Pity me, for I had not heard of Baby Shark until this weekend, when several people I spoke to at the End of the Road festival mentioned it. They hadn’t actually heard it, just heard of it from friends with small kids.
Specifically, how said friends were feeling the urge to slaughter said small kids if they played Baby Shark one more time. But if people who have never even heard it are talking about it, then clearly a primer is needed .
What is it?
The phenomenon everyone is talking about is a nursery rhyme-like song and video, produced by a South Korean kids’ entertainment company called Pinkfong. The Baby Shark song and dance video has had more than 1.6 billion views on YouTube, by the simple expedient of creating something that sounds as if it was designed specifically to make adults want to yank their own teeth out with rusty pliers. In the video, a succession of cute kids do little dances while naming different sharks – baby shark, mommy shark, daddy shark and so on – before running away to safety.
Where did it come from?
Not South Korea, originally. Wikipedia claims it was an early 1900s children's rhyme, but the first musical iteration seems to be a faintly terrifying German techno version called Kleiner Hai by Alemuel, from a decade or so ago. That was translated into English (you can find videos of groups of Americans singing it: kids choirs, camp counsellors, parents poised between desolation and enjoyment).
Was it always so saccharine?
No. In an English translation of a 2012 collection of camp songs – that’s camp as in summer, not as in Liberace – the song ends with the singer first losing an arm to the shark, then dying.
What changed? Pinkfong. It removed the peril from the song, stripped away the techno – the Pinkfong version bears a resemblance to MMMBop by Hanson – and made it of a piece with its "aesthetic", that aesthetic being "child forcefed sherbet and given set of DayGlo paints". It released its version in 2016, and it gradually spread throughout south-east Asia like a virulent strain of flu, before crisscrossing the world on its way to pandemic status. Truly, a viral video. And, like any good virus, it has mutated: Pinkfong's Monkey Banana is the same track, with lyrics about a monkey instead.
How popular is it now?
The fact that people at a music festival who were otherwise engaged in watching Richard Dawson sing avant-folk songs about peasant life in eighth-century Northumbria would turn from that, seamlessly, to ask: “Have you heard Baby Shark?” suggests there is no reef to offer shelter. You’ll never go in the water again. – Guardian