Kids music rocks. The phenomenon of The Wiggles

If you didn’t grow up in Oz, an English-speaking environment or don’t have kids, you might not necessarily be familiar with or interested in The Wiggles.

But this colourful Australian group that educates kids through songs is a phenomenon in its own right. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of children’s music or have a reason to listen to it, you should get acquainted with the concept. Especially that they’ve just released ReWiggled – an album full of fun covers by some rather known acts from Down Under.

So here’s the story of how a children’s act has managed to be taken pretty seriously in the Aussie music industry.

PART 97 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

It is pure coincidence that The Wiggles and I share the name 🙂 I know next to nothing about kids’ music. To me, they were also a form of “music discovery”. I wasn’t raised listening to their songs.

But everybody in Australia seems to know them, so I was pretty interested in understanding what the whole hype surrounding them was about.

The Wiggles’ name first appeared on my radar when I was researching the history of the ARIAs (the Aussie music awards). I noticed that the group was frequently (nearly every year) nominated in the children’s album category.

Their vibrant, happy image was pretty unusual, too. So, in the beginning, I thought it was just a regular band that regularly dropped music for younger audiences as their side hustle. Little did I know it was very much their main occupation.

Not only that. I’ll let triple J, the Australian youth broadcaster give it to you from their perspective: “For a lot of Aussies, The Wiggles were their first favourite band; maybe even the first gig they went to. Their impact and the reach of their Wiggles is immeasurable”.

The Wiggles brand promise states the following: “Children are our inspiration. Education is our goal. Music is our way”. And these three elements are at the core of everything they do and what gained them popularity and reputation globally.

They’re “the only Australian band to fill Madison Square Garden several times over”. And they’ve been doing their thing successfully since 1991, releasing three/four albums a year and touring extensively.

There are four main members in the collective. Recently, there have been some line-up changes reflecting a more “DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion)” approach, in my opinion. New members have been added to the group and, to my disappointment, Emma Watkins (aka The Yellow Wiggle) bid farewell to the group at the end of last year.

Currently, the line-up is as follows: Anthony Field (The Blue Wiggle), Tsehay Hawkins (The Yellow Wiggle), Lachy Gillespie (The Purple Wiggle), and Simon Pryce (The Red Wiggle). Other Wiggles join the band during live performances, reunions and on their YouTube channel.

If you have any doubts about the group’s importance in Australia, let’s talk about some facts. The Wiggles have sold 30 million albums and DVDs, and 8 million books. They have accumulated over one billion music streams and 2 billion views on YouTube.

In their career spanning three decades, more than 70 albums and DVDs have been released which have scored them 13 ARIA Awards for Best Children’s Album. That also means they are the most awarded ARIA winner in the one category in the awards’ history. On top of that, The Wiggles are ARIA Hall of Fame inductees from 2011.

Unlike some other acts in Australia, the group has been the subject of news coverage quite frequently in the last year or so. One of the reasons for that was their appearance on triple j’s “Like A Version” in March 2021 when they covered Tame Impala’s song “Elephant”.

I heard somewhere (but it’s most likely a rumour) that the idea that The Wiggles would even appear on the breakfast show was initially a joke. Nevertheless, when it was already confirmed, everybody, the radio station, the fans and the group itself, took it pretty seriously.

People literally loved it. As of today (16 March 2022), the video has been viewed over 4.1 million times on YouTube and the single has racked up over 3.6 million streams on Spotify alone.

Kevin Parker of Tame Impala also praised the cover, “They made it their own, which showcases the genius of The Wiggles. They really gave it a new personality, a new animal personality.”

And then, an even crazier thing happened. The Wiggles’ version of “Elephant” was crowned the no.1 song in triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown.

