Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Wiggles Are No Longer Ready to Wiggle

[This post appeared on the Parentonomics blog at Forbes on 17th May 2012]

Today marks the end of an era for parents. The remaining three original members of The Wiggles are leaving the group after 21 years. The grind of touring had become too much for Australia's most successful musical export of
The Wiggles Movie Soundtrack
The Wiggles Movie Soundtrack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
recent memory. (And they were a big export still earning $45 million in 2009).

It is hard to imagine how we could have survived parenthood when our children were very young without The Wiggles. When we got married in the mid-1990s, it seemed that the future was a purple dinosaur named Barney with excruciating songs. But unbeknownst to us at the time, The Wiggles had already arrived and by the time we became parents in 1998, they had produced nine albums of the greatest children's music ever. And by great I mean, not annoying to parents.

Children's music has the quality that it invites repetition and that repetition destroys the soul of new parents. While it is the case that new parents often claim they are investing in Mozart for babies in the hopes of spurring child development or something, instead it is the hope that their children might not want to list to children's music. That turns out to be a false hope.

But The Wiggles were different. This Australian group did what entrepreneurial types now call a 'pivot.' Two of the Wiggles started out in a more child unfriendly mode as The Cockroaches in the 1980s. They had a modest hit with "She's the One" but then faded. The other two Wiggles were studying to be pre-school teachers when the four met. A school project, in fact, became their first album where they proclaimed the world, "Get Ready to Wiggle" as the opening track. The album was otherwise lacklustre with traditional children's music. However, it did contain few other songs penned by the band members including one famously introducing Dorothy the Dinosaur that would continue as a muse throughout the band's life. In 1993, they introduced Captain Feathersword a decidedly friendly pirate.

But it was Yummy, Yummy that was their first true classic and incredible tour-de-force that introduced children to fruit salad recipes, amongst other food related themes, including their signature hit "Hot Potato". While it might be a stretch to call this a concept album, as it was unclear where the "Numbers Rhumba" fit in, it was one that could move to a 'parental sanity secure' high rotation on the car's CD player. We would sing along too while driving sometimes to discover that we had no children actually in the car at the time. The Wiggles had hit on a secret sauce for children's music -- something that would be liked by all.
Of course, the Wiggles weren't done innovating. In the next two years, as if it couldn't get any better, the Wiggles bought a car that was big and red and also pretty much a lemon. Their troubles and heartache inspired a new set of
The Wiggles performing at the MCI Center, Nove...
The Wiggles performing at the MCI Center, November 8, 2007 with the new yellow Wiggle, Sam Moran. Photo by Anthony Arambula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
songs and then an incredible celebration of auto-movement with "Toot toot" with its improbably optimistic claim that they would "ride the whole day long."

The followed a tour of world music, including New Zealand, but the pressure of coming up with concept related themes was starting to show. Their collaboration with Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, in 2000 generated a rush to the stores by parents reminiscent of The Beatles White Album but while not bad, it did not live up the hype. From there, with a stock of solid songs to cater for my children, I lost interest and no new albums were purchased in our household. But we would attend concerts into the mid-2000s joining other parents in chanting for another round of "Wake Up Jeff" but sometimes I got the feeling that The Wiggles only wanted to do the new stuff.

The Wiggles will all be replaced and the franchise will live on. For each of us parents, The Wiggles have given us reprieve from an otherwise horrific music existence. Of course, as the children grew older our risks would change. Now with young teens, we have Glee.