Five Times The Wiggles Shook Pop-Culture

19 April 2024 | 3:23 pm | Ellie Robinson

The Wiggles’ latest unhinged endeavour, the EDM remix album ‘Rave Of Innocence’, arrives today.

DJ Dorothy of The Wiggles Sound System

DJ Dorothy of The Wiggles Sound System (Supplied)

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Since their humble beginnings all the way back in 1991 (some 33 years ago, in case you needed to feel even more ancient today), The Wiggles have soared to become much more than just a children’s music brand – they’re a brand and pop-culture phenomenon entirely unto themselves. Over three storied decades as the world’s biggest name in kids’ entertainment, they’ve had plenty of chances to reshape the zeitgeist with whimsical blasts of creative innovation – and they’ve seized every one of those chances with meteoric aplomb.

Today (April 19), The Wiggles proved yet again that their genius really is unlimited, shocking fans with the surprise release of their first full-blown EDM album, Rave Of Innocence (after it was “leaked” online yesterday). It marks the debut of The Wiggles Sound System, described as “an electrifying fusion of nostalgia and party-starting techno beats”, and “a pulsating musical journey that's part wild dancefloor party, part toddler tantrum tamer”.

The album sees 14 of The Wiggles generation-spanning hits reinvented as club-ready bangers by Lenny Pearce (of Justice Crew fame – and the twin brother of the current purple Wiggle, John) and DJ Dorothy (yes, that Dorothy), and comes after the latter made waves for crashing a nightclub in Melbourne with a surprise performance. So they say themselves, Rave Of Innocence was “created for music lovers who grew up dancing along to The Wiggles”, to serve as “the ultimate soundtrack for reliving cherished memories and creating new ones”.

To celebrate Rave Of Innocence (which you can listen to in its entirety below), we’re winding back the clock to look at five other moments in The Wiggles’ history that saw them wildly shake up the status quo.

1. Their cinematic masterpiece

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The Wiggles have always been impressively DIY at heart, producing all of their music, videos, TV shows, props and tour materials entirely in-house. For much of their first decade on the scene, this meant making the most of their creative chops to stretch shoestring budgets into world-class productions. By the mid-1990s, The Wiggles were busting out their sick-as dance moves on homemade sets that you’d swear came straight from Hollywood... So of course, the next logical step was to have The Wiggles star in their own major motion picture.

The Wiggles Movie wasn’t exactly a “blockbuster” by today’s standards – it had a budget of $1.7 million, The Wiggles themselves weren’t paid to star in it, and they spent just 23 days filming it (with most of the outdoor sets being strung up in the back lot of a public hospital) – but it proved to be smash-hit nonetheless, marking the highest-grossing film produced in Australia for 1998, both theatrically and on video. Critics loved it, too, and even today it remains a fan-favourite for Wiggles die-hards.

The success inspired many of The Wiggles contemporaries to try their own hands at a feature film – but just as you’d expect, none came anywhere close to capturing the magic of The Wiggles Movie.

2. Their 18+ reunion shows

By the mid-2010s, most of The Wiggles’ OG fans were in their 20s and 30s, and looked back fondly on their formative memories effectively being raised by the band. For many of us, our very first exposure to live music came courtesy of Anthony (Field, blue), Greg (Page, yellow), Murray (Cook, red) and Jeff (Fatt, purple), doing the Hot Potato and rock-a-bye-ing our bears alongside Dorothy The Dinosaur, Wags The Dog, Captain Feathersword and the Big Red Car.

Older fans had long joked about the concept of seeing the original Wiggles lineup play an 18+ gig at a pub, but none of us actually expected them to embrace the idea themselves – until December of 2015, when they announced they’d be doing just that. February 2016 saw the original quartet reunite for a charity concert at the Dee Why RSL in Sydney, tickets for which sold out in a heartbeat. And the show itself was every bit as wholesome, unhinged and hilarious as you could imagine, with both The Wiggles themselves and their grown-up fans all fully committing to the bit, partying like it was (literally) 1999 again as they laughed through the absurdity of it all.

The one-off show was so successful that it wasn’t long before it wasn’t a one-off show – the OG Wiggles reunited once more for another set of lowkey charity shows at the start of 2020 (raising money for the Black Summer bushfires – and giving Page a heart attack in the process), and then in 2022, they took the adults-only show to arenas for a full national tour. They even performed at that year’s Falls Festival, with their sets sandwiched between decidedly non-kid-friendly performances from Rico Nasty and Genesis Owusu.

3. Their relaunch as an octet

Like most great bands, The Wiggles have not been immune to lineup changes. The first came in 2006, when Page handed his classic yellow skivvy over to Sam Moran. The move was met with swift, brutal controversy, and Moran bore the brunt of more hate than one children’s entertainer ever should (well, without doing anything to justify it, at least).

