Why Psychologists Care About Blind Melon and Shania Twain

The artists may not have much in common, but they are useful for researchers
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2022 4:00 PM CDT

(Newser) – In 1992, Blind Melon’s “No Rain” shot up the Billboard Hot 100 and drove impressive sales of the band's debut album. Around the same time, a little-known Shania Twain released her second album, including her breakout hit, “Any Man of Mine.” Per writer Derek Thompson of Atlantic mag, Blind Melon became the epitome of a one-hit wonder, while Twain became “one of the most consistent hitmakers of her era.” For psychologists, musical comparisons like this can provide important insight into the general “ingredients of creative popularity … because [music] offers literally millions of data points.” Thompson unpacks two recent studies that point to certain underlying patterns in the making of a one-hit wonder.

Stanford psychologist Justin Berg used a special algorithm to compare the “sonic features” of some 3 million songs and “quantify how similar a given hit is to the contemporary popular-music landscape (which he calls ‘novelty’), and the musical diversity of an artist’s body of work (‘variety’).” Musically, “No Rain” got low novelty ratings compared to its rock contemporaries; indeed, the song’s “quirky” video was probably the key to its success. Meanwhile, Twain’s song scored high marks for novelty; it turns out “she was pioneering a new pop-country crossover genre that was bold for her time." It took time for her to develop that sound, but once she found it, she stuck to it, and so did audiences. This points to the second study, in which Northwestern's Dashun Wang applied the explore-exploit concept to identify patterns among successful artists and scientists: first, they “explore” various creative pathways; once they strike a note of success, they “exploit” the skill, focusing their creativity and production. (Read more one-hit wonders stories.)

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