If you’ve played the song ‘Baby Shark’ around a child, their reaction probably explained why it’s a viral hit song. Children, at least the ones I’ve seen, tend to get overly excited when the song is played, too excited in fact. They know the lyrics, the dance moves, and can even identify the thumbnail of the song on a playlist on YouTube from across-the-table distance, which is quite impressive for people who still can’t control their bladder yet. The song’s target audience, toddlers, babies and small children, has played it so many times, mostly on repeat, that it’s been catapulted to devices across the world and the views keep adding up in the billions.
They’ve played it so much, it’s YouTube’s most watched song. The song was a project between Pinkfong, the South Korean children’s educational company, which collaborated with the American animation company, Nickelodeon. The result was a smash hit that has currently clocked 8 billion views on YouTube. That’s interesting because of the songs with over a billion views on YouTube, ‘Baby Shark’ is part of a growing group of outliers. Other songs with insanely high views, second placed ‘Despacito’ at 7.2 B, ‘Shape Of You’ by Ed Sheeran at 5.5 B and ‘See You Again’ by Wiz Khalifa at 4 B are all ‘adult’ anthems, in that they aren’t directed at children. But baby songs are coming for the top spots, and fast, the five baby songs in the top ten most viewed on YouTube have a combined viewership total of 25 billion views!
Specifically, why is ‘Baby shark’ so catchy though? Why does the song drive kids into bouts of hyperactivity? Who do kids who can’t even construct full sentences know EVERY word in the song? Join me on a journey across multiple research tabs on YouTube that will hopefully explain why addiction for kids is in the form of ‘Baby Shark’ (and Oreos, Ringoz and Kinderjoy). We’ll understand better why kids are addicted to the song by studying the effect that catchy music has on humans, so let’s get to it.
The first thing that will help us understand is that catchy music, for both adults and children, releases dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that is part of the brain’s reward system, and it makes us really, really happy. For context, dopamine fuels most of the pleasure we feel when we eat food we love, we have sex, and abuse drugs (some drugs like heroin increase dopamine levels in the body by up to 200%, 200%!!!). In music, dopamine is triggered when we are deep in the middle of the songs we love, or when we anticipate them, (which can explain why tickets/merchandise/pre-releases by popular artistes are such a big hit) and its probably why children get so edgy when you don’t play it for them, but get so hype when it comes on.
Another reason is that the simplicity of the song’s lyrics helps with children’s limited vocabulary. There’s deliberate, clever use of common nouns (baby, mommy, daddy, grandma, grandpa) and action verbs (hunt, run) followed by simple ad libs (doo, doo, doo). Similarly, the repetition of the verses aids the singing and memorization process, which would be something that modern-day trap and pop artistes have perfected. As children and as adults, we are more likely to interact with things that are familiar to us, that’s a bias that marketers and sales team have exploited for ages, (now it probably makes sense why you’ve used one brand of soap for the last five years). The family mentioned in the song, (Baby, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa) are familiar terms to the children and are mostly connected to positive thoughts. The songwriters were also clever enough to set up the names to be as interchangeable as possible, and brothers, sisters, cousins, nannies and other relations can be included in sing-alongs.
The other reason is that it’s more than a song, which massively helps its popularity. The video, with its bright colours, interesting shapes, and smiling sharks makes it very visually appealing to the children, and feeds their curious minds. The choreography uses hand movements only, unlike most of the more elaborate but difficult-to-execute adult dance moves, and is easy to replicate. The presence of children dancing on screen is a ‘finally-we-have-equal-representation-on-screen’ moment for the young audience, which is a big deal especially when its mostly animation videos and puppets as content. It’s also an ‘if-they-can-do-it-so-can-I’ moment and the kids watching feel more comfortable watching other kids on screen.
Finally, the songs tempo is very interactive; increasing the tempo when the characters are ‘running away’, and slowing down when they are just getting ‘safe’. Upbeat songs, generally, make for easier dancing, and faster music is a potential stimulator of dopamine. Think dancehall tracks, and the sweaty, energized dance fests that existed pre-Covid or the raging crowds that attend EDM concerts. For context, Baby shark has 100 beats per minute, the metric which indicates the number of beats in one minute. That’s similar to “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gee’s, Abba’s “Dancing Queen” and “Pon De Replay” by Rihanna, which places it in elite company as a dance soundtrack.
There you have it, reasons why your nieces and nephews can never let you finish watching that docuseries about the world’s worst jails on Netflix. Baby shark is a phenomenon, a carefully crafted one, and there’s actual reasons why it’s so damn good. Good news too, for getting to the end of the article you get five interesting things about sharks.
- Shark teeth are covered in fluoride, meaning their teeth are naturally cavity-resistant. Just a hunch that scientists would be rich if they found a way to make human teeth like that.
- All sharks are born with teeth. Which they use to fight their siblings to the death while in the womb. Damn, that’s dark!
- A sharks lost tooth can be replaced within a day. Now that’s a feature most boxers would love.
- A fossilized Megalodon tooth is worth $300 on average. Full disclosure though, it takes 10,000 years to fossilize, so you might want to hold off on your deep diving plans to Kilifi.
- Whale Sharks Have 3,000 teeth. 2,963 more than Vijay Kumar, the human with the most teeth, at 37.