Why do kids love “Baby Shark”? A Boston Children’s music therapist explains

an illustration of baby shark and family swimming in ocean
A baby shark and its family take a swim. (Original illustration: Fawn Gracey)

Doo doo doo doo doo doo. If you spend any time around young children, you’re likely all too familiar with the ear worm known as “Baby Shark.” With its catchy beat and simple lyrics, the song is such a big hit that it’s broken Billboard’s Top 40 chart. The current World Series champions, the Washington Nationals, have even chosen it as their unofficial anthem. Baseball fans aside, its soothing effects on children seem undeniable — perhaps the reason why the song’s YouTube video has been viewed billions of times since its release in 2016.

A tune that devours our attention

Kate Accardi, mom to 16-month-old Jack, a patient in the Aerodigestive Center at Boston Children’s Hospital has seen her son experience the benefits of “Baby Shark” through the music therapy he received as part of early intervention services. “We have played this song far too many times to count, but it just makes him instantly happy,” she says. “Jack’s doctors and staff have always been great about letting him rock out to it during his appointments and tests.”

Jack isn’t alone. The viral tune might be maddening to some adults but it’s irresistible to their kids. Based on a classic campfire song and modernized by Korean entertainment company Pinkfong, the song has become something of a cultural phenomenon, spawning numerous remixes, merchandise, and a tour. But just why is “Baby Shark” so popular with children? We went fishing for answers from Brian Jantz, a board-certified music therapist in Boston Children’s Music Therapy Program.

A rhythm to sink your teeth into

“I believe the song appeals to children because of the combination of repetitive rhythms and lyrics, sequencing of movements, and a simple melody that builds anticipation,” he explains. Even kids who aren’t yet verbal seem to enjoy bopping to the repeated sounds. And as the song progresses, children remain rapt: “The melody eventually changes key and shifts in a way that keeps the child engaged throughout,” says Jantz.

Perhaps that’s why Sophie Lawrence loves “Baby Shark.” Almost 2, she’s no stranger to the hospital, where she’s been treated at the Midaortic Syndrome and Renovascular Hypertension Center. “She watches the video on repeat for hours,” says her mom, Samantha, who sometimes plays “Baby Shark” during Sophie’s medical appointments to help calm her. “She even makes the hand gestures — she’s obsessed with it.”

jack dressed up in a baby shark costume
Jack loves Baby Shark so much that he even dressed up as the character for Halloween.

A family-friendly fish tale

But the lure of “Baby Shark” may extend beyond melody and rhythm. The feel-good tale it tells might also be partly responsible for its popularity with children. “The story of the shark family hunting together, avoiding danger, and returning home safely creates a simple yet rewarding experience even for very young children,” Jantz explains.

Those feelings of safety and comfort might be part of what draws toddler Rafaela Borges to the song. Born with a rare and potentially life-threatening condition called a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, she spent the first four months of her life at Boston Children’s. “She went through a lot in the ICU,” says her dad, Isandro. “Watching ‘Baby Shark’ on her iPad is one of the best ways to calm her down when she’s upset.”

Love it or loathe it, there’s no doubt that the song isn’t jumping the shark anytime soon. So embrace this toddler anthem — we doo doo doo.

Get more answers about your child’s health.

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