Last night's Grammy Awards confirmed something the world already happily accepted all of last year: We're addicted to the soulful, smoky voice and musician that is Adele.
To say that the 23-year-old British singer is a phenom is an understatement. At such a young age, she already holds several Guinness World Records for her music, including "the first artist to sell more than 3 million copies of an album in a year in the U.K." and ""the first artist in history to lead the Billboard 200 concurrently with three Billboard Hot 100 number ones."
Adele swept the major categories at the Grammys (Best Song, Best Album, etc.), walking away with six awards and capping off a stunning year. "This record is inspired by something that is really normal ... just a rubbish relationship," she said during the ceremony. "It's been the most life-changing year."
Indeed, Adele's inspiration for her award-winning album "21" is at the root of a formula that researchers believe makes her music a siren to human ears, in particular the sad "Someone Like You."
An article from the Wall Street Journal points out that science has known for decades about a musical device called an "appoggiatura" — a note that creates a slight dissonant sound with the main melody. Psychologist Martin Guhn explains why it works: "This generates tension in the listener. When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good."
"Someone Like You" features several of these appoggiaturas, creating "mini-roller coasters of tension and resolution" and triggering an emotional response (usually tears, melancholy sadness) in listeners.
But why do we crave this type of music? A study last year of emotionally intense music by neuroscientists at McGill University discovered that sad tunes induce the release of dopamine in the pleasure and reward centers of the brain, leading us to want to repeat the behavior.
“When we listen to music, we experience an intense emotional arousal that’s so pleasurable that it’s being reinforced,” professor Valorie Salimpoor told the San Francisco Classical Voice. “We always knew that emotion and reward centers of the brain were involved in music. This is the first evidence that dopamine is released when we listen to music. There are actual physiological changes that happen in your brain in the motivation and reward circuits that keep you coming back to music. It suggests that music is mildly addictive.”
So go ahead: Enjoy a little downer by listening to Adele's "Someone Like You" below. You'll thank me for it afterwards.