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32 Questions From Pop Songs Answered With Actual Data

What is love? How far is 24 hours from Tulsa? Do they know it's Christmas time? And how *do* you solve a problem like Maria?

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20th Century Fox

Pop songs ask us many questions, but answer almost none of them. We've spent a morning using data, facts, science, and maybe just a tiny bit of guesswork to try to solve some of the greatest conundrums posed by pop music. Here's what we've got.

1. How long does it take to apologise a trillion times? (Outkast, "Ms Jackson")

listening to outkast's sorry miss jackson and decided to work out how long it would take to "apologise a trillion times". it's 222,578 years

Nicky Woolf decided to answer his own question on this one, assuming Andre 3000 apologised once a second to Ms Jackson. Unfortunately, Nicky messed up his maths and forgot weeks have seven days, rather than just one – meaning the actual answer is 30,000 years.

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2. How many generations would have passed by the year 3000? (Busted, "Year 3000")

@jamesrbuk I'd like someone to do an analysis of how many generations of 'great granddaughter' it would actually be in Busted's 'Year 3000'.

This one has a few possible answers. Working from the release date of the song and assuming people have children at the average age of their late twenties, it would be roughly the singer's great (repeated 33 times) granddaughter who would be a young, apparently "pretty fine" adult. But there are at least two other options:

@hayjane @jamesrbuk great minds! Don't know how many gens at normal birthing rates but that family averaged 199.4 years between births.

Somewhere around 33-times great grandaughter, unless a cure for ageing is found in 2100ish and the great-great-grea… https://t.co/BIRBXWR4jm

3. Where would you be if you were 24 hours from Tulsa? (Gene Pitney, "24 Hours From Tulsa")

@jamesrbuk @IanDunt @NickyWoolf always wanted to know where 24 hours from Tulsa would be.

From what I can tell on Google Maps – and assuming the singer is driving – I think one answer is somewhere near Spokane, Washington.

4. Where would a spaceman be if he travelled a year at light speed? (Queen, "'39")

@nicdavdi @jamesrbuk @IanDunt @NickyWoolf Queen's '39, spaceman travels a year at lightspeed, where did he get to?

I worked this one out based on someone travelling one light year away from Earth – which is different to travelling a year at light speed, but I'm no physicist. Based on this, our spaceman would be nowhere remotely interesting. Our nearest star (other than the Sun) is 4.4 light years away, leaving our guy in a fairly dull bit of space with nothing too cool nearby.

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5. Where do broken hearts go? (Whitney Houston, "Where Do Broken Hearts Go")

@jamesrbuk Where do broken hearts go, James? And *can* they find their way home?

The best option here would be a cardiologist, though a visit to an emergency room first may be necessary. The most likely way to find their way "home" – to recovery – would be an arterial bypass (the most common heart surgery), but valve replacement or a pacemaker are other likely fixes.

6. Where have all the flowers gone? (Peter, Paul and Mary, "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?")

@janinegibson @jamesrbuk what time is love? (KLF) and Where have all the flowers gone? (Peter, Paul & Mary)

There's a good chance they've gone to the US, a huge economy with relatively high average earnings, which imports more than 80% of its flowers. As Colombia is the world's largest producer of flowers, we can (for simplicity) guess all the flowers have gone from Colombia to the US, sparking concern from Peter, Paul, and Mary.

7. Where would the Proclaimers end up if they walked 500 miles, and 500 more? (Proclaimers, "500 Miles (I'm Gonna Be)")

@jamesrbuk @janinegibson As James looks like the child of a Proclaimer: if he were to walk 500 miles, then 500 more, where would he end up?

There's all sorts of places the Proclaimers *could* walk 1,000 miles in total, but it's difficult to do this in the UK without doubling back on yourself.

I've instead assumed the Proclaimers set off from their native Leith (on the outskirts of Edinburgh) and walked all the way to Cornwall, 500 miles away – then turned round and walked back (500 more), to fall down at your door, pretty much where they started out.

8. How big would you have to be to put a million photographs on yourself? (The Vapors, "Turning Japanese")

@jamesrbuk How large would the man in the Vapors' Turning Japanese have to be to fit a million photographs over himself?

