Entertainment

Why Are ‘The Backyardigans’ Suddenly So Popular on TikTok?

We got into the thick of it, speaking with TikTokers, TikTok experts, and the singers of these viral tracks.
Songs from The Backyardigans, a Nickelodeon animated TV series, is trending on TikTok. Into the thick of it, international super spy, and castaways.
Backyardigans at Metropolitan Theater on September 28, 2010 in Mexico City, Mexico. Photo: Edgar Negrete/Clasos.com/LatinContent via Getty Images

Chloe Firth, a 21-year-old student in the United Kingdom, recently put her own twist on a viral TikTok trend.

The video starts off seemingly innocuous as she lip syncs to “International Super Spy,” a jazzy kids’ song. When the song climaxes at the belting out of “super spy!” Firth plucks her prosthetic eye out of its socket and flashes a sly grin.

Firth is blind in one eye due to congenital glaucoma and cataracts, and usually wears a prosthetic eye so that her eyes match each other.

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“The inspiration behind the video was mainly the fact that people often tell me they can't tell my prosthetic is fake,” Firth told VICE. “I'm hiding my real eye underneath so I thought it fit the idea of being a super spy.”

Like Firth, many TikTokers—over 500,000 of them worldwide—are having fun with “International Super Spy,” a song that playfully celebrates the undercover identity of the singer. The viral trend sees TikTokers listing attributes that create a coherent image of themselves, then turning the stereotype on its head with a grand reveal of something shocking right at the end.

“International Super Spy” is just one of three children’s songs that have been blowing up on TikTok recently.

Used in almost 3 million TikTok videos is the song “Into The Thick Of It!,” which has spawned several trends at once: an acapella challenge, a simple dance routine, and one foxy wordplay popularized by singer Lizzo to celebrate the gloriously “THICCC.” 

Another wildly popular song—featured in over one million videos—is “Castaways,” which sees people using its carefree bossa nova style to amplify the absurdity of a bizarre situation.

The common denominator among the three bops? They’re all from the Nickelodeon animated TV series The Backyardigans.

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Originally aired from 2004 to early 2010s and spanning four seasons, The Backyardigans stars five animal neighbors (Uniqua, Pablo, Tyrone, Tasha, and Austin) who embark on adventures in their shared backyard in every episode, belting out a wide range of musical numbers during their journey. 

The episode featuring “Into The Thick Of It!” aired on TV in 2004, “Castaways” in 2005, and “International Super Spy” in 2007. In other words, it has been more than a decade since kids first watched their backyard friends tramping through the bushes and pretending they were seaside castaways. Yet, these forgotten songs are now enjoying a massive resurgence, thanks to Gen Z’s favorite social media app.

But why these songs?

I decided to go right into the thick of it—speaking to TikTokers, TikTok experts, and the singers of these viral tracks—to find out.

Familiarity

One big reason that many pointed to was familiarity. 

Paula Marie Santiago, a 25-year-old fresh graduate in the Philippines who majored in music, said she was delighted after seeing The Backyardigans make a comeback.

“I'm very familiar with The Backyardigans. I used to watch it when I was younger,” said Santiago. When she saw the cute dance moves accompanying “Into The Thick Of It!” on TikTok, she immediately decided to jump on the bandwagon. What ensued was a hilariously botched attempt at recreating the dance, as her dad watched in bewilderment while casually having dinner in the background—a funny blooper she decided to upload anyway. 

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While her dance didn’t exactly pan out as she’d intended, it snowballed into a surprise viral hit with over 200,000 likes on TikTok.

Gen Z Nostalgia 

Lurking beneath the familiarity with The Backyardigans is a strong nostalgia. The songs have unlocked a precious hidden memory for many Gen Z, who also happen to dominate TikTok

Merlysha Pierre, who many may know as @swagsurfff on TikTok, is believed to have started the show’s resurgence on the platform.

Since she started rewatching The Backyardigans in March, when she was “in a bad mental place,” Pierre told VICE that she has made it her personal responsibility to draw attention to the 2000s children’s show.

“I remembered how amazing the music, and show overall, was, and it completely uplifted my mood. I felt like I should remind others too,” said Pierre, a Florida-based 19-year-old who now has over 100,000 TikTok followers.

In April, she introduced “Castaways” in one of these videos, which snowballed into more than 600,000 views and over 200,000 likes.

In May, the video she did for “Into The Thick Of It!” gained even more traction, raking in 5.7 million views and 1.7 million likes.

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Pierre does not have a video that features “International Super Spy” but at around the same time, a video posted by another TikToker spotlighted the song and has garnered 600,000 likes.

While Pierre has made over a dozen videos in her The Backyardigans series, raving about what she calls “super sonic bops,” only three songs are blowing up—a mystery that Pierre attempted to solve. 

“I think those three songs stood out the most because they were so greatly composed and performed by the cast and composers,” Pierre suggested. “The melodies are great and with the song ‘Castaways,’ people relate to being ‘stuck where they are’ because of COVID.”

