In May, cowboy rapper Lil Nas X visited an elementary school in Ohio to play his ubiquitous hit "Old Town Road" for an audience of fifth graders.
Video of the performance went viral, and not just because everything the guy does goes viral: These kids went fucking bonkers.
Screaming. Headbanging. Bouncing uncontrollably. One little dude looked as if he'd caught the Holy Spirit and his skeleton was about to dance right out of his body.
On the one hand, the reaction wasn't surprising. It's everyone's favorite song right now, and it's about riding horses. Of course grade schoolers are going to be crazy for it. But the fact that they knew every single damn word spoke to the fact that, in an age when children are practically handed an iPad straight out the womb, kids are finding pop culture mostly on their own, and devouring it like the rest of us.
So we wanted to know: What else are the kids into these days?
Because we didn't want to just approach random children in the park, we surveyed parents and educators to see what trends they've noticed. Turns out, it's less of a monoculture than you'd think—we could've just included all of Kids YouTube, an alternate-reality internet unto itself. But these six things stand out.
Want to know whether someone is around young kids a lot? Ask if they've ever heard "Baby Shark" and look to see if their eye begins to twitch. An earworm in the most parasitic sense of the term, the song was first unleashed in its current, hyper-virulent form by a South Korean education company in 2016, and it's been playing on an endless loop at day care centers and birthday parties and in the nightmares of parents ever since. Kids' music is brain-stabbingly repetitive by design, but at least "The Wheels on the Bus" teaches children to appreciate public transit—the only discernible message between those needling "doo-doo-doos" is that sharks will murder you, no matter how infantile or enfeebled they may appear. Just when it seemed the song's ubiquity had peaked, its DayGlo dorsal fin rose to the surface once again: It broke into the Billboard Hot 100 this year, and there's even a "Baby Shark" live tour hitting the road in the fall. Safe at last? Hardly.
What a parent thinks: "I'd rather have my first-grade students singing it than the newest Drake song."
Here is where you learn your precious little angel has been lobbing grenades at strangers in their spare time. The video game Fortnite has several iterations, but the one that's really taken hold of the zeitgeist is the free Battle Royale version in which you parachute onto an island with 99 other players and fight for survival against friends, online randos and maybe even celebrity devotees. (There's a good chance your child has killed Chance the Rapper with a crossbow at some point.) It sounds violent, but it's more Hunger Games than Grand Theft Auto. And at least half its popularity with the school-age crowd has nothing to do with blowing stuff up—the avatars also dance! Speaking of, while Fortnite didn't invent the flossing craze—that's the arm-swinging dance that has become the restless leg syndrome of the cafeteria set, which you've definitely practiced in the mirror when no one else was around—the game did help perpetuate it by including the dance as a feature. So think about that the next time you accidentally punch yourself in the crotch trying to figure it out.
What a parent thinks: "I'm dedicated to pretending it doesn't exist."
A whole generation can already claim to have been raised by this porcine English preschooler, but Peppa Pig's biggest moment in the cultural spotlight is arguably happening right now. After a decade-plus of teaching kids on both sides of the pond the finer points of being a human, the cartoon hog—described by Vox as looking more like an anthropomorphic hair dryer, which is accurate—just dropped her first album, to which her countrymen said: What took so long, bruv? On the accurately titled My First Album, Piggy Smalls spits hot fire about zoos, rainbows, holidays and mud puddles. It had the unfortunate consequence of getting her reviewed by über-dweeb music vlogger Anthony Fantano—keep her name out your mouth, dork!—and the very fortunate, if totally unintended, consequence of turning Pepcid MC into a gay icon. The algorithm-generated Spotify playlist that accompanied the album is loaded with queer-favorite pop stars like Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX, though what really cemented her LGBTQ hero status was her song "Expert Daddy Pig." If that's not the screen name of someone the songwriter hooked up with on Grindr, then something got really lost in translation.
What a parent thinks: "I kind of want to live in the Peppa Pig universe."
These ain't Liza Minnelli's sequins! Flip sequins look like the glittery pieces of garish fabric you're familiar with, adorning everything from shirts to shoes to snake dolls, except these are double-sided and reversible, so that, when brushed, they reveal an entirely new image or color pattern. A unicorn turns into a princess. Elsa from Frozen becomes Anna from Frozen. A dabbing panda stays a dabbing panda, but goes from white-and-black to red. It's an idea so obvious it's almost annoying that such "technology" didn't exist when we were kids, which probably explains why grown-ups have started making shit like sequined pillows with Nic Cage's face on them to sell on Etsy. Also, just going to take a wild guess that such highly touchable garments are very popular at Burning Man.
What an adult thinks: "Nothing to complain about here—they're sparkly, they're '80s, they don't make a mess like glitter, and an added bonus is they give kids something to fidget with!"
The classics never die—they just mutate. Every generation has its gooey plaything of choice, whether it was Gak, that glowing-green sewage Nickelodeon dumped on celebrities in the '90s, Play-Doh and Silly Putty before that, or the buckets of mud and chicken intestines children of the Depression presumably played with. Now, it's slime—just slime—and it's lowercase because it's not a specific product but an entire crafting genre. Who knows what exactly launched it, but two years ago, making your own gunk suddenly became a huge deal. Craft stores began selling out of glue en masse, which Elmer's eventually capitalized on in its marketing, and kids started trading homemade goop like baseball cards. Whole Instagram and YouTube accounts are dedicated to the stuff, to the point that "slime influencers" are an actual thing. Online, the trend is ASMR-adjacent—and, because it's the internet, and the internet is grosser than even the most booger-obsessed child, there's almost certainly a fetish community for it—but for kids, the appeal is as old as time: If it looks like something that came out of your nose, then it must be fun to throw at a wall.
What a parent thinks: "At least it wasn't as annoying as fidget spinners."
A phenomenon only late-stage capitalism could've invented, unboxing videos take all the fun of watching your most spoiled childhood friend open his birthday presents and combines it with the economic angst and empty desire of First World consumer culture. It started with tech geeks, who'd film themselves unpacking various gadgets piece by piece—objectophilia disguised as reviews, basically—then naturally transitioned into the realm of kids' toys. In that sphere, the biggest star is Ryan Kanji, an excitable first grader whose YouTube channel, Ryan ToysReview, has over 20 million subscribers, and whose popularity has landed him toy deals of his own. (According to Forbes, he made $22 million in 2018. That's not a typo.) Of course, companies now send free products to these pint-sized influencers, hoping for a sales bump, and an argument can be made that these "kidtrepreneurs" are being exploited as advertising vehicles. That's bad, sure. But imagine what it must be like for adults all over the world getting pestered daily to buy some new doodad because "Ryan has it." Won't somebody please think of the parents?
What an adult thinks: "I'd prefer my kids watch Rambo."