The Kids’ Show “Bluey” Can Make Grownups Cry. What’s Its Secret? Classical Music, That’s What.

I’m one of those people: I have cried at the children’s show Bluey. It happened, despite my best efforts, during “Sleepytime,” the known tear-jerker episode from Season 2; at Aunt Brandy’s implied infertility in Season 3’s “Onesies”; and at the end of Season 3’s “The Sign,” before the bait and switch, when Bandit’s decision to reverse course on their house sale made life hard for every parent in a Bluey home who will ever plan a difficult move. (As someone who recently underwent an out-of-state relocation, I’m just grateful this episode aired after that.) But the most surprising bout of weeping came during Season 1’s “Bike.” And I know why: It’s not just the plot. It’s the music too.

In “Bike,” three young pups struggle to complete difficult tasks at the playground. Bluey’s sister Bingo is too short to drink from the water fountain. Cousin Muffin can’t get her backpack on. And their friend Bentley can’t reach the monkey bars. Predictably, all three eventually succeed. And when they do, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” crescendos exuberantly in the background.

Maybe it goes too far to compare Beethoven’s legendary struggle with deafness with the mundane problems the kids face in this episode. “Ode to Joy” stands as one of Western culture’s greatest artifacts, and Beethoven’s disability plays a large part in the piece’s looming presence. He was profoundly deaf by the time he composed his Ninth Symphony—so deaf, in fact, that he reportedly had to be prodded to turn and accept his ovation following its premiere. Maybe Muffin wriggling into her backpack isn’t a comparable win to the triumphant composition of one of the most famous pieces of all time, but for a sentimental parent watching their kid’s milestones, it is no less moving.

Throughout its three seasons, Bluey’s music has underscored the mature emotional aspects of the show. Bluey has been called everything from a “kids’ show for grownups” to “the best show about parenting,” and the placement of classical music is largely for us adults too. While Bingo dreamily travels the cosmos in “Sleepytime,” Holst’s “Jupiter,” from The Planets, swells just as Bingo, facing the sun but truly addressing her mother, decides it’s time to embrace her independence. The moment is aimed at adults ready to recognize the fleetingness of time with our young children, and the bittersweet broadness of the Holst tune accentuates our loss.

But the classical music in Bluey is there not just to make us cry. Consider Season 1’s “Magic Claw,” a notably moral-free episode featuring Dad playacting as a temperamental claw machine. (The episode includes the iconic lines “Magic Claw has no children. His days are free and easy.”) As Magic Claw frustrates his kids repeatedly, a synthesized and remixed version of the broadly recognizable Pachelbel tune from Canon in D plays frantically. Although it’s beloved by the public, classical musicians notoriously hate this piece, due to its status as the most overdone wedding processional as well as its intense boringness for those who play bass instruments. Yet the arrangement in “Magic Claw” seems to wink at this, acknowledging that the piece must be performed but that we can take it at top speed to minimize the pain.

Yes, Bluey is positively dripping with classical music. The very first scene of the first episode shows Bandit miming playing a wild “Rondo Alla Turca” on Bluey’s stomach. It makes a certain kind of sense because Bluey is aspirational at its heart. Dad Bandit is an idealized portrait of a modern gentle parent, with ample time and energy for pretend play. Even the Australian Broadcasting Company, Bluey’s original commissioner, admits, “We can’t all be Bandit Heeler.” Cultural romanticization is at work too; little sister Bingo creeping around, making household objects “heavy” with a feather wand, as every family member plays along, wouldn’t be quite right without Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

The show’s creator, Joe Brumm, insisted in a 2022 interview that the classical music in Bluey is not an attempt to indoctrinate our children into recognizing the superiority of the Western classical oeuvre. But I must point out that, even as the classical music world I work in is rightly invested in diversifying the classical canon, Bluey sticks to standards from the white male composers people tend to recognize. And there is ample evidence that parents do want to expose kids to erudite musical culture. We have been told (wrongly) that the simple act of hearing Mozart will make our kids smarter, and that music lessons will increase their intelligence as well. A quick Amazon search brings up a myriad of classical music–themed baby products, from books to recordings to battery-operated earworm machines. So much of modern parenting feels like inputting information and experiences into our kids in hopes of creating a perfectly formed adult. Part of that is exposing them to the right kinds of culture—if they’re going to choose Taylor Swift, you should get some classical music into them too. Bluey takes this small bite off our vast parental plate. As I often tell my college students, the composer’s intentions matter only if the audience recognizes them. Sorry, Brumm: Even if you didn’t mean to make Bluey into Music History 101, you’ve done it anyway.

We recognize the connection between childhood and classical music partly because educational kids’ shows have always flirted with the music, demonstrating the pervasiveness of the “Classical music makes kids smarter” trope. The same parents hearing Carmen in “Granny Mobile” may experience flashbacks to the trippy “Habanera”-singing orange of Sesame Street. At 3, my own child danced in a simulated en pointe to the Wiggles’ Meet the Orchestra. Approaching the musical saturation of Bluey is the math-focused Peg + Cat, on PBS, in which a writer’s block–stricken Beethoven appears regularly; Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring introduces the number nine; and the Queen of the Night and the King of the Day debate symmetry over tunes from Mozart’s operas. Yet Bluey doesn’t feel like an educational show, exactly. Sure, it imparts lessons about taking care of the little ones and the importance of keeping promises, but it’s mostly about the joys of family life with young children. This makes the music even more impactful; instead of learning about it, we’re experiencing its power.

With the final episode of Season 3, “Surprise,” featuring a grown Bluey returning to her childhood home, the rumor mill has begun to churn with gossip that Bluey is truly over, or at least on hiatus long enough for our kids to age out of the show. What is the music of a million millennial parents crying? Maybe Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” or Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” neither of which has yet made it onto the show (will they ever?). I’ll always remember my kid’s response to “Sleepytime”: She refused to watch it again. The thought of leaving me filled her with existential dread. Will she forever associate “Jupiter” with that feeling? I know I probably will, despite decades of encountering Holst’s work unassociated with Bingo and her journey away from Mom. I’m still grateful that my child is hearing this music that has meant so much to my own life. It might not have made this generation of parents smarter, but as we clutch tissues and hug our kids, we can tell ourselves it did.

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