YouTube Kids’ Videos: Still Creepy

Blippi and Pinkfong make Cocomelon look like classic ‘Sesame Street’

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Two years after publishing this takedown of so-called “educational” kids’ videos on YouTube, I am still haunted by their weird, off-putting visions. Thankfully, my own kids have fully aged out of viewing these things for anything but hate-watching. And yet, due to the 24/7 kids-at-home parenting needs of the pandemic, this genre of shuddertainment has become even more ubiquitous.

The Cocomelon abides

But first, let’s take a look back at some of my previous targets–and what, if anything, they’ve changed about their approach since the Great Kutner Savaging of ‘19. We start with Cocomelon, which since our last outing, has jumped to one of the regular top 10 spots on Netflix. If you’re a parent with preschool-aged kids, it’s not a question of if but when Cocomelon will enter your lives.

Cocomelon has essentially continued “keeping keeping on,” continuing to churn out well-animated happy ditties about baby JJ and his old-school, Caucasian, gender-work-segregated family. However, the channel also recognizes its international audience, with songs like this daring to call the sport both “soccer” and “football,” incorporating the globally popular “Ole” stadium anthem, and coming as close as this lily-white crew can to syncopated beats.

You can also see Cocomelon wrestling with attempted multiculturalism in this so-labelled “Holiday Song,” which strenuously avoids any specific holidays or religions — while bleeding Christmas trees and wreaths out of every frame.

More to the point, though, this video illustrates a continued weirdness that Cocomelon has not shaken since my last review. Cocomelon characters seem to exist in a parallel, sci-fi dimension where kids cheerfully and quickly absorb whatever their parents want them to do. Beyond ringing false to parents, this leaves literally nowhere for the story to go but “repeat that idea six more times.” For example, the holiday song is ostensibly about the difficulties of sharing — and yet the protagonist kid TomTom (if that is his real double-name) immediately grasps the concept and happily does it over and over, as does everyone else.

It gets even stranger with “Yes Yes Brush Your Teeth,” in which, again, the “yes yes” is just the parent (OK, the mother. It’s always the mother.) affirming all three kids’ pre-established enthusiasm for dental hygiene. And where it gets me in particular is that this includes baby JJ, who avowedly loves to floss:

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This is that stage Cocomelon has brought me to again, where I feel like the incredibly well-made (and often charming) simulation of human life that this AI is generating has hit a glitch. Then again, maybe it’s just because I didn’t floss enough as a toddler.

True colors

Next, we reevaluate Toys and Colors. Despite 32 million subscribers, T&C still seems to have no physical address, or company-specific information beyond “We bring toys and colors to kids with fun and educational videos.”  One of us. One of us.

At a first glance, I will concede that they’ve at least leveled up their production values. The glary VHS-video cinematography of 2019 has been replaced by slicker digital film-look cameras. And someone knows how to move those cameras now, giving more dynamism to the scenes. There’s also more use of that one singer they clearly have in the Aunt-Uncle Compound, livening up some pieces with original songs.

However, it’s not clear that Toys & Colors’ content has changed appreciably for the better. Granted, there’s been messaging improvement from this classic, urging kids (5 times!) to “always brush your teeth before eating!” Now with this iteration the sequence is right – sugary foods lead to bad teeth – but the message is a little unhelpfully blunt: “Sugar is bad – so never eat it!”

Even more questionable is this self-styled “Swimming Lesson.” Here, little Ellie frets over her inability to swim, so her slightly older friendsistercousin Jannie offers to “teach” her how. But all Jannie does is kind of mumble “pedal your arms, pedal your feet,” then she and an adult relativefriendstranger just offer a series of variations on “You can do it!” “Just push it!” and most helpful of all, “YEAH!!!” It’s not that one should expect full, detailed swim instruction from such a video — but is it really a service to teach kids that swimming is merely getting in the water and being confident?

