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The Secret Science of Pop

Professor Armand Leroi, an evolutionary biologist, explores the 'scientific history of pop music' and attempts to use the data to create a hit record with producer Trevor Horn.

Evolutionary biologist Professor Armand Leroi believes data science can transform the pop world. He gathers a team of scientists and researchers to analyse over 50 years of UK chart music. Can algorithms find the secret to pop success?

When the results are in, Armand teams up with hit producer Trevor Horn. Using machine-learning techniques, Armand and Trevor try to take a song by unsigned artist Nike Jemiyo and turn it into a potential chart-topper.

Armand also takes a scientific look at pop evolution. He hunts for the major revolutions in his historic chart data, looking for those artists who transformed the musical landscape. The outcomes are fascinating and surprising, though fans of the Fab Four may not be pleased with the results. As Armand puts it, the hallmark of The Beatles is 'average'.

Finally, by teaming up with BBC research and development, Armand finds out if his algorithms can discover the stars of the future. Can he predict which of thousands of demo tracks uploaded to BBC Introducing is most likely to be a hit without listening to a note?

This is a clash of science and culture and a unique experiment with no guarantee of success. How will the artists react to the scientist intruding on their turf? And will Armand succeed in finding a secret science of pop?

59 minutes

Last on

Fri 22 Mar 2019 21:00

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:00

    Britney Spears

    Baby One More Time

  • 00:02


    Hey Ya!

  • 00:03

    13th Floor Elevators

    You're Gonna Miss Me

  • 00:04



  • 00:07


    Video Killed The Radio Star

  • 00:08

    Frankie Goes to Hollywood


  • 00:10

    Justin Bieber


  • 00:10

    Vanilla Ice

    Ice Ice Baby

  • 00:11

    Vanilla Ice

    Ice Ice Baby

  • 00:12


    Someone Like You

  • 00:12


    The Plastic Age

  • 00:15

    Simon & Garfunkel

    Mrs. Robinson

  • 00:16

    The Hollies

    Rockin' Robin

  • 00:17

    The Kinks

    You Really Got Me

  • 00:18

    The Who

    It's Not True

  • 00:19

    The Beatles

    Love Me Do

  • 00:21

    The Beatles

    Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • 00:24

    Kylie Minogue

    Can't Get You Out Of My Head

  • 00:28

    David Bowie


  • 00:29

    Sex Pistols

    God Save The Queen

  • 00:31

    Sister Sledge

    We Are Family

  • 00:32

    Bee Gees

    Stayin' Alive

  • 00:32

    Sex Pistols

    Anarchy In The U.K.

  • 00:36


    You Don't Own Me (feat. G‐Eazy)

  • 00:40

    Rick Astley

    Never Gonna Give You Up

  • 00:40


    Take On Me

  • 00:41

    Culture Club

    Karma Chameleon

  • 00:43



  • 00:44

    Earth, Wind & Fire

    Boogie Wonderland (feat. The Emotions)

  • 00:46

    The Bay Rays

    New Home


Role Contributor
Presenter Armand Leroi
Participant Trevor Horn
Participant Nike Jemiyo
Executive Producer Steve Crabtree
Producer Tom Hewitson
Director Tom Hewitson


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