Friday, July 16, 2010

An Acquired Taste: The Wiggles

I missed the first generation of Wiggles Fever.

I was too old to appreciate their catchy tunes as a youngster, and I had yet to have kids of my own. Being neither the rugrat not the owner of said rug, the early days of The Wiggles passed me by with scant acknowledgement. Sure, I knew of them, and I remembered their previous lives as several bits of The Cockroaches, although I was unaware of just how successful The Cockroaches were until I saw a doco about The Wiggles that mentioned the various gold albums and singles that The Cockroaches attained.
The 80s were littered with one-note pop bands with terrible names that came and went on the back of one or two singles. But unlike Dear Enemy, The Machinations, Big Pig or La Club Foote, The Cockroaches survived the nuclear winter that usually follows the cataclysmic destruction of a rock/pop ensemble and evolved into something new, surviving despite being clubbed over the head by the shoe of annihilation, like this metaphor.

But survive they did, went into early childhood studies (because when I played in bands, I'd always look at the people dotted around the venue at 1 in the morning and think "I'm sure they'd be fine around kids") and found a niche. Not just a niche, but an awesomely-huge money-making multi-media global phenomenon of a niche (I'm not sure at what point it stops being a niche, but I'm thinking we're well beyond that point).

And so began the adventures of four guys in brightly coloured skivvies, a dinosaur, a dog and an octopus, of course The early videos were slightly dodgy compared to the production values of today's children's television, but at the time, they would have been as good as anything else being produced by the ABC. Glitches were still getting ironed out, like Anthony's skivvy interfering with the green screen in the background. People were pulling double duty on performances and voices and the sets were reconstituted period drama lounge rooms and bits of Play School.

But it worked, because the colours were bright, the songs were catchy and the passion was infectious. And as I have learned over the last couple of years, if there's something that kids are attracted to, it's either brightly coloured or infectious.

It seems the popularity of The Wiggles was hinged on a two-prong approach of videos and live performances. In a chicken and egg conundrum, one fed into the another, but as for which preceded the latter, I don't know, but it became very obvious that this was like kiddie crack for my daughter. Indeed, her first repeatable song was "Everybody… Clap!" (apologies to everyone who got the sudden impulse to clap three times). When I mentioned this to someone at work, they replied that their child's first song was the very same. Coincidence? Well, yeah could be.

Repeated viewings of Wiggles videos (because that is the only way you can watch them apparently) lead to you recognising the various back-up singers and dancers, who come and go out of favour, some who take on larger roles and some who disappear into the background.

And then comes the fateful day when Greg Wiggle announces he's leaving the band. Obviously this has been on the cards for a while because, rather than disbanding and waiting the obligatory 4 years before reforming for a lame album and rickety tour, the yellow skivvy is immediately passed on to Sam, who up till then had been gunning in the background as a singer/dancer and understudy on the live shows.

Obviously this change was on the cards for quite a while. Increasingly, the merchandise preferred the use of cartoon imagery over photos, so that when the time came, it would be a simple transition between bland-faced Greg and bland-faced Sam. The yellow Wiggle cartoon would continue to be relevant and the merchandise could continue to be sold.

So The Wiggles have begun a second life, Wiggles 2.0, with their new yellow Wiggle. Because of the afore-mentioned repeatability, Greg may not go away from quite a number of years. Of course, The Wiggles will probably not re-release their back catalogue featuring Greg on new formats, so as the old Gregful DVDs out in the wild are scratched with car keys and spread with mashed banana, they'll be replaced by bright and shiny DVDs featuring the bright and shiny face of Sam.

As for a personal yellow Wiggle favourite, I'm a Greg Wiggle man. They say you're first yellow Wiggle is always your favourite, but to be fair, I was never a yellow Wiggle fan. Greg always came off as the big serious brother to the other Wiggles. He was always the one concerned about chewing your food properly or organising all the other Wiggles to collect items for a picnic. And his magic act was a bit bollocks. And don't get me started on his continual usage of the phrase "…my friend!"

Unfortunately Sam bugs me too. His constantly gunning face and shoulder shrug annoys the shit out of me. I don't mind him singing, but the facial expressions are way too much.

But it's a small criticism for something that has given my daughter such joy for the last couple of years, and will continue to be replayed continually as my second daughter grows through her Wiggles phase.

The Wiggles is an acquired taste, because you don't quite realise how fantastic they are until you have yourself a bub. It's only then you recognise the sheer genius of being able to grab a 2 year old's concentration and hold it for more than 5 minutes. Anyone that can entertain a kid for an hour and have them coming back for repeated viewings is a star in my book.

The songs are catchy enough that you find yourself singing them to yourself in all manner of situations, whistling them walking down the street. Although the only people who would recognise the song would be other parents,.

And I think they've probably been there too.

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