Santiago, the music major, also highlighted the pandemic as a possible factor in the resurgence. According to Santiago, COVID-19 anxiety may have people seeking comfort in nostalgia through their favorite childhood shows, like The Backyardigans.

“Everybody's just looking for a good break from how stressful it is because of the pandemic,” she said.

Cara Hawkins-Jedlicka, an assistant professor who specializes in social media at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication in Washington State University, expressed the same view.

“I believe we are seeing certain songs trending on TikTok because Gen Z is feeling nostalgic for their childhoods, especially with the current hardships that we are facing globally,” she said, adding that content evoking strong emotions is more likely to go viral.

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Children’s songs are no stranger to virality on the platform, said Alan Tang, a representative from TikTok’s music operations team in Southeast Asia, in an email statement discussing The Backyardigans trend. For example, 4.1 million TikTok videos have used the viral hit “Baby Shark.” Meanwhile, “Go Go Go Who’s Next?,” from the children’s show Hip Hop Harry is featured in 2.7 million videos, many of them part of a dance challenge.

“While such tracks are often used in the spirit of comedy… there is a nostalgic quality to these songs that people truly appreciate,” said Tang.

Even Sean Curley, the singing voice of Pablo the Penguin and singer of “International Super Spy,” agrees. 

“I think the show left such an impact with its viewers, so now that these kids are all grown up, they can look back on the show and still find joy in the music,” Curley, who is now a 25-year-old actor based in New Jersey, told VICE. “I can’t overstate how much this [resurgence] has warmed my heart. I had so much fun making the show, so seeing it live on has been truly special.”

Earlier this month, Curley hopped on the “International Super Spy” trend with a cheeky nod to his singing role as a child actor.

“This trend was literally made for me,” he wrote in the caption.

For Curley, the renewed appreciation for The Backyardigans may just boil down to the fact that the music is enjoyable. “The music, at the end of the day, was good, and has held up really well,” he said. 

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Last Song Syndrome

Another reason why The Backyardigans songs are so popular is what many may know as “last song syndrome” or “earworms.”

“When you write songs, even short jingles, [they have] to have a certain recall,” said Santiago, the music major. “When [people] hear it... it just somehow gets stuck in their head, because of the flow of the melody and the construction or the composition itself. It's very easy to absorb.”

This was the case for Adam Moonyos, a 27-year-old software engineer in Arizona, who first saw the “International Super Spy'' videos while scrolling on TikTok a few weeks ago and couldn’t get the lyrics out of his head.

“I thought the song was super catchy and it was stuck in my head the rest of the day. It made me think that I never really thought of myself as a good fit for a software engineer, yet here I am,” said Moonyos.

Later that day, he took a few minutes to record what became one of his most viewed TikTok videos. Like other videos in the trend, Moonyos starts off by listing some of his attributes that create a certain image—he’s gay, a fitness buff, and still counts with his fingers—before revealing his occupation as a software engineer and declaring himself an international super spy.

The Meme Factor

When asked about the ongoing virality of The Backyardigans, Moonyos pointed to its “meme factor.”

“The songs from the show are a meme in themselves. A song featured on a children’s show shouldn’t be trendy—yet here we are,” he said.

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Indeed, meme-ability is a huge reason why some audio clips go viral on TikTok amid a cornucopia of oddly specific trends.

“Music discovery is the natural [byproduct] of TikTok's short video format, where users are bound to come across many videos with a catchy clip of music highlighted in the background,” said Tang, the TikTok representative.

“While there is no clear-cut formula, emerging artists and even ‘older’ songs can easily break through, based on the quality of a short [snippet] of sound and especially if attached to TikTok trends.” 

While the three The Backyardigans bops now seem to be perfect fits for characteristic TikTok humor, their resurgence has, for the most part, boggled Jamia Simone Nash, the singing voice of the character Uniqua. 

“I didn't think that the show would be as big as it is today… We were just a bunch of kids having fun,” said the 24-year-old singer, songwriter, and actress based in Atlanta.

But she eventually realized that the songs are timeless, appealing to audiences beyond the target pre-school age group.

“Honestly, it was so ahead of its time. Janice Burgess (the show’s creator) really cultivated some type of music that just pierced everybody's soul,” said Nash. “And at that time, teenagers were watching [the show] with their younger siblings, and they were enjoying the music.”

The age-wide appeal of The Backyardigans was also brought up by her costar Corwin C. Tuggles, a 29-year-old professional actor in New York City, who sang the part of Tyrone.

“The music was advanced in a way that your kids can like it, but you as an adult can like it as well,” said Tuggles. “I think the goal was to make it a real family-oriented show.”

When we really break the trend down into elements, it becomes clearer why songs from this kids’ show are making waves in the TikTok scene. They offer stubbornly catchy earworms, can be easily turned into memes, and pack a heavy dose of childhood nostalgia. 

“I'm not surprised that the songs are blowing up 15 years later because a lot of heart and soul went into each episode,” said Tuggles.

“It's funny when people do find out that I was the singing voice of Tyrone. Everybody's like, ‘Yo, man, I love that show,’” he said. “I'm like, ‘You've finished college, man. Why are you still talking about The Backyardigans?’”

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