Why toddlers are suddenly the hottest tastemakers in music


When friends and colleagues found out my wife and I were expecting, they instantly pegged me — a music writer who’s covered rock and pop for 20 years — as a potential “cool dad.”

I tried to live up to the mantle immediately by sitting next to my wife’s pregnant belly and strumming Echo and the Bunnymen songs on guitar, playing Smiths records louder than normal and even reading my unborn child extracts from the biography of late Fall singer Mark E. Smith, despite (or perhaps, because) he once threatened to hit me during an interview.

In the delivery room, our daughter was born to the sound of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” I cut the umbilical chord during the final guitar solo and after much pleading with my ever-patient wife, I even gave our firstborn the middle name “Valentine” after My Bloody Valentine — an Anglo-Irish band famous for searingly loud concerts that have destroyed at least 20 percent of my hearing. I called it a “tribute,” most other people called it “stupid.”

Two-and-a-half years later, my toddler cares nothing for all I tried to teach her. “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Let It Go” are played in what feels like an ear-bleeding loop, and soundtracks to animated films like “Coco” and “Moana” are also on high rotation. These bright, melodic ditties are also popular with her preschool chums, which only ingrains them more. My wife and I have a playlist of her favorite songs to keep her happy in the car. Any deviation is met with an earth-shattering scream that makes My Bloody Valentine seem like a gentle spring breeze in comparison.

In the streaming age, children are turning into powerful music curators, and in the case of “Baby Shark” it’s beginning to show on the charts. This nagging, two-minute earworm — created in 2016 by the South Korean children’s entertainment company Pinkfong — peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 32 last month. It’s still holding steady in the Top 40 five weeks later.

What’s its secret? The song — about a family of sharks on the hunt — comes complete with an animated video and features its own easily aped dance. Aside from being short, sharp, colorful and catchy, it’s also relatable. “Children can affiliate with the words baby, daddy, mommy, grandpa, grandma,” Valorie Salimpoor — a neurological consultant at the Montreal Neurological Institute — told the Huffington Post. “This helps create a connection or a bond with the music. These are people that children are likely to have a very positive connection with, again providing a pathway to target the emotion and reward systems in the brain.”

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