, “Hey, we see that you do lots of interesting research on earworms, congenital amusia, and other Oliver Sacks-type awesomeness. We have something equally interesting we’d like to offer you…this wad of cash.”) wherein he questioned 2,000 subjects on the music they like to listen to in different situations, ostensibly in a fill-in-the-blank kind of questionnaire. These situations included things like dinner at home, the seduction process, and the actual act of vibrating the F-holes (music-themed innuendo for the win). Lastly, there was a question that invited participants to list which, if any, songs were better than sex. (Just because some people put some answers there doesn’t mean they’re right, NEWS.)
And here, ladies and gentlemen, are the top three results. If you’re really curious, CNN has a full top-20 playlist for each category. So, you know, if you want to make absolutely sure you don’t mix up a song that’s better than sex with a song that’s only appropriate for a romantic dinner, you’re set.
Science’s Number Three Song for Doin’ It: Maurice Ravel, Boléro
I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I read this result. If you’re not familiar with Boléro, it’s the last ballet Maurice Ravel ever wrote (and may have been unknowingly inspired by his frontotemporal cortex eating away at itself). It’s based on a single theme that’s simply passed around the orchestra: first the flute plays it, then the clarinet, then the bassoon, then the Eb clarinet, and on and on. For nearly 10 minutes, the piece doesn’t get louder, faster, or more texturally complex. It. Just. Goes. When it finally does change something, it’s just more instruments playing the same thing. This is not to malign Ravel; the piece is brilliant in its simplicity. It is to malign anyone who could possibly think this was a good song for sexing. “Baby, I just want to do it to you over and over. No, I’m serious. Literally, the same thing, over and over, for about 20 minutes. I’m not a fan of changing things up. Cool?”
Science’s Number Two Song for Doin’ It: Marvin Gaye, Sexual Healing
Okay, the survey didn’t say the most original songs for sex. Still, this one makes way more sense. The frequency at which Marvin Gaye’s music has been played while two people were in a sweaty and awkward position together is probably innumerable. Luckily, our friend Müllensiefen gave a theory for this result, just in case anyone was skeptical: according to CNN, he said “the best tracks for getting in the mood all possess similar vocal qualities, like a wide dynamic range, more use of the ‘high chest voice’ and raspiness.” Looking at the list (Berlin? The Righteous Brothers? Céline Dion?), I call bullshit. A high, raspy voice is a quality of Marvin Gaye and Barry White. That’s called the fallacy of hasty generalization, right there.
And can I just give a little more information than I probably should and say that the idea of having sex to songs that have the actual verb I’m about to perform in the title makes me a little uneasy? Sure, I’ll listen to songs about traveling when I’m on a road trip and songs about trimming trees when it’s Christmas, but I’d rather not invite such a thematic soundtrack into the bedroom, thank you very much.
Science’s Number One Song for Doin’ It: Patrick Swayze, She’s Like the Wind
Uuuuuuuuuuggggghhhh. Okay, we’re done here. Science, I’m through with you. I’m becoming a homeopath.