Whether you’re a parent or just someone who frequents YouTube’s numerous music accounts, you’ve probably heard the song “Baby Shark”. This children’s tune has an undeniable ability to keep kids engaged with its catchy tune and vibrant YouTube video.
While “Baby Shark” shot to mainstream fame on YouTube, the history of this song is actually much more complicated than most listeners would expect. In this article, we’ll explain exactly when the song was released and who was originally responsible for writing it.
When did ‘Baby Shark’ come out?
Baby Shark rose to fame in 2016 after South Korean children’s entertainment brand Pinkfong released a version of the song on its YouTube channel. The song has garnered over 8.9 billion views in its five-year tenure and remains the most viewed video on the platform, beating out Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” But this wasn’t the first time the song had been shared on Google’s video service.
In 2011, creator Johnny Only uploaded the first viral English language version of the song to YouTube, complete with a video of him and a group of children acting out the hand gestures that made the song so famous today. According to a report by CBC Radio, Johnny originally heard the song decades earlier while DJing at a kids camp. At the time, the song and its hand movements were performed by counselors and campers. The initial versions were far gorier and took delight in unsuspecting swimmers’ brutal deaths; Only’s version removes the violence, and focuses instead on the happy shark family.
In an interview with CBC, Only explained that he was shocked to hear the similarities between his version and the more recent interpretation from Pinkfong.
“Their version does seem strikingly similar to mine. Same key, same tempo change, same melody and rhythm,” Only told the CBC.
Only’s original video versions boast 160,000 to 180,000 views on YouTube, a much smaller number than his successor. (His most popular upload, a “Baby Shark” song lyric video, has 2.4 million—still a far cry from Pinkfong’s multi-billion clip)
Due to the song being passed down through generations across camp communities around the world, no one owns the rights to the song itself, Only says in the interview. Yet despite being public domain, Pinkfong’s parent company SmartStudy claims to have sole ownership to the song. As for who truly owns it, that’s up to the South Korean courts to decide.
So while the most popular, record-breaking version of the “Baby Shark” song was launched in 2016, the history of this children’s tune can be dated back for decades—and is not without its controversies.