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By Maura Johnston

Pop-watchers with a more cynical outlook on the charts probably took the Billboard Hot 100 debut of "Baby Shark" — the incessantly earwormy singalong about a family of finned fish — as a further sign of music's 21st-century regression. A kid's song? In the top 40?

But the chart success of "Baby Shark" is actually indicative of how America's pop charts are slowly getting better at tracking real-time listening habits (i.e., what you stream when left to your own devices), whether or not the songs within are promoted by radio programmers and streaming-service gurus.

I first heard about the song from chart powerhouse slash new mom Cardi B, who's made multiple references to it on social media, but for those of you unfamiliar with "Baby Shark," here’s a primer. Its exact origin is a bit cloudy, although its insistent melody and loop-de-loop structure bear out claims that it started out as a campfire song. In 2007, German proto-vlogger Alexandra Müller posted her take on the song online, and it became such a sensation that a thumping techno remix got a major-label release in 2008. Seven years after that, the South Korean educational brand Pinkfong released its own version of the track, reissuing it with an easily mimickable dance video in 2016.