Wiggling Around the World
By Deborah Wagner
When you mention the fab four, most people think of long hair and the 60’s. But, if you have children under five, then you know there are only four fab musicians that matter to your kids. Those are without a doubt the brightly-colored Australian exports, The Wiggles!
Starting in 1991 as sort of a hobby, the Wiggles went from classroom educators to educating performers. They met at Macquarie University in Sydney, while studying to be teachers. Anthony Field recruited fellow students Greg Page and Murray Cook, along with former bandmate Jeff Fatt from a band called the Cockroaches. They all got together to help write and record some songs for children. The rest is history and fifteen years later, the guys just keep getting bigger and bigger with the hip sippy-cup generation. The numbers don’t lie. Sales of over 17 million videos and over four million CD’s prove unmistakably that the Wiggles are striking a cord with preschoolers worldwide.
No one sounds more surprised by their tremendous success than lead singer Greg Page. “It was just supposed to be one album,” he says. “It all just grew from there. I think because we didn’t have high ambitions or great expectations for it, we were able to keep focused on what we were doing rather than what we were trying to achieve in the long term.”
Page – the yellow Wiggle – became lead singer of the group by default. “During our first CD, the idea was that we would all share the singing but after that I think the other guys didn’t really want to do it. So they made me,” Page jokes. “It’s fine with me though. I love singing and I don’t mind doing it all, but I think it was just the other three deciding [that] I either did it better or they didn’t want to so I became the lead singer.”
The Wiggles have come a long way since the early days, singing behind a cardboard cut-out of a Big Red Car. Nowadays, the guys from down under proudly parade around in their trademark real, functioning Big Red Car and love being dubbed the #1 preschool band. They create a perfect mix of music, comedy and education. This way they keep kids interested and still teach them. Their philosophy is to use the stage as a classroom.
“Teachers are entertainers, believe it or not. Some people probably look at that and think how can that be? But it’s true. To educate a child, you need to have their attention or you’ll lose them. We use a lot of the same strategies that we did as teachers to keep the children’s attention. When you become a teacher you learn all these management strategies to manage children and get them to do what you want them to do – by creating interest in what you are doing. Most parents will see that in their own children. If you don’t have their attention and they are obviously distracted and doing something else, you can’t teach them and you can’t show them anything about life or learning. That is what we do with the Wiggles. We get them interested in singing and dancing and hold their attention.”
The Wiggles burst into the US and their popularity exploded in 1999, thanks to their valuable relationship with the Disney Channel. “I think the relationship with Disney began after we performed at Disneyland in LA,” says Page. “The relationship for us has been a great one. Disney is such a good partner for the Wiggles because we have very common goals, objectives and philosophies about what we do. And once we started with the Disney Channel, that’s when we noticed that if we were walking down the street in America that people would stop us and say, ‘Hey aren’t you in the Wiggles?’ And that is a measure of the reach of the Disney Channel.”
Beside their distinct shirt colors, each member of the Wiggles has a gimmick to differentiate themselves. Greg, the yellow Wiggle, loves to sing and do magic tricks. Anthony, the blue Wiggle, loves to eat good food. Murray, the red Wiggle, loves music and playing his guitar. Jeff, the purple Wiggle, loves to sleep. In true wiggly fashion, kids get involved in the shows by helping the Wiggles wake ole sleepy Jeff up. 1-2-3… WAKE UP JEFF!!!
Kids also love the Wiggles’ friends – Captain Feathersword, the friendly pirate, and the costumed Dorothy the Dinosaur, Henry the Octopus and Wags the Dog. At Wiggles’ concerts, children flock to the stage with roses for Dorothy (her favorite treat) and dog bones for Wags.
To kids, some of the attraction of the Wiggles is their songs – with catchy titles like “Wiggly Party,” “Move Like an Emu” and “Fruit Salad, Yummy, Yummy.” The band uses music to reach out to their young audience, entertain them, involve them and teach them about subjects including animals, healthy food, sleep and friends.
When asked how they keep the music, shows and videos exciting for kids while still making it instructional, Page says, “I guess that is a challenge. Some people say the Wiggles are not educational and that they are just singing and dancing. But really, behind every song there is an educational element and there is always something we are thinking about. Because we are teachers, no matter what the song is. Even if it’s just about going for a drive in the car or eating food, there is a reason why we are singing it.”
The inspiration behind their music comes from their own families, their past teaching experiences as well as important points they want to share.
“My kids and Murray’s kids are a bit older now,” says Greg. “But Anthony has a young girl who’s two years old and he’s certainly using her for inspiration now. There are also recollections of things that happened when we were teaching children, and you might remember something a child did and think – well we should do a song about X, Y or Z. Or it might just be a certain message you want to get across. So, there is a range of thought processes we go through when we write a song. As times goes on, it really gets more difficult to write songs though. You don’t want to repeat things you’ve done before in terms of a message or concept. We don’t want to be repetitive.”
The members of the Wiggles collectively decide on what they want to share in a song or video – things like brushing your teeth twice a day or looking both ways before crossing the street.
“One of us might have an idea for a song and we’ll present it to the others and we’ll discuss it and why we think it should or shouldn’t be used. It might be something that our child is interested in and we’ll think okay, let’s write about that. It may be something that is particular to our child and the others will say ‘No, it’s not worth writing a song about that’ or ‘How about we change it to this because it’s more general and would apply to more people rather than being so specific.’ So, it is definitely a group process unless someone comes up with such a great idea and we just say, ‘Yep, you got it. That’ll be great. Let’s do it.’”
