Cuckoo for Cocomelon
Inside a wildly popular TV show for babies
If you are not a parent of a small child, you may not be familiar with the name JJ. Consider yourself lucky. JJ is a cartoon toddler and the star of CoComelon, a wildly popular YouTube channel and Netflix show that was viewed for 33 billion minutes last year.
For my latest story, I looked at why CoComeon is so popular, and how its parent company is pioneering a new approach to children’s television. (In the magazine, the story will have the headline Cuckoo for CoComelon, a line I am particularly proud that my brain somehow created.)
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An editor at TIME who has a small child was telling me that every morning, his son wakes up and says, “I want JJ.” This was during the pandemic, when daycares were closed, and parents were trying to juggle working remotely and taking care of their kids, and any reservations about screen time went out the window.
What interested us both is why his son—and so many toddlers—want JJ in particular. There are zillions of cartoons on YouTube, Netflix, and all the other streaming services. But for some reason, kids can’t get enough of this one. It’s just a 3D cartoon of JJ, his siblings, and classmates, and they sing nursery rhymes and other made-up songs.
Kids’ love for the show has been great and horrible for parents. One woman I talked to, who didn’t make it in the story, told me she had a prohibition on screen time until her husband got laid off and had to take on three jobs during the pandemic. Then they had another baby, so they had two kids under two, and her younger child needed a lot of attention because of some medical issues. She felt like she didn’t have a choice but to put on CoComelon to keep her older child out of trouble. And he became obsessed.
“It definitely did save me,” she told me. “I know it sounds bad, but if it wasn’t addicting, I don’t know what I would have done in my situation,” she told me.
CoComelon started as a YouTube show more than a decade ago. And it started slowly growing in popularity. From 555 million YouTube views in March of 2018 to 2.79 billion in March of 2019. Then, in 2020, it was bought by a company called Moonbug, which specializes in taking popular shows from YouTube and making them even bigger and more popular.
Moonbug talked to me for the story – I sat in on a story review meeting and interviewed some writers and executives who have been working on the show for a while. In the story, I go into this new model of content, and how it’s different from Sesame Street and other children’s TV classics. One of the most interesting things to me about CoComelon is that parents seem to hate it almost as much as children love it.
Go read the story, but for now, I’ll also leave you with a link to one of Cocomelon’s most popular songs and the lyrics below. This is not high-quality rhyming, people. But that’s because it’s for kids, not for you or me.
Peas, peas, it's time to eat your peas
Yes, yes, yes, I want to eat my peas
Good, good! The peas are good for you
Yay, yay, yay, I love them, oooh
See, see, Teddy likes them too
One, two, three! He ate them up, you see
Ha! Ha! Ha! The peas are all gone now
Yum, yum, yum, we like them, wow!
Carrots, carrots, it's time to eat your carrots
Yes, yes, yes, I want to eat the carrots
Good, good! The carrots are good for you
Yay, yay, yay, I love them, oooh
See, see, Elephant likes them too