If these are digital photos, these could easily fit on a standard micro-SD card and fit on any normal-sized human. However, assuming these are standard 6"x4" photographs, you'd need someone with 7,936 times the surface area of the average person. So: pretty big. There's an alternate answer on this one, though.

@jamesrbuk @edcumming Or, if he *was* the size of an average human, each photo could only be 1mm x 2mm

The actual lyric, though, is "all round my cell", so if he wants a million photos in his cell instead it will need to be 61m x 61m (and 61m high, too).

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9. Are there 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire? (The Beatles, "A Day in the Life")

@jamesrbuk the obvious. Are there actually 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire ?

Someone else helpfully answered this one before I got to it.

Turns out 2,400 holes were filled in Blackburn last year – though that doesn't mean there weren't another 1,600 holes the council didn't get to, so this one might actually be true.

10. How do you solve a problem like Maria? (From The Sound of Music, "Maria")

How DO you solve a problem like Maria, @jamesrbuk? https://t.co/EWbk88lekh

I think this one is straightforward: The abbey's policies aren't really directed towards Maria's (minor) infractions, and so the simplest solution seems to be for it to modernise its working practices, or else find a role within the abbey's current setup in which Maria can thrive.

This, however, is not the canon solution.

@jamesrbuk Incorrect. History shows "Maria" is solved with a husband and children. Inconveniently.

11. Are we 12 billion light years from the edge? (Katie Melua, "9 Million Bicycles in Beijing")

@jamesrbuk Are there 6m bicycles in Beijing, are there 6bn people in the world, are we 12bn light years from the edge?

These estimates are all a little outdated: The world population is now just over 7 billion, not 6 billion, and we're around 13.8 billion light years from the edge of the observable universe. Sportingly, Katie Melua did a special re-record of the song after Simon Singh playfully noted some of the accuracy issues with it.

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@edcumming @jamesrbuk well, funny you should mention this: Katie Melua updated this song with input from @SLSingh https://t.co/QJjvHlYq2s

12. How much would you have to earn to be "barely gettin' by" in LA in 1980? (Dolly Parton, "9 to 5")

@jamesrbuk If one were working 9-5 in LA in 1980, what would be min hourly rate that would result in doing better than "barely gettin' by".

The Californian minimum wage was raised to $3.10 an hour in 1980, meaning a 40-hour week working 9 to 5, five days a week, would earn $124. As the questioner asked how much we'd have to earn to be doing just better than this, let's add about 20% to our total, and say around $150 a week.

13. How soon is now? (The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now?")

@jamesrbuk How Soon is Now? A precise answer, please.

The questioner asked for a precise answer, so I'd have to be tricksy and say less than a Planck unit (the smallest unit of time) away, as by definition now (however long now lasts) cannot be distant.

14. Is there life on Mars? (David Bowie, "Life on Mars")

@jamesrbuk @janinegibson is there life on Mars?

We haven't found any sign of it yet – but NASA is currently investigating whether there ever was life on Mars, and whether the planet ever had the right conditions for life to arise.

15. Should I stay or should I go? (The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go")

@sambrook @DBanksy @janinegibson @jamesrbuk I have a much simpler one: should I stay or should I go?

This one's easy as the problem is defined in the song: "If I go there will be trouble / And if I stay it will be double."

This suggests going will lead to half the trouble of staying, so if you are looking to minimise trouble, then the answer is simple: go.

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16. Who's to blame: the sunshine, moonlight, good times, or boogie? (The Jacksons, "Blame It on the Boogie")

@DBanksy @janinegibson @jamesrbuk Get in line - he still has apportioned blame between the sunshine, moonlight, good times or boogie.

In the song, the Jacksons very clearly identify the culprit as the boogie. Case closed.

17. Will it be lonely this Christmas? (Mud, "Lonely This Christmas")

For millions of people, sadly, yes. Age UK identifies 1.2 million "chronically lonely" people in the UK alone. Spare them a thought during the Christmas season, eh?

18. Have we lost elephants' trust? (Michael Jackson, "Earth Song")

@jamesrbuk Finally, I'd like to ask you: what about elephants? Have we lost their trust?

According to a report in National Geographic, poachers killed 100,000 elephants in just three years, while almost two-thirds of African elephants were killed in just a decade. Given that, elephants would be wise not to trust us.

