The Weird Hits Just Keep on Coming

June 7, 2019

What do an obscure ‘90s grunge tune and a repetitive song for toddlers have in common? They were both major pop hits…in 2019.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water

Most record buyers (and downloaders) are adults, and adults generally don’t listen to children’s music. That’s part of why the success of “Baby Shark” is so surprising and rare. In January 2019, that song by Korean act Pinkfong broke into the Billboard top 40 at #32, the highest ranking for a children’s song since Ernie from Sesame Street’s rendition of “Rubber Duckie” hit #16 in 1970. Also odd is that Pinkfong’s bright-and-buoyant version of “Baby Shark” is three years old, uploaded in June 2016. With simple lyrics about a family of sharks and an earworm for a hook (“do-do-do-do-do-do”), it’s based on an old summer camp dating at least back to the ‘70s, and Pinkfong’s version became a cultural phenomenon (along with an accompanying dance) in Indonesia in 2017, then spreading to the U.K. in 2018. English-born talk show host James Corden introduced it to the U.S. on The Late Late Show in September 2018, and it spread from there. “Baby Shark” has amassed 2.3 billion YouTube views, making it among the most popular viral videos ever. (Warning: Don’t listen to “Baby Shark” unless you’re prepared to have it stuck in your head until Thanksgiving.)

Dinosaur Jr. is Big in Japan

Dinosaur Jr. was among the most popular and influential alternative rocks bands of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, with melodically noisy and distortion-heavy tunes like “Freak Scene” and “Feel the Pain” scoring big on MTV and college radio stations. None of that explains how a random track from the band’s sixth album, released 25 years ago, would suddenly become a top 20 hit in Japan. Dinosaur Jr.’s Without a Sound hit stores in 1994, and the cut “Over Your Shoulder” was never a commercially released single, neither then, nor now. In recent months, an audio-only YouTube clip of the song has racked up eight million views, the overwhelming majority in Japan. The most likely source: Gachinko Fight Club. That Japanese show featured the song…and that went off the air 15 years ago. Somebody uploaded old episodes to YouTube, reigniting interest in “Over Your Shoulder” and sending it to #18 on the Japanese pop chart.