Baby Shark is a 136-second song about a family of sharks.
Here’s how it became a global cultural phenomenon, thanks to a bunch of drooling pre-schoolers.
Baby Shark has broken the internet, the Billboard 100 and YouTube records for most-watched educational content — 5 billion views and the 25th most-watched video of all time. It’s become a dance craze, an internet challenge and a celebrity obsession, with tributes from Cardi B to Ellen. With a Netflix series, merchandise and an Amazon Alexa game in the pipeline, we are also not even at peak Baby Shark.
So how did a silly song about a family with fins become so popularized?
Baby Shark’s journey to fame (or perhaps infamy for parents) has been 20 years and several cross-cultural mutations in the making. It started life in America as a campfire song, then received the obligatory German techno remix, finally being reborn by a Korean educational start-up. The company swapped techno for K-Pop, and added a simple and somewhat hypnotic dance routine, creating a hit for toddlers across Asia and now the world.
But its success is no random phenomenon. Through serious iteration and A/B testing, Baby Shark was not happened upon, but forged. It is one of around 44,000 songs tested and tweaked over 7 months by Pinkfong, its hit maker.
“We create eight to 12 different songs around a theme,” Jamie Oh, Global Marketing Director of Pinkfong, told Wired Magazine. The songs which attract millions of views are then further invested in with new twists to try to make them even bigger hits. “We keep calling it K-Pop for the next generation of children.” A generation with screens at hand, omnipresent Wi-Fi and tired parents needing 136-seconds of respite.
3 Key Learnings
1. Tweak Factory
Viral success is no longer chance. It’s bet spreading with factory line hits. Pinkfong has by no means a unique model. “These companies are using an industrial production model where they just churn out songs,” Scott Wark, a meme academic has commented. “You tweak little bits here and there until you get a winning combination.”
2. YouTube Is Kids TV
Kids spend more time on YouTube than with their friends, an Ofcom study shows. And they’re not just the audience but the stars too. YouTube’s top earner is a 7-year-old who made $22M playing with toys and nursery rhyme YouTube channel Little Baby Bum was just bought by investors for an estimated $7.8M.
3. Wholesome is Back
Baby Shark is a symbol of the rise of the “wholesome internet,” bringing people together all over the world in family-friendly fun. People are also taking disturbing memes and covering them with hearts and rainbows. A reaction to polarization and endless internet bile, this is the movement we’ve all been waiting for — niceness with an activist streak.