Did you ever hear the story of the earworm plague? It’s a disturbing tale. More disturbing, I believe it’s a true story.
On March 8th, 2012, the city of Chanlan, South Korea was hit by a devastating earthquake and resulting fire. Much property had been destroyed, much money had been lost, and many people had died. While business continued as usual in the following weeks, many students in the local Bae Son Ye School were grieving, anxious, and stressed. This stress is believed to be the primary cause of the incident that followed.
On March 23rd of that same year, a 16-year-old girl named Ra Ha Rin reportedly began singing “Cinnamon”, a song by the then-popular K pop group, Pink Chocolate. Rather than attempt to quiet her down, many students began to join her, singing so loudly that 16 out of the 30 students in the class were sent from the class due to the behavior. However, the teacher who was present, and most students in that class, reportedly had this song stuck in their heads afterwards.
The earworm spread in this fashion throughout almost the entire school. As time went on, the effects seemed to grow more severe. What began as nigh-constant singing of the titular song grew into incessant auditory hallucinations of the song, difficulty speaking normally, and dancing to the song regardless of location or circumstance. Disturbingly, this activity often continued despite bodily strain, causing damage to throats, lungs, legs, and other areas of the body.
The school was eventually closed early, but in the end, the plague took 13 days to die out altogether. For some students, the sound continued to increase in volume in their ears, even when they could resist the other symptoms. Some students attempted suicide to escape the constant sound of the song. Ra Ha Rin was one of the few who succeeded.