The Weirdness of the Cult-Hit Preschool Show, Yo Gabba Gabba

I have a little sister who’s about to graduate from pre-school, so my mom has seen the whole spectrum of kiddie TV shows. When I asked her to describe Yo Gabba Gabba in one sentence, this is what she said:

“It’s what I imagine LSD flashbacks must be like.”

The surreal Nickelodeon show is about dancing and singing and grooving. The average episode features a bunch of songs with gratingly simple beats and shout-along melodies. While the show has been a hit with pre-schoolers, winning the little-kid demographic at its time slot (if not trumping juggernauts like Dora the Explorer), the show has developed considerable buzz as a hipster favorite, in large part because of some points my mom was touching on: its phantasmagorical absurdity and straight-faced wackiness.

Yo Gabba Gabba that taps into some of the most primitive reasons we watch moving pictures: shapes and sounds and rhythms and colors. My goodness, the colors: As you can tell from the picture I decided to include, Yo Gabba Gabba stretches across the rainbow and saturates everything. It’s bright and fun and, as main “character” DJ Lance Rock, likes to say, it’s “awwweeeesoooooooomme!”

Another key to the show’s popularity with the young twenty-somethings is that it’s been a fertile ground for inspired guest starring. The pilot featured Biz Markie in “Biz’s Beat of the Day.” Though he’s best remembered for his semi-novelty track “Just a Friend,” in which he whines and wails, Biz Markie has slightly more cred as a funny freestyler and beatboxer.

Markie threw himself into the role so unabashedly, and fit the vibe of the show so well, that it really worked and set a precedent for having stars of various caliber on the show acting like they really want to be there and make kids get up and move. Another representative example is Elijah Wood, who is not only a random enough celebrity to be cool and unpredictable, but is introduced as “Elijah,” not “Elijah Wood, star of upcoming animated film 9, coming to theaters this September!”

Most celebrities on Yo Gabba Gabba are there just for the fun of it, not for self-promotion, which adds to the charm. There’s no sly references to the guest’s real life persona or even acknowledgment that anyone is famous or notable. It’s just someone else to sing a “Dance-y Dance” song.

Here’s an incomplete list of guest star appearances. I love how eclectic the collection is:

  • Biz Markie
  • Fashion designer Paul Frank’s Julius the Monkey
  • Andy Samberg
  • The Aquabats
  • The Aggrolites
  • Hector Jimenez
  • Smoosh
  • Devo
  • Sean Kingston
  • Tony Hawk
  • Shiny Toy Guns
  • Rahzel
  • The Shins
  • Melora Hardin (actress from The Office)
  • Jack McBrayer (actor from 30 Rock)
  • Jimmy Eat World
  • Hot Hot Heat
  • The Ting-Tings
  • The Roots
  • Jack Black
  • Weezer
  • MGMT
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic
  • Sarah Silverman
  • Black Kids
  • of Montreal
  • Mos Def
  • Mix Master Mike (of the Beastie Boys)
  • Solange (Beyonce’s little sister)

Pretty impressive list, huh? Many of the more high-profile appearances have come in the past  several months. I doubt it’ll be long before Jay-Z or Tom Hanks makes an appearance. I’m not the only one to have noticed the strange popularity of the show. The hipsters’ fixation, like the show itself, is quite amusing and worth keeping an eye on.

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

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