With cartoons and other programs geared to preschoolers these days usually displaying some sort of violence, the Wiggles are a welcome change for parents who want to show their offspring a kinder, gentler world. “The Wiggles are all about showing children a positive experience and making them feel safe and not threatened,” says Page. “I’m sure some people say, ‘The Wiggles, that’s a utopian sort of philosophy to think the world is like that.’ But, the world could be like that if we were all brought up to believe violence is not necessary and that there are other ways to deal with situations. Violence isn’t necessary and it isn’t appropriate. And our dream is to keep showing our audience this and hope a lot of people see it.
“We never say don’t hit anyone,” continues Page. “It’s just in the way that we interact with each other. It’s all polite and it’s courteous and it’s through modeling those kind of things that children learn behaviors. That’s where parents need to know that their behavior in front of their children is very, very important as well, and some people just don’t understand that unfortunately. It’s so important because however you want your children to behave is how you behave in front of them.”
Working for the Wiggles has become a family affair. While Page points out that they employ many people that they didn’t know previously, the Wiggles’ payroll also includes plenty of relatives and friends. It is most important to the Wiggles that their employees are trustworthy and share their same love and enjoyment of kids and the dream of teaching while entertaining them.
“We have been very fortunate to find new employees as well as family and friends who have that common goal, objective and interest. It does make it a very good experience when you can involve people like that with you,” Page says.
As they embark on yet another world tour for 2006, the Wiggles have a busy schedule planned throughout the US and Europe. Parents everywhere will be standing in lines at ticket agencies, dialing feverishly or logging on, trying to get their little ones the best tickets possible for the hottest show around for preschoolers. The first of three legs of the US tour starts in April and visits cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and finishes up in Shreveport, LA.
“It’s a bit of a road trip and we do quite a few miles in four or five weeks but that’s part of the excitement. We break it up that way because we find that periods of four or five weeks is the longest you want to be away from home at one time. So, we go over and come back, go over and come back,” says Page. “Unfortunately, sometimes we just get to see the hotel, the bus and venue and that can be frustrating. But you do get to cover a lot of country and that’s quite an amazing feat when you travel so far sometimes.”
And don’t worry parents, the Wiggles will be back in August to tour the Midwest and then in October/November to delight their little fans along the East Coast.
The Wiggles obviously enjoy performing for children in concert as much as their wide eyed audience loves seeing them. “I love performing, I love being on the stage and I love being able to see the kids reacting to what we are doing. When we write songs, perform them and record them on video or CD we never get to see an audience or how they are going to react. For me when you are performing live and see the audience’s reaction firsthand it’s really a great experience to have that connection. Children are so spontaneous and full of life and you just think if you could capture their innocence, the world could be like that. So, we are very blessed to be able to do what we do and are genuine and sincere about it and hope it comes across on stage. We really are very lucky to be working in the type of environment where you get to see such happiness and joy.”
It is impossible to overstate the popularity of these musical Aussies but perhaps reports that came out last year put it all into perspective. In early 2005, it was announced that the Wiggles were the highest paid entertainers in Australia, even beating out huge stars like Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Not bad huh?? “It was very surreal when that came out,” says Page. “I mean, I don’t know if it’s true and I have no idea what Russell and Nicole make, but to be in their company whether it’s true or not is a real honor.”
With the show, movies, videos and music being such a big hit, kids can’t seem to get enough of the wiggly merchandise – begging parents worldwide for everything from Wiggles dolls, cars, guitars, drums and books to toiletries, clothing and bedding. Always donning their trademark colors yellow, blue, red and purple, the Wiggles merchandise is often a mystery to the band members.
“We don’t see it often because someone else takes care of that for us. But when they do run it past us we think it’s very exciting. Now we even have cartoon likenesses, which is quite funny since it’s not necessarily us anymore. It could be anyone who kinda looks like that. So it’s quite bizarre, but we know it’s based on us and it’s a real thrill to see that people want to purchase the merchandise and have it as part of their lives. Being in the Wiggles you don’t really appreciate how much of somebody’s life we are until you see that and think, ‘Wow, you know it’s really hitting a mark with these children and hopefully affecting them in a positive way.’ It’s probably driving the parents mad, but the kids are enjoying it,” Page jokes.
So, you might wonder what’s on the horizon for this favorite toddlers’ quartet. Other than continuing work on their popular TV show, the Wiggles will finish out 2006 on the road while working on a new educational series of videos. The guys are very proud of this venture and hope that it will silence any naysayers who think the Wiggles are just entertainers. The educationally based videos – entitled Wiggle and Learn – were born from their teaching background and will deal with concepts like mathematics, language and literacy, social development, physical development and emotional development.
“These videos are specifically educational while still be done in a wiggly way,” says Page. “They are very educational and very entertaining. If you want your children to learn these certain concepts, the Wiggles will teach them in a wiggly fashion.” The Wiggles have currently completed taping of the first two videos in the series and they should be out in early 2007.
When you talk about the Wiggles, you won’t find any drugs or scandals. You will only find four very caring guys, who want to help your kids learn, grow and respect each other. In this world we live in, I applaud their efforts and appreciate their message. As the mother of two, I personally would like to see more groups like the Wiggles making a difference in my children’s lives. And let’s face it… kids love them. Once you get pastthe fact that you too are “Pointing Your Finger and Doing the Twist,” you just might also! So, get ready to Wiggle and share a wonderful experience with your kids!
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Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 18, 2006.