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Sexism, German memes and right-wing chants: The story behind the ‘Baby Shark’ viral sensation

Millions of parents across the world have been tortured incessantly by Korean YouTube sensation “Baby Shark”, a children’s song so catchy it’ll drive you insane.

This is one of those bizarre episodes that could only be possible thanks to the internet. This tale starts back in 2007, when German performance artist Alexandra Müller posted on her YouTube channel a short, minute-and-a-half clip in which she sings an unorthodox children’s song to a beat reminiscent of John Williams’ iconic theme from Jaws.

The strange rhyme tells the story of a baby shark growing up and ultimately devouring a swimmer.

Müller’s performance is offbeat, endearing and terrifying all at the same time, and with a year her video became one of Germany’s most popular memes. Her song, titled “Little Hai”, not only raked millions of views but also inspired hundreds of remakes, remixes, parodies and homages. All the attention prompted EMI to offer Müller a record deal to release a fully produced version of the song.

Now let’s fast forward to 2016 when South Korean video and education company Pinkfong produced a remake with a pop-oriented techno beat and much tamer lyrics.

In this revamped version, the song drops the ill-fated swimmer and limits itself to list the members of a family of sharks. The lyrics in Korean describe mum shark as “pretty”, grandma shark as “kind”, grandpa shark as “cool” and daddy shark as “strong”.

The dance version of the song has been watched by more than 1.7 billion viewers, turning it into one of the 35 most viewed YouTube clips of all time.

The song’s ability to enchant children and drive adults insane has jumped over to Europe, where the song has placed itself in Britain’s Top 40 singles charts.

Seoul-based newspaper The Kyunghyang Shinmun published an editorial in January where it condemned the viral hit for reinforcing sexist prejudices and stereotypes.

The song continued to spread cultural and political havoc in its wake, with the right-wing Liberty Korea Party using the tune in May to promote its candidates for local elections.

Smartstudy, the South Korean media startup that controls Pinkfong, accused The Liberty Korea Party of copyright infringement. The political organisation brushed off the warning, claiming they had permission to use the song from the alleged original songwriter, a TV musical performer called Johnny Only who owns the copyright to a version that he released in 2012.

SmartStudy has since turned from accuser to accused and is involved in a copyright complaint from Johnny Only, who filed a claim in a Seoul court against the company.

At this point, we’re not even sure what the hell is happening in the world anymore. All I have to say is: Kleiner Hai dum dum di dum dum dum…

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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