Until a few years ago, it was difficult to think that a kids' show could be cool enough to merit a feature in New Times' music section.
Spare the jokes.
Clearly, not every band featured in these pages is actually "cool" (Kings of Leon get covered here based on sheer bizarre popularity, even if they're deeply uncool by nearly any objective standard), but when the cable channels for kids were all loaded up with Blue's Clues, Wiggles, and Dora the Explorer, celebrities weren't lining up to appear on those shows, Brad Pitt was never spotted in Us Weekly dressed up as a character from LazyTown for Halloween, and no one was going to spend time in an alt-weekly talking about a show written for preschoolers.
Yo Gabba Gabba! isn't the first or last cool show for kids, but it might be one of the best things happening in music today, period.
On the link-sharing website Reddit, someone posted an interesting YGG-related chart last month. It compared the bands seen on the whole of MTV and those who've appeared on Yo Gabba Gabba during the show's 21/2 seasons. The whole premise was unfair and ridiculous, because no rational person is any longer laboring under the delustion that MTV plays videos, but when you look at the lineup of bands that have appeared on YGG!, it's impressive to anyone who even pretends to enjoy music. Each episode features a musical performance, from big-ish names like Jimmy Eat World to lesser-known upstarts like Electrocute. Even Lady Tigra, formerly of one-hit-wonders L'Trimm ("Cars That Go Boom"), was on, believe it or not. That beats nearly everything on MTV. Other than the Real World/Road Rules Challenge, obviously.
But any hipster jackass can throw a bunch of bands enjoyed by bearded adults on something that's supposed to be children's programming and call it a day. Even Sesame Street has such moments these days, designed to either draw YouTube hits or gain credibility of dubious value with adults. A True Blood parody? Why? Sure, Mom giggles a bit when she hears that part of the show, but what does the kid get out of the reference?
That's where Yo Gabba Gabba! stands out: Whether or not I get excited for Chromeo's appearing on YGG to sing a talkbox-enhanced song about the importance of washing one's hands, my 3-year-old daughter doesn't have the same context. She has loved the music on the show from the minute she saw it. She has no idea whether the band performing matters to me or not or whether they're "cool" and "buzzing"; she just knows what she likes.
This isn't some sort of endorsement for childless adults to start watching the show — unless high, obviously. Adults mostly are entertained by the show's references to Generation X touchstones, including one in which Mark Mothersbaugh does a remarkable Picture Pages impression (minus the magic pen) and one in which some Sid and Marty Krofft-like characters are led around by a guy dressed like a 1970s-era drum major. Clever, sure, but it's not as though you should bump reruns of The Wire off your DVR to make room for it.
What should be applauded about YGG, whether you watch the show or not, is that the show is teaching a new generation of music fans a better way to enjoy music. Usually, a band when appears on YGG, it will play, in its own style, a YGG-generated, message-filled song before DJ Lance Rock announces, "Listening and dancing to music is awesome!" What you want for children getting their first exposure to music is for them to hear good stuff — and a variety of it — which is exactly what they're doing when they watch YGG.
Kids are born with open minds, but the world quickly arms them with enough cynicism to start their own snarky Tumblr. As a parent, I've probably failed, making the mistake of working at home as a music critic for much of my 9-year-old son's life. He's already a cynical little dude, constantly analyzing music to determine whether it's worth listening to even once. When Hot Hot Heat appeared on YGG!, he must have remembered something I wrote for New Times, because he told me how the band's early stuff was way better. I was proud for a minute or so, but I realized I might've ruined my kid's ability to enjoy music at face value — to like what he likes, not just what's cool.
I'm hoping for better for my 3-year-old daughter. I want her to have a wild appreciation of everything good and fun. She sings along to "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz because it has a part about putting your hands up in the air, and she knows how to do that. I don't want to ever hear a new Weezer song ever again, but she'll tell me about a song they performed on YGG one afternoon. Between her and me, she's probably the truer music fan. I'm just a gatekeeper to a cordoned-off area no one is really trying to get into.
I think that's why YGG appeals to music fans. Not just that the show hosts musical acts that they like (although that's part of it), but that the program is devoid of cynicism. It's one thing to be discerning — and there really is some lousy stuff out there — but it's just getting tiresome when a lot of discussion about music comes down to who can get off the timeliest and funniest diss tweet.
I talked to co-creator Scott Schultz about the show and the accompanying live tour that will stop at Comerica Theatre. Even though I was one of several writers talking to him that day, he was nearly effervescent when talking about the music on the show. He's hoping kids are exposed to new things — better stuff than they'll hear on the radio — and excited that he had the opportunity to be a part of that exposure. Good for him.
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At some point, the know-it-all Internet generation will be displaced by a new class. Those kids, including my daughter, will move on from Yo Gabba Gabba! sooner or later, but let's hope they will have learned something about what music is actually all about. My son, sadly, was too old for the show when it debuted, and for that reason and others he's probably doomed to his dad's hyper-opinionated jackassery. Oh, well.
After all, as DJ Lance says, "Listening and dancing to music is awesome!"
Sat., Dec. 4, 2 & 5 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 5, 2 & 5 p.m., 2010