Thankfully, future changes to The Wiggles’ public image would be received much more rationally. Page returned to the fold in 2012, but left at the end of that same year alongside Cook and Fatt, leaving Field as the sole remaining Wiggle from the original troupe. In stepped Emma Watkins as the third official yellow Wiggle, with Simon Pryce in red and Lachlan Gillespie in purple. The new trio were all beloved by kids and parents alike, and thus, a new generation of The Wiggles emerged to entertain a new generation of music-loving toddlers.

2021 brought another major shift to the operation, when Watkins decided to step out and forge a new career for herself as a solo entertainer. Internally, this sparked The Wiggles to rethink their long-term branding as a four-piece – Tsehay Hawkins was brought in as Watkins’ formal replacement, but she wasn’t the only new Wiggle to come onboard at the turn of the new decade: John Pearce came onboard as our second purple Wiggle, and Evie Ferris joined Field with a new blue skivvy – though she’d later pass it on to Field’s daughter Lucia (and rebrand in yellow for herself), who joined in 2022 alongside Caterina Mete as the second red Wiggle.

The Wiggles made their official debut as an eight-piece in November of 2021, when they appeared as pre-match entertainers for the a soccer match between the Matildas and the US Women’s National Team. The Matildas ultimately lost, but The Wiggles re-cemented themselves as the country’s most iconic performers, now reimagined for the present day with a focus on celebrating diversity and forward-thinking attitudes. They pissed a lot of conservatives off in the process, but in the 2020s, that’s really just a sign that you’ve done something right.

4. Their record-breaking Like A Version

A few years after they recaptured the hearts of their OG fanbase with their 18+ reunion shows, The Wiggles had us all frothing once more with their visit to the triple j studios, where they covered Tame Impala’s Lonerism hit Elephant for the national youth broadcaster’s weekly Like A Version segment. It proved to be an effortless fit for the band, too, with the original song’s psych-rock sound gelling perfectly with The Wiggles’ own jovial, one-of-a-kind sound – it somehow toes the line between ska, stoner-rock and bubblegum pop .

At the time, Watkins said of The Wiggles’ choice to cover Elephant for their career-defining Like A Version: “The Wiggles love animals. So we chose it because we like elephants. We’re also very much inspired by [Tame Impala]. But when we got into it, we didn’t realise how complex it would be.” Cook also rejoined his old crew to be a part of the moment – especially fun for him as a longtime Tame Impala fan – and added to the sentiment: “To have the old and the new together has been really fun.”

The cover was immediately met with acclaim from Wiggles fans old and new alike, as well as Tame Impala’s own dedicated fanbase, regular triple j listeners, critics, journalists... It may have marked the first-ever Like A Version cover to be loved by pretty much everyone. As such, it went on to become one of the most popular songs recorded for triple j’s flagship segment, and even topped the Hottest 100 of 2021. Not only was it the first time a children’s band had achieved such a feat, it was also the first Like A Version to do so.

Kevin Parker himself was blown away by the cover, saying in a triple j interview of his own: “If someone had told me back when we released Elephant that in ten years’ time, The Wiggles were gonna cover it and it would [win the] Hottest 100, I would’ve told you that you were out of your mind. I would’ve told you that that’s a ridiculous idea and I wouldn’t have believed you. If a fortune teller told me that was going to happen, I would’ve asked for my money back... They made it their own, which showcases the genius of The Wiggles. They really gave it a new personality, a new animal personality.”

A few months later, in April 2022, Parker joined The Wiggles to perform Elephant live with them in Perth. He even stuck around to jam out on Hot Potato, fulfilling one of his own childhood dreams. He said in a statement released shortly thereafter: “When the opportunity presented itself to perform live with The Wiggles, how could I resist? That was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done!”

5. Their epic two-way tribute album

The Wiggles’ cover of Elephant was a true-changer, not only for themselves but the Australian music scene as a whole. Less than a month after triple j premiered the performance, The Wiggles announced their two-way tribute album ReWiggled, where they covered another 13 tunes from the annals of rock history (taking on both modern hits and some all-time classics), and invited a stack of Aussie acts to reinvent a Wiggly classic of their own choosing.

On the first disc of ReWiggled, you’ll hear a spicy dance-punk redux of Hot Potato courtesy of DZ Deathrays, a breezy indie-rock flip of D.O.R.O.T.H.Y (My Favourite Dinosaur) by Spacey Jane, a fiery rock’n’roll take on Apples & Bananas by Polish Club, and a soulful spin on Say The Dance, Do The Dance by Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – in addition to other memorable covers like The Chats’ gritty punk version of Can You (Point Your Fingers And Do The Twist?) and Custard’s legitimately brilliant take on Do The Propeller!

On disc two, The Wiggles repaid the favour to The Chats by bringing their own child-friendly flair to Pub Feed, and celebrated other Aussie favourites like AC/DC (with a cover of Thunderstruck) and Lime Cordiale (with their spin on Apple Crumble that we’d, perhaps controversially, say is even better than the original). Even wilder is their covers of songs by Rihanna (Umbrella), the Dropkick Murphys (Shipping Up To Boston) and Fatboy Slim (Praise You). If nothing else proves The Wiggles’ willingness to subvert expectations, this album certainly does!