19. Why? (Annie Lennox, "Why")

@janinegibson @jamesrbuk Why? [https://t.co/0uKvMBrVeD]

Another question answered by its own song. Lennox tells us she may be mad, blind, and viciously unkind but she "can still read what you're thinking" – she knows the answer to her question already, she's simply waiting for you to give voice to it.

20. What is love? (Haddaway, "What Is Love?")

@janinegibson @jamesrbuk What is love?* * Baby don't hurt me

Love is a mixture of hormonal response and a pattern of learned behaviours, wrapped into a single concept through societal conditioning.

If your baby is hurting you, consult a qualified child psychologist.

21. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? (Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody")

@jamesrbuk We've all been dying to know: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Also, Does anybody really know what time it is? Ta

If you believe physicists/computer scientists, probability suggests it's more than likely we're living in a simulated universe, so while we're not sure, there's every chance this isn't "real" life.

22. What have they done to the rain? (The Searchers, "What Have They Done To The Rain")

@janinegibson @ppiixx @jamesrbuk What have they done to the rain? (Searchers)

For a long period, peaking in the 1990s, industrial production was causing the rain to acidify, destroying woodland and becoming a major environmental issue. Thankfully, collective action on sulphur emissions has drastically reduced the severity of this problem, though it is not entirely tackled.

23. Can I kick it? (A Tribe Called Quest, "Can I Kick It?")

This is a question of property rights: As we're dealing with an object ("it") rather than an individual, this is a matter of getting the consent of the object's owner. If you have ownership rights over "it", or have that person's permission, then yes, you can.

24. Why does it hurt when I pee? (Frank Zappa, "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?")

@jamesrbuk Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?* *for the avoidance of doubt this is for your song thing

The most common cause of pain when peeing is an infection in the urinary tract, or a kidney stone. You should seek medical advice.

25. How much is that doggie in the window? (Patti Page, "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window")

@jamesrbuk How much is that doggie in the window James? The one with the waggly tail.

The purchase price of the doggie will likely be under £500, but studies suggest the lifetime cost of dog ownership is in excess of £17,000, so think before you buy.

26. Who run the world? (Beyoncé, "Girls")

No one wants to disagree with Beyoncé. No one. But looking at the leaders of the G20 group of the world's wealthiest nations, only two of the 20 are women. So based on this metric, the world is very much run by old and middle-aged men. Sorry.

27. Where have all the cowboys gone? (Paula Cole, "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?")

@janinegibson @jamesrbuk where have all the cowboys gone?

They have generally shifted into other manual jobs in different industries, though many people still remain employed by the beef industry. For those elsewhere, the most common job in most states with lots of cowboys is lorry driver.

28. What would happen if it were Christmas every day? (Wizzard, "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday")

@jamesrbuk what would happen if it was Christmas every day?

Wizzard are being seriously nihilistic here. As the vast majority of people in Christian countries don't work on Christmas Day, economic activity would crater, as (eventually) would household income. This would lead to a huge economic crisis, recession, and the eventual collapse of many civilisations.

29. Do they know it's Christmas time? (Band Aid, "Do They Know It's Christmas")

Well, Africa – the continent referenced in this song – has 54 countries and 1.2 billion people so it’s safe to say yes, they overwhelmingly do.

The continent has a Christian population of around 500 million, who are particularly aware Christmas is coming because they celebrate it (though the continent’s 20 million or so Coptic Christians won’t celebrate it until 7 January).

30. Are white Christmases what we used to know? (Bing Crosby, "White Christmas")

@jamesrbuk Are you dreaming of a white christmas, and were they just like the ones we used to have?

This largely depends on where you are: In London, around 1 Christmas in 17 sees snowfall, whereas further north in Aberdeen, around 1 in 2 does.

31. Are the boys of the NYPD choir singing "Galway Bay"? (The Pogues, "Fairy Tale of New York")

@jamesrbuk is the NYPD choir still singing Galway Bay?

At the time of this song's release, the NYPD did not have a choir to sing "Galway Bay". The song's narrator – who is, after all, in a drunk tank – is not a reliable narrator.

32. Do you want to build a snowman? (From Frozen)

@jamesrbuk Do you want to build a snowman?

I do.

If you've got any more questions from pop songs, send them to me on Twitter @jamesrbuk and I'll try to get to it.

James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: here

Contact James Ball at James.Ball@buzzfeed.com.

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