A Halloween Riddle: What Makes A Song Scary?

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails in 1994

Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images


A Halloween Riddle: What Makes A Song Scary?

In celebration of All Hallows' Eve, Pandora conducted an eerie experiment to identify the scariest song of all time... here's what they found

GRAMMYs/Oct 31, 2019 - 11:51 pm

It's Halloween, and scary is everywhere: scary costumes, scary decorations, scary movies and scary music. But what makes music scary?

Most would assume that "scary" is pretty subjective: a feeling unique to the feeler. But our world is increasingly ever-determined to boil emotion down to ones and zeros. Enter Pandora's latest seasonal science project to determine what makes a song scary and, not content to stop there, create a list of the top 10 scariest songs of all time, just in time for Halloween.

According to Pandora's blog, they used "a combination of Pandora's sophisticated Music Genome Project technology, listener behaviors and findings from Pandora’s data science team" to collect a trove of data—drawing from over 450 musical attributes—to identify the scariest songs ever." The blog added, "scary songs [that] use key, tempo and timbre to create tension and manipulate the way the listener interacts with sound. This includes the use of what scientists call "non-linear" sounds, which are generally scratchy, disorganized and chaotic—like the sound of vocal chords vibrating violently during a blood-curdling scream."

Pandora ultimately gave their No. 1 spot on the Scary Songs List to Nine Inch Nail's nailbiter "The Becoming," from their GRAMMY-nominated 1994 industrial-rock classic, The Downward Spiral. The song seems tailor-made for Pandora's criteria. "This unsettled mood is amplified by the terrifying sound of the alternating hushed/screaming vocals. Melodically, this song makes use of an exotic-sounding scale which features a major third, but a flat second scale degree, which gives an uneasy, dissonant quality," it reads.

However, the system isn’t perfect. For instance, it's difficult to be afraid of the dated-and-gated snare drum reverb trails on Pixies’ “The Happening,” which ranks No. 2 on Pandora’s terrifying list, likely for its dissonant vocal section. Bauhaus’ aplty titled “Dark Entries” also seems innocuous enough, though it makes the cut at No. 3 for its "tonal quality of the instruments, including distorted riffs and scratchy guitar solos. There is a high level of dissonance between the chromatically descending guitar line and the vocal, which is not a melody exactly, but a series of monotonic, almost unrelated pitches that clash with the accompaniment."

Perhaps fittingly, GRAMMY winner James Maynard Keenan shows up twice on the list with Tool and A Perfect Circle, but the sleigh bells in APC's “Thinking Of You” slightly undermine its ability to strike terror. Tool’s terrifying “Ænima” clocks in at No. 6 just after Lamb Of God’s “Contractor” at No. 5, both receiving high scores for their “aggressive, confrontational vocal attitude" on what turns out to be a metal-heavy list.

Read More: Underneath 'Undertow': Examining Tool's Classic Debut Album 25 Years Later

The top ten is rounded out by songs from Joy Division, Nirvana, Korn and Knoxville, Tenn., deathcore veterans Whitechapel. All scary songs, for sure.

But organizing music by "mood," a business where streaming services are making a killing, can be a lot like organizing books by size (to borrow an analogy from Alain de Botton), as it flattens the dimension of music into a sort of sonic wallpaper. The practice serves a purpose, but it's that of curating background music for working at a coffee shop, exercising at the gym or other activities that can benefit from musical backdrop. But scary is especially ill-suited for this type of reduction, as it is an unignorable feeling that thrives on the dynamic range between safety, anticipation, anxiety, and personal fear, which isn't always as straightforward as science. Take films like Jaws or Blair WItch Project, which became classics for the paranoia they created without resorting to gore. Or consider the old (but true) cliche choice for scariest song, "Thriller," which scared a generation because of it's cultural significance and masterpiece music video, not necesarily it's high dissonance rating. 

Here are the songs this writer won’t listen to while driving dark backroads at night: PJ Harvey’s haunting dirge “Down By The Water,” Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ murder ballad “Song of Joy,” or Neurosis’ soundscape of hell, “Rehumanize.”

Pandora's experiment of horror is an interesting one, although even the good people behind the project admit scary is truly a personal taste. Loudwire dug deeper, interviewing the project's data scientist Erik Schmidt and Director of Music Analysis Steve Hogan to ask the question: "What, personally, is the cariest song you've ever heard?"

"Hands down, the most terrifying piece of music I've ever heard is a 1961 composition by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki called "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima," Hogan said. "This piece is written for 52 strings, and is nearly 10 minutes of "nails on the chalkboard" dissonance. It triggers my primal fear response like nothing else I've ever heard. It has been used in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, and also in Wes Craven's 1991 horror film The People Under the Stairs."

Now that's scary.

Watch: It's Always Halloween For Daft Punk, KISS, CeeLo Green, Bootsy Collins & The Blue Man Group

Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/


Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Glenn Danzig

Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images


Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Dark punk legends to play first show with Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only since last year's Riot Fest reunion

GRAMMYs/Aug 22, 2017 - 05:28 am

There's big news today for punk-rock fans aware that the Misfits made much more than just T-shirts.

The massively influential punk band announced a special show touted as the "only 2017 performance in this world… or any world" and billed as "The Original Misfits" in Los Angeles at the Forum on Dec. 30.

This will be the first Misfits show featuring original singer Glenn Danzig and original bassist Jerry Only with long-time guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein since the band reunited for a pair of Riot Fest appearances in Chicago and Denver in 2016. Last year's Riot Fest gigs, which featured drummer Dave Lombardo, marked the first time in 33 years the original Misfits members played together.

"OK Los Angeles, you've waited almost 35 years for this, here's your chance to see the "Original Misfits" in this Exclusive L.A. only performance." said Glenn Danzig. "No Tour, No BS, just one night of dark metal-punk hardcore brutality that will go down in the history books. See you there."

Tickets for this "one night only" show go on sale Friday, August 25.

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Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

Lady Gaga

Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images


Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

GRAMMY winner pledges support for those impacted by hurricanes this year through Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program

GRAMMYs/Oct 12, 2017 - 11:03 pm

On Oct. 10 Lady Gaga announced she is devoting her $1 million donation in support of those impacted by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquakes in Mexico, to a specific cause — the mental and emotional well being of children and youth.

Gaga announced on her Born This Way Foundation website she will support Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program, which uses a variety of tools to help young people deal with trauma in the wake of natural disasters.

"Through a curriculum that includes cooperative play, discussion, art, meditation, and mindfulness practices, young people learn to recognize and understand their emotions and develop healthy coping skills," Gaga wrote. "Tens of thousands of youth have benefited from the program since it’s development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Save the Children is working to bring it to hundreds of thousands more in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."

The announcement came on World Mental Health Day, and the Fame Monster has invited all of us to step up and consider making a contribution to the Journey of Hope program to support to mental and emotional needs of children.

"Mental health is just as vital to our wellbeing as physical health. That’s true for each of us, everyday, but it’s especially important for those coping with disaster and recovering from trauma," wrote Lady Gaga. "We must do everything within our power to support the full, vibrant recovery of these communities, from meeting their immediate needs to helping them to rebuild sustainably."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards


Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.