Like most parents these days, Cardi had indeed heard “Baby Shark,” never mind that her daughter, Kulture, isn’t nearly old enough yet to demand control of the stereo. Just two days before Chance’s inquiry, she tweeted lyrics from the track, inspiring knowing replies from a range of celebrity parents. Several weeks later, she referred to herself and rapper Offset, Kulture’s father, as “MOMMY SHARK & DADDY SHARK” in an Instagram caption.
Whether this strikes you as heartwarming or lame, you’re not wrong. Embracing such inanity is part and parcel of parenthood; loving your children often means subjecting yourself to that which they love, sometimes at the apparent cost of your dignity. And if you’re the parent of a young child, you’ve probably been subjected to “Baby Shark” repeatedly and relentlessly. I speak from experience, but also, the data speaks for itself.
The version of “Baby Shark” by South Korean educational brand Pinkfong went viral in America this year, following a three-year buildup overseas. As of August, it had already surpassed its fellow Korean export “Gangnam Style” in YouTube views, and the phenomenon has continued to build since then. Besides the official video, featuring two children doing hand motions against a cheap animated backdrop, there is, of course, a #BabySharkChallenge, featuring all kinds of people doing the same. James Corden got Sophie Turner and Josh Groban to perform a dramatic rendition, noting, “As a father of three young children, I’ve heard it many … many … many times.”
If you have any interaction with toddlers or their parents, you’ve probably heard “Baby Shark.” Maybe you’ve even experienced it in the wild — the Mississippi State marching band recently trolled archrival Ole Miss by playing the song. But did you know there’s a remix EP with Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, lullaby, and pirate versions of “Baby Shark,” plus one at 1.5x the original bpm? Did you know “Baby Shark” is the opening track on a 20-song album called “Pinkfong Animal Songs” that includes such modern classics as “The Penguin Dance,” “Jungle Boogie” (not a Kool and the Gang cover), and one in which a bunch of animals propose marriage to each other? And did you know that the same company has a bunch of other releases such as “Pinkfong Best Kid Songs,” a 48-track behemoth comprising classic nursery rhymes like “The Muffin Man,” “Hickory Dickory Dock,” and “The Farmer In the Dell”?
Much to my dismay, I know these things. As the father of daughters ages 3 and 1, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time with Pinkfong music this year: in the car, in the living room, in my head even when I’m not with the kids. I have been known to start singing “Baby Shark” and other Pinkfong recordings spontaneously. The only escape from the company’s music is the “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” discography, a vast and growing library of Disney titles, or my progeny’s latest fixation, the YouTube phenomenon called Mother Goose Club.
You might say I have children’s music coming out of my head, shoulders, knees, and toes.
This was not the plan back in 2015 when my first daughter was born. Immediately I began singing her cutesy, baby-friendly variations on “Can’t Feel My Face” and Fetty Wap’s “My Way” and subjecting her to my record collection. On my wife’s phone there is a video of me dancing awkwardly to “King Kunta” — seated on the floor by the coffee table, hands in the air like I just don’t care — while my daughter looks on, mystified.
My hope was to foist my own version of dad rock on my kids within reason, somehow raising children with impeccable taste while avoiding consigning them to social alienation. The idea was simply to share some of my enthusiasms with the people who matter to me most.
Instead, my girls ended up forcing their music on me. Children’s songs now make up a significant chunk of my daily listening. There is a protective aspect to it — funny how “the avant-garde need not be moral” goes out the window when screening content for a young child — but also simultaneously a dropping of my own guard, lowering the barriers I’ve erected to prevent myself from associating with music I deem beneath me. Suddenly family dance parties to “Baby Shark” are the norm, and the handful of current pop hits that work their way into the playlist are invariably the radio edits.
As a professional critic and lifelong music fanatic, to call this transition a blow to my pride feels inadequate. It’s more like the slow, steady murder of my ego. Not only do I suddenly have to worry about whether the “clean” version of “Tha Carter V” is sufficiently kid-safe to blast on the way to the zoo, I mostly don’t get the chance to pick the tunes at all. Armed with formidable cuteness and the ability to launch into catastrophic meltdowns on a whim, preschoolers are extremely persuasive.
Living life under these circumstances, you learn to appreciate the little things, like the back-to-back tracks on the “Jake And The Never Land Pirates” album that resemble ‘70s Eno and the Clash respectively, or the song on the “Doc McStuffins” album that sounds exactly like the New Pornographers. Sometimes this means smiling to myself upon realizing They Might Be Giants wrote and performed the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” theme song (and “Hot Dog!”).
Maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome, but I’ve even come to like some of these songs on their own merits. Some of those Daniel Tiger jams are practically Beatles-esque. And I certainly don’t mind my kids imbibing lyrics like, “In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same” and “Sometimes you feel two feelings at the same time, and that’s okay.” Yes, I am that dad now, the one who delights in exposing my kids to positive messages. I am extremely wholesome and deeply uncool.
Like so much about parenting, my gradual submission to children’s music has challenged my self-image and caused me to become much lamer than I ever thought I’d allow — or more likely, it’s peeled away layers of pretense to reveal the herb who was there all along. My wife and I used to blast the “Frozen” soundtrack before we had kids. I was raised on Christian rock. I started cracking dad jokes as soon as I was old enough to bask in the chorus of groans.
I should have seen this coming.
So, too, should have Chance, Cardi, and Corden, all of whom were irrepressibly corny long before they reproduced. A rapper who rode a drama-club tribute to his grandma to fame, another who came up via VH1 reality shows, the ebullient Briton who invented “Carpool Karaoke” — of course they’re all-in on “Baby Shark.”
In that case, maybe there’s still hope for the childless among you to maintain your street cred even after when raising kids. Maybe parenthood will whittle away your exterior posturing to reveal the real you is unimpeachably hip. Maybe your kids will get way into Deafheaven before kindergarten. As for me, I have fully surrendered to my fate of hearing “Little Bunny Foo Foo” 15 times in a row tomorrow — and no, not the Moldy Peaches version.