Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What I learned from The Wiggles



My children are now in their 20s, so sitting down with two toddlers and sharing the ‘The Wiggles’ experience with them was a novelty for me. Gone for me are the days of Tots TV, Rosie and Jim or even the Teletubbies.

The Wiggles, for the uninitiated, are a four piece music combo from Australia who entertain children with a wide range of songs and dances from around the world. The colours are bright, the sets (green-screen performance, animated backdrops) are bright, fun, and everything you’d expect for a children’s programme. In the twenty minutes or so I experienced them, they sang in English, in Greek, and even featured Leo Sayer for one song.

There was no narrative, no rationale as to why a pirate was singing, or a cowboy (unless the song had a particular theme), and they used children’s rhymes and traditional folk tunes and songs too. They played bouzouki, accordion, mandolin, guitar… basically a pretty folky set, but with all the enthusiasm and vigour that was more in keeping with a punk rock band. They danced line dances, classical dances, and even some ballet.

The Wiggles have been around for years, it seems, and have a series of programmes that feature them young, older, heavier, thinner, one of them changes completely, but is consistently bright and non-stop musical. There is some educational content too, but it is not as overt as Sesame Street, for example.

The two youngsters I was with (23 months and 4) were enraptured. The 4 year old was a little too self-aware and conscious of me (not well known to her) to do the dancing, but the little one stamped his feet and wobbled around the room if not in time to the music, certainly inspired by it.

These guys found a formula – and it worked. Their simple, colourful delivery of music and dance captivates youngsters. They include their family in the programmes – having their children, friends, mothers even (who knows) join in the dancing and singing. They invited celebrities who seem (I’ve only seen the Leo Sayer one) to revel in the opportunity to behave like a child and simply have fun with the music.

The programme is inclusive not in the PC-dictatorial way that they have to represent every minority, but in the way that they engage their unseen audience. They want you to dance, they don’t tell you, they just do it and hope you’ll do it too. They sing in different languages, they make music from around the world, and they express what appears to be simple joy in music and dance.

They have never had a hit single (as far as I am aware), they may dress up in luridly bright costumes and leap about madly, yet as musicians they’ve earned my respect. They found a market niche and exploited it. And,  this band of entertainers are in fact now multi-millionaires. As a musician myself, I have huge respect for the Wiggles; not because they have made millions (though that must be nice), but because they have managed to make a living entertaining, teaching, and spreading the joy of music and dance to the younger generations of many nations.

Who would not want a career where you can behave with such abandon, doing something you love. 

Photo credit: The Wiggles.

 
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