A Billion little pieces

Finally, attention must be repaid to the undefeated Weird Champion of Kids’ YouTube: Billion Surprise Toys. Over the past two years, they have built out their formerly murky online presence with a website that includes a mission statement, a blog, and columns on parenting and teaching. And now they actually give a physical location for the company (Dubai, as many had previously suspected).

Unfortunately, Billion Surprise Toys is still suffering–blatantly! sooo preventably! — from two main problems: language and baby-head-scale. As for the latter, just look at this comparison of BST star baby Johny’s cabeza, side-by-side with ambiguous brother-neighbor Henry.

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I mean, it’s literally bigger than his mother’s torso. How is everyone else not terrified?

And as far as language, BST boasts about being international and translated into numerous languages (though oddly, still not French or Chinese). Yet, with a native English speaker a mere one click away on Fiverr, here’s the kind of language they’re still “teaching” kids:

BST also shares Cocomelon’s predilection for portraying uber-happy-cooperative kids rather than relatable struggling/questioning ones. This particularly stands out in this double-monologue from babies Johny and Henry, simply rattling all the bath and hygiene steps they’re taking (and in true BST style, having Johny sing “This is the way I go for bathing” [pronounced “Bah-THING”]).

Blippi gets weird

All of this focus on not just weirdly presented information – but wrong, misguided information – brings me to a new batch of candidates. Here’s a brassy newcomer named Blippi, which boasts 13 million subscribers. Unlike the others, Blippi is live-action and features a “kids’ proxy” character named, yes, Blippi – and explores everything from colors to animals to science.

However, sometimes what Blippi “teaches” gets weird. For example, in this vignette, Blippi leaves his lunch out on a picnic table, and walks away. But when he comes back, it’s gone! So he does what we want to teach every child to immediately do when things get challenging: Call the Police. A few minutes later in the video, Blippi monkeys around with, and eventually hops right on, an active police motorcycle (“Try this at home, kids!”). Wrapped up inside this story is a nice look into how the police gather evidence and track down suspects, but on the outside it has some fairly strange notions of behaviors for kids to emulate.

We are all Pinkfong

And then there’s a kids’ entertainment outlet you already hate, but soon will have even more reason to. This is Pinkfong, whose masthead describes its not-at-all-like-a-Philip-K-Dick-story mission as: “Designing the first moments of childhood.” But you may know Pinkfong better as the originator of last year’s second-most devastating global contagion, “Baby Shark.”

Pinkfong has somehow managed to jump past its own sharkitude and spawn an empire of animated kids’ shorts. There’s even a feature-length Baby Shark space movie, for which I deserve a Parenting Purple Heart after sitting through it with my 8-year-old.

Now most of Pinkfong’s topics are the same as the above examples: counting, identifying shapes and animals, learning to share. But now and then, they come up with some, shall we say, “unconventional” advice. That’s the case with “My Pet, My Buddy” — whose catchy, nay-earwormy, joyful chorus is “Lovey dovey/ Lovey dovey/ Kiss my pet.” Accompanied by multiple sequences of happy grownups Frenching their dogs, cats, birds, and turtles.

To be fair, the video was posted in 2017–long before the world crumbled from a forbidden taste of Wuhan bat. But even so, this was bad advice in 2017. Love, stroke, talk to your pet, sure. But why are you advising children to go exchange oral fluids with creatures from every biome?

And to demonstrate how much an 8-year-old has been forced to learn about epidemiology this weird year, he and I like to sing the chorus as “Lovey dovey/ Get a/ Zoonotic plague.”

So kudos to Cocomelon for hitting the big time without leaving the 1950s, Toys and Colors for leveling up while staying weird, and Billion Surprise Toys for continuing to… do whatever it is you’re doing. And finally, welcome to the Gallery of Creepy Blippi and Pinkfong, and thanks for showing up with bad-advice content weird enough to make us ask that age-old question, “What the F are we doing to our kids?”

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Rob Kutner

Rob Kutner has written for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Conan, and is also the author of Apocalypse How: Turn the End Times into the Best of Times, and the graphic novel Shrinkage.

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