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Hit Makers

How Things Become Popular

Derek Thompson

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In 15 out of last 16 years, the highest grossing movie has been a sequel.

Attraction of a pol who clearly articulates thoughts you've never spoken.

Most people are both (neophilic) curious about new things, and (neophobic) afraid of anything that's too new.

When you listen to radio, used to be just you listening. But now, lots of others are listening back to you - paying attention to your choices, the better to sell stuff to you.

The world is complex. But meaning, understanding, comes from wise simplification.

"Every man is born as many men and dies a single one"(Heidegger). You start with a wide potential, common to all babies, then narrow that down as you make choices and experince life. People are born average and die unique.

Quality is necessary but doesn't guarantee success. For every pop hit there are thousands of equally catchy songs that don't succeed.

How many times you've heard a song matters more than how catchy it is.

"Fluency" describes thinking that is easy. We prefer ideas that we already agree with, images that make sense, stories that we can relate to. And one of most impt sources of fluency is familiarity. When you see a painting that reminds you of something you've been taught is famous, you get a thrill of recognition, and you attribute that feeling to the painting itself.

Paradoxically, the more you think about something, the less you like it. Recall a movie you enjoyed. Now list 10 things you liked about it. That's hard, especially as you go down the list, isn't it? And if thinking about something is difficult, it must mean it's unpleasant, so you associate that with the movie you're thinking about.

Raymond Loewy father of modern design. Remade the sports car, trains, Grehound bus. His theory of MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable - ie one step beyond familiar. Realized basic principle - people are both attracted to the new, and resist the unfamiliar.

Looking for the aha moment: the puzzle that turns to recognition, the tension then the relief. The cliffhanger movie or story that ends in rescue of hero.

If you're trying to sell a new idea, you need to frame it as a tweak of an old idea, use familiarity to give audience something to hang on to.

Or, as Loewy out it, to sell something familair, make it surprisin. To sell soemthing surprising, make it familiar.

Even the most brilliant scientific breakthroughs face initial skepticism when they are too far from mainstream thought.

Max Martin one of most respected Swedish song writers. Belived that each part of a song had to speak to the rest. If a verse starts on first beat, then the pre-verse and the chorus should too. Melodies need to get to the hook quickly and then repeat. Repetition is the key - it tells the brain to listen for music.

Earworms - Thomas Edison invented phonogarph in 1877; one year later Mark Twain published (in Atlantic) a story about young students haunted by an irresistable jingle.

Lots of rhetorical tricks based on repetition. Epistrophe, the repetition of words at the end of a sentence (Obama's "Yes we can" refrain). Anaphora, repetition at the start of sentence (Churchill's "Weshall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields"). Tricolon, triple repetiton in short (Abraham Lincoln's "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"). Epizeuxis, repeating same word ("Jobs, jobs, jobs"). Diacope, repetiton of word with brief interrupt (FDR's "The only we have tofear is fear itself"). Antithesis, repetiton of structure contrasting ideas (Dicken's "It was the best of times, it was theworstof times'). And the king of them all, anti-metabole, rhetorical inversion ("It's not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog"). JFK's famous "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind."

More books on Words Rhyme makes assertions sound more believable. "What sobriety conceals, wine reveals" is more convincing than "What sobriety conceals, beer unmasks". Can make bad ideas seem clever, bc listeners don't have to think too hard. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" sounds true even though it isn't.

Vincent Bruzzese a scientist who claims he can analyse film scripts to predict hits. Says that heroes are the synthesis of their friends. Capt Kirk is half thinking Spock and half sensitive McCoy. Harry Potter is half brilliant Herminoe and half feeling Ron. Luke Skywalker combines Han Solo's bravery and Leia's conscience.

A Hollywood producer reckoned you take 25 things that are in any successful genre, and you reverse one of them. Reverse too many and you confuse people. Invert all of them and it's a parody. But one strategictweak and you've got something new, like a classic western set in space.

Star Wars antecedents: 1912 pulp fiction character John Carter, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame, a Civil War vet fighting evil aliens on Mars. in 1930s King Features Syndicate, owner of several comics, tried to but rif=ghts to John Carter, but Burroughds refused. So King invented Flash Gordon. Then in 70s George Lucas tried to buy rights to Flah Gordon, but King turned him down. So Lucas invented Star Wars.

So both refusals inspired a yet more popular space fantasy franchise. And then 2012 Disney filmed John Carter which was a costly flop.

People process the world in terms of stories. Actions and reactions, causes and results. Any story is better than chaos. In fact, you cd say that the human story is all about chaos in which stories are the only available remedy.

Rock Around The Clock was B side to a poor song, sold 75,000 copies when first released. But one of those copies went to a 9yo boy who's father (Glenn Ford) filmed Blackboard Jungle. The film's director was looking for an upbeat song to kick off the movie, and the kid suggested RATC along with a few others. The combo was electrifying. The movie starts with a text screen, finishing with phrase "It is in this spirit that Blackboard Jungle was produced". And as Blackboard Jungle flashed up on screen, Bill Haley's count blasts out: "One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock". It got kids dancing in the aisles, blasting out of cars and dorms. RATC became first r n r song to top Billboard 100, and sold more than any other song bar Bing Crosby's "White Christmas". The most popular erotic website for women is not a collection of porn vids. It is

Most successful storytellers often collage artists, assembling bits from different sources to make something new.

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