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REPORT: Adele's "Someone Like You" Scientifically Formulated to Make You Cry

In OnScreen & Music by Wendy Michaels , on Monday, February 13, 2012, 8:50 AM (PST)
adele
Adele "Someone Like You"
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Why Adele's "Someone Like You" Lyrics Make Us Cry

Adele was Grammys 2012 "It Girl," picking up six well-deserved Grammy Awards for album, record, song of the year and more.

The 23 year-old vocal powerhouse also took to the stage to sing a flawless rendition of "Rolling in the Deep," leaving the night's other theatrical over-the-top pop stars in her dust of pure and raw talent.

One of her other hits, "Someone Like You," has certainly drawn its fair share of fans, but most often gets attention for its ability to evoke a tearful reaction.

I have listened to Adele's "21" album many times, but every time I hear "Someone Like You," I cry.

Of course, to put it into perspective, I also cry at things like Cheerios commercials and lame Lifetime movies, so I tend to weep pretty easily.

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But, it seems that when it comes to that one song,I'm not alone. The Wall Street Journal has dissected Adele's "Someone Like You" to get to the science behind its powerful ability to make you cry.

Interestingly, they note that "researchers have found that certain features of music are consistently associated with producing strong emotions in listeners. Combined with heartfelt lyrics and a powerhouse voice, these structures can send reward signals to our brains that rival any other pleasure."

British psychologist John Sloboda made this finding 20 years ago, conducting an experiment that identified song passages that produced shivers or a tearful response in subjects. He found that 18 of the 20 passages identified contained an "appoggiatura," a "type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound."

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Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject, notes that "This generates tension in the listener. When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good."

Is Adele using science to evoke a response in listeners? Or is she just such a powerful singer with such heartfelt lyrics that we can't help ourselves?

Dr. Guhn also points to chill (or tear) inducing moments in musical passages, such as those that begin softly and suddenly getting loud, an abrupt entrance of an new harmony, voice or instrument, and surprises in frequency, melody or harmony.

Of course, lyrics play their role here, and in Adele's case, the story of heartbreak and love lost pull the heart strings that much more.

Read more of the interesting science behind Adele's "Someone Like You" at WSJ.com.

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