A few years back, I had a buddy who used to complain every time he saw an 'N Sync video on TV or heard a Backstreet Boys song on the radio. He just hated what he felt was purely a product...5 young guys thrown together singing syrupy pop songs.
I used to laugh it off because, while I too wasn't much of a fan of the boy bands, I could admire their work ethic, their talent as performers, and the fact that they weren't really making music with me in mind anyways. For the people they were targeting, seemingly mostly teenage girls, they hit the mark, they spoke to those kids. I didn't care much for their music, but I wasn't really supposed to.
I feel somewhat similarly about The Wiggles, though I don't think that lead-in gives them as much credit as they deserve. My first reactions to seeing a Wiggles video was, "Whoa, those guys are creepy." But I immediately appreciated the simplicity of their songs and how easy it was for children to partcipate with them, and I respected that they knew who they were making music for and went for it.
I was looking at the impressive list of children's music sold at CD Baby the other day, and I was really struck by the number of albums that featured descriptions like, "songs for kids of all ages", "music the whole family can enjoy", "finally, an album that both parents and kids can enjoy". It seems like 75% of the albums were trying to make the case that their album was different from other kids' music because older folks could enjoy it too! And I don't remember seeing one album description saying "this is kids's music for kids".
Nothing wrong with that...I fully understand the benefit of music that the family can enjoy together.
But I also respect a group like the Wiggles who don't try to appeal to everyone and unabashedly make music, not just for kids, but specifically for toddlers. I may find them a little annoying at times, but they aren't making music for me. Of course it's odd to adults to see grown-ups who never stop smiling, ever, and seem soooo excited about bananas or mashed potatos. They are making music for toddlers and singing about the things toddlers can relate to in a way that allows and encourages participation. Their experience in early childhood education shows.
New York Times Magazine has a good read on The Wiggles (registration required and the story will be moved to the premium section in about a week or so) this week. An interesting point brought up by one of the members is recognizing the egocentricity of toddlers:
Members of that audience, Anthony Field explained, want you to talk to them about themselves: "They're really not interested in you as much as they are in themselves. If you keep talking to them about themselves, and encouraging them, they'll like you, because every time you come along, you want to know about them. You want them to dance with you; you want them to help you make fruit salad."
The article also discusses that murky area of marketing to kids...definitely worth a read.
My favorite Wiggle? Well, can't say I really have one, but Jeff, the one in purple has this trademark of frequently falling asleep whereupon the children are called upon to wake him up, and I must admit I do that a lot with my kids as well, and it's another one of those odd things that never gets old.
All in all, The Wiggles make great Music and Movement songs for toddlers. It's not the kid of music your kids will grow up with...they'll grow out of it. Isn't that kind of nice though?Update: Here's a .pdf of the NY Times article.