Opinions are split on the significance of this historic win (the first “Like A Version” ever and the first one for The Wiggles as well since that March 2021 performance was their debut on the show). Some say it’s awesome that a bunch of adults playing kid-style songs was able to convince so many voters.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who think it’s a joke, and not a very good one, either. Luke Girgis from the Industry Observer penned a comprehensive analysis of what that means for the Aussie music industry.

His main argument is that – despite the cover’s unquestionable quality and The Wiggles’ place in the hearts of Australian people – it was, in fact, “a meme vote”. As a result, it robbed some other (especially up-and-coming and Indigenous) artists of the top spot which tends to give them a lot of exposure and helps their careers take off.

Luke’s certainly got a point. It might have been a bit of a surprise in the end indeed. Everyone was talking about the possibility of The Wiggles’ cover winning, but I reckon nobody really expected it would in a way.

On the flip side, the Wiggles’ long-standing history in the Aussie music biz, albeit in a genre that’s not normally considered influential, only proves that there’s a first time for everything. The Hottest 100 win for me also cements The Wiggles’ position in the Aussie music industry. Plus, it is a clear testament to the power of childhood sentiments and memories perceived through songs as a concept.

Apart from that hot topic, in 2021, the Wiggles celebrated their 30th anniversary with a bang.

Coincidentally, their global popularity was proved by stats. They were “named as the second-most streamed local artist on Spotify in Australia this year, across all genres.” Considering the vast offering Down Under in the adult-music compartment, it’s a massive achievement that can’t be overlooked.

The ReWiggled album that dropped on 11 March, is a continuation of those 30th-anniversary celebrations.

It’s divided into two parts. The first one consists of The Wiggles’ covers performed by a selection of Aussie artists representing different genres. So you’ll hear both a punk version of “Hot Potato” by DZ Deathrays and a reggaeton take on “We’re All Fruit Salad!” delivered by the Melbourne Ska Orchestra.

Naturally, most tunes are happy and serene renditions of the kids’ classics. San Cisco’s “H.O.L.I.D.A.Y” or Emma Donovan and The Putbacks’ “Say the Dance, Do the Dance” are good examples.

My favourite covers in this part of the album are Emily Wurramara’s “Dressing Up” and Dami Im’s “Big Red Car”. The first one feels like a beautiful, lyrical ballad that any singer/songwriter would be proud to record. And Dami Im’s cover could easily top R’n’B charts. To me, those two versions stand out on the album because of their slightly more mature and nostalgic vibe.

This straight-to-the-point rock cover of “Shimmie Shake” by Luca Brasi is awesome, too.

The cover approach is flipped on part two of the ReWiggled record. This time, it’s The Wiggles’ take on popular music. And they’ve chosen some serious anthems, like Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” or Queens’ “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I reckon they really did them justice.

In their quest to present music from around the world, they also turned to the NZ-born, now globally famous “Wellerman” shanty, rediscovered by Nathan Evans, or “Shipping Up to Boston”, a song that propelled the American Celtic band Dropkick Murphys to fame.

There are also renditions of more recent songs by Aussie artists. Obviously, the famous Tame Impala cover from “Like A Version” opens this side of the album. But I’d highlight “Apple Crumble” by Lime Cordiale and Idris Elba or The Chats’ “Pub Feed” as well.

I have a favourite on this side of the record as well. The way AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is covered is truly exceptional. Even though the arrangement is much more toned down, all the elements of the original song are there: the guitar riffs, the slow build-up and the signature melody throughout.

The group’s founder, Anthony Field, said this of the record, “It’s been really enjoyable, and also so humbling, hearing all these wonderful artists doing their versions of Wiggles songs – they’re all so very talented. And it’s been a real thrill to get back in the studio together with all the Wiggles – the current members and the OG’s – to record some cover versions of our own“.

So if you want to know what this unusual music outfit is all about and why a bunch of established Aussie acts would even bother covering their kiddy songs, you gotta listen to ReWiggled in its entirety. This album is proof that The Wiggles earned their rightful place in the Aussie music industry.


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