An art piece of the Backyardigans, including a moose, penguin, ladybug, kangaroo and hippo, standing together. (Illustration by Ro Odendahl, Montserrat College of Art)
Despite the show having ended in 2013, "The Backyardigans" is topping charts and spearheading trends. (Illustration by Ro Odendahl, Montserrat College of Art)
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An art piece of the Backyardigans, including a moose, penguin, ladybug, kangaroo and hippo, standing together. (Illustration by Ro Odendahl, Montserrat College of Art)

The story of how ‘Castaways,’ a bossa nova-inspired song from a children’s show, became a chart-topping hit.

In the past year, millions of videos centered on the early 2000s have flooded TikTok. From fashion and stickers to film and television, the resurgence of Y2K culture shows no signs of stopping. But the most recent topic to resurface is not an old trend or a forgotten celebrity — surprisingly, it’s “Castaways,” a bossa nova song from “The Backyardigans,” a hit show geared toward a young audience. 

Background on “The Backyardigans”

“The Backyardigans” aired on Nick Jr. from 2004 to 2013, totaling 80 episodes. It was primarily aimed at preschoolers, but the show’s entertaining plotlines and charming characters have earned it praise from viewers of all ages.

The show is centered around five animal friends — Uniqua, Pablo, Tyrone, Tasha and Austin — and follows all of the fantastic adventures they embark on while using their imagination. Every episode begins in their shared backyard, where the Backyardigans play pretend, the landscape transforming into a new location as they dive deeper into their dreamed-up scenario. Throughout the show’s four-season run, the colorful friends travel to a snowy tundra, a desert island and even outer space. 

Janice Burgess, the creator of “The Backyardigans,” was motivated to make the show by all of the fun she had growing up in her own backyard. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Burgess explained, “My inspiration really came from the fact that as a child, I had a group of friends, and we played in our backyards and I always thought of that as the place where we had extraordinary adventures — we sailed ships, we fought off lions, and in addition we played hide-and-seek. It’s the starting point and ending point of every show and, in my mind, that’s my backyard in Pittsburgh.”

While most children’s programming is centered around teaching math or science, Burgess hoped “The Backyardigans” would motivate kids to play together and use their imaginations. She drew inspiration from action movies such as “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “Die Hard” because she wanted viewers to be taken on an enthralling and fanciful journey every time they watched the show. 

“The Backyardigans” is currently streaming on Paramount+, for those who want to revisit their beloved childhood explorers.

How “Castaways” Journeyed to the Top of the Charts

“Castaways” went viral on TikTok in early May after Merysha Pierre (@swagsurfff) posted a series of videos featuring clips from “The Backyardigans.” Pierre was surprised that so many younger people had not grown up watching the show and listening to its “supersonic bops.”

Pierre also told BuzzFeed News that another reason she felt compelled to share “The Backyardigans” with her followers was how happy watching the show made her feel, even when she was in a sad place. “I started rewatching episodes and immediately my mood was uplifted,” she said.

Before posting the TikTok that turned a nearly 16-year-old song into a hit, Pierre highlighted other songs from the show, including “Secret Agent” and “Yeti Stomp.” She posted about “Castaways” in the fourth part of her series, hoping others would appreciate its “immaculate flavor.” Pierre captioned the video “Send this to the uncultured.” Little did Pierre know, she would soon be credited with cultivating the contemporary success of the “The Backyardigans.”   

@swagsurfff

Send this to the uncultured 🤮 Pt. 4 #fyp #foryoupage #backyardigans

♬ BGC Drama Effect – whozmanzz

Pierre inspired millions to make TikToks using the “Castaways” sound. Some were centered around “The Backyardigans,” with users sharing fanart or remixed versions of the song, while others used the song as background music to funny videos from their camera rolls. Users also reenacted Pablo, Tyrone and Uniqua’s dance moves and furthered the trend by inventing their own. 

“The Backyardigans” even caught the attention of Academy Award-winning director Barry Jenkins, who tweeted about his newfound love and appreciation for the show. He even wished Burgess a happy Mother’s Day, writing, “I don’t know whether Ms. Burgess has children of her own, but she very clearly helped raised a whole lotta y’all’s kids with this most fantastic show, so… a salute to her.”

“Castaways” brought the internet together, uniting everyone over how catchy the hit is. People began adding the song to their playlists and streaming it daily, declaring it 2021’s song of the summer. Within just a few weeks, “Castaways” skyrocketed to the top of the U.S. Spotify Viral 50 on May 17, debuting at No. 1. “The Backyardigans” charted higher than popular artists such as Doja Cat, Nicki Minaj and J. Cole. To date, “Castaways” has over 16 million streams, and “The Backyardigans” have over 3.6 million listeners on Spotify.

The Masters Behind the Music

Evan Lurie and Douglas Wieselman worked as co-composers on “The Backyardigans.” The pair devised four new songs for every episode, each one centered around a different musical sub-genre. In their time making music for the series, Lurie and Wieselman would go on to explore 78 musical genres and write over 300 songs together. 

As for the musical influence for “Castaways,” the composers decided on bossa nova, a combination of jazz and samba music that originated in Brazil in the 1950s. They felt it would encapsulate the island theme of the episode, also titled “Castaways,” appropriately. 

Leslie Valdes, a writer and lyricist for the show, spoke to BuzzFeed News, where he cited “The Girl from Ipanema” as the bossa nova song that inspired him to write “Castaways.”

When asked about the success of his song, Valdes said he felt elated. “It’s also gratifying because I’m Latino, [and] to me, bossa nova and Brazilian music is sort of this melting pot of music,” he said. “It really encapsulates different styles — jazz, blues, folk, there’s rock in it — and to me, it’s like the apex of this melting point of culture.”

“The Backyardigans” Aren’t Going Anywhere

With many members of Gen Z now revisiting episodes and songs from the show, “The Backyardigans” has taken over TikTok. Since “Castaways” took off, two more songs from the show — “Into The Thick Of It,” and “International Super Spy” — have exploded on the platform. The “Into The Thick Of It” sound has already been used over 1 million times, with many people trying (and failing) to keep with the rhythm, while “International Super Spy” has TikTokers revealing unexpected facts about themselves to their followers. 

Beyond the internet, “The Backyardigans” has secured its place in the hearts of people like Pierre, who treasured the show growing up, as well as newcomers who have only just discovered it. It seems that no matter how much time has passed since the end of the show, fans will always have time for their favorite backyard friends.

Writer Profile

Mai Senser

Virginia Commonwealth University
English major, Media Studies minor

Mai Senser is a film student turned English major based in Richmond, Virginia. A lover of pop culture, both past and present, she’s always ready to join the conversation.

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