Jamia Simone Nash still remembers laying down the track that would go on to become a chart-topping, viral hit over 15 years later.
As the then-7-year-old girl was singing “Castaways,” she couldn’t stop dancing.
“I just remember moving so much because I loved it so much,” Nash told BuzzFeed News. “[The composer] had to keep telling me to stand in front of the mic because I just wanted to dance — I was doing hula dancing and all that.”
You may better know Nash as Uniqua, the spotted pink creature that starred in The Backyardigans, the musical children’s show that aired on Nickelodeon from 2004 to 2013. Nash, now a 24-year-old songwriter, served as Uniqua’s singing voice during the show’s first three seasons, beginning when she was 7 years old.
Now, years since its final episode, The Backyardigans is having a massive nostalgic resurgence on TikTok. A song from its first season, “Castaways,” became such a trend it hit #1 on Spotify’s viral charts.
BuzzFeed News spoke to the three voice actors, two lyricists, and two composers — the people ~behind the music~ — to find out how “Castaways” came together, and what it’s like having a samba song written for a children’s show become the sleeper hit of the summer.
The Backyardigans featured four songs per episode, touching upon a wide variety of musical genres, from Motown to ska to klezmer. For “Castaways” — also the name of the 2005 episode in which it aired — the team quickly landed on bossa nova, a style of samba music that originated in Brazil in the 1950s. “[It] seemed to fit perfectly,” said Leslie Valdes, who wrote the lyrics and the episode. “You think of ‘Girl From Ipanema,’ you think of kicking back at the beach, and obviously bossa nova is a perfect fit for that.”
It was also a perfect fit for the show’s cocomposer, Doug Wieselman. “I studied Brazilian samba when I first came to New York, in a basement in the West Village, so I spent some time with those rhythms,” he said. As was typically the process for the Backyardigans’ staff, the lyricists worked first, writing to the tune of another song from the genre to ensure they had the rhythm right — but not telling the composer what song they’d used, so he wouldn’t get stuck on it and accidentally write a knockoff.
Corwin C. Tuggles, the Season 1 singing voice for the character Tyrone, a moose, remembered how even when they were first recording it, “Castaways” seemed special. “The music for each episode was always stacked,” said Tuggles, now a 29-year-old actor. “But I remember with ‘Castaways,’ the producers [were] saying, ‘This is gonna be a good one, this is gonna be the one.’”
But with more than 300 songs throughout the whole series, none of the writers guessed that “Castaways” would wind up with such an enormous fandom. They’ve been pleased to see a few other Backyardigans songs also get new life on TikTok, such as “Into The Thick Of It,” which has been praised for one particular note Nash belts to the high heavens as Uniqua.
“I never sang really clean on the songs — I was just always into it, always feeling it, I’d do a run here, a run there,” Nash said. “[The composer] would say, ‘We need you to do it normally!’ And I’d say, ‘I can’t, this song is amazing!’ So the recording process was always hard for me to do because I was always going in.”
Evan Lurie, the show’s cocomposer, was the one who’d be in the recording booth coaching the cast through their songs — a unique challenge at times, since he was working with some pretty rambunctious child actors who might dance away from their microphone at any moment. “Jamia was a little bit of a firecracker,” Lurie said of Nash. “I tried to let her have some fun, but she was difficult to keep on mic. But you know, she was 7.”
Seeing how their song has gone viral all these years later has been a surreal experience, said 25-year-old Sean Curley, who sang as Pablo, a penguin, and who now works at a restaurant while pursuing acting. “I thought it was going to be a quick trend…but this has been taken to a much bigger level,” he said. “Every day I’m seeing another crazy remix or another take on it. Today I saw people doing ballet to ‘Castaways!’”
“Out of nowhere, people are like, ‘Uniqua snapped!’” said Nash. “And I’m just like wow, I didn’t know y’all loved her that much!”
McPaul Smith, the show’s lyricist, first found out about the resurgence of “Castaways” from a colleague, who told him her daughter loved the song and it was all over TikTok. Recently, Smith’s niece attended her high school prom, where the DJ played “Castaways.”
“I always thought the quality of the music on this show was a lot higher than in a lot of other kids’ media, and it makes me happy that it’s breaking through,” Smith said. “Who knows, maybe this is something that will just last like another ten minutes, but the fact that it makes people aware that there’s some really beautiful work that was done for this show, I think that’s a good thing.”
It’s unclear what will come to the creators because of the music’s newfound success. They still get paid some residuals from the show, but they won’t make money off of the audio that’s gone viral on TikTok. Many of them are hoping that Nickelodeon brings the show to a streaming service, allowing far more people to watch it, and boosting the former team’s earnings as a result. “I am hoping there’s going to be a check in the mail for me — I’m trying to get my bag!” Curley joked.
Of all the songs that could have randomly hit it big, Valdes said he’s thrilled it was “Castaways” because of how it introduced bossa nova to a new audience. “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.”
While most people are returning to the song more out of nostalgia than anything else, that’s something the team finds a lot of joy and meaning in. “I like the idea of rediscovering — I’ll go back to the records I listened to as a teenager, and I still find new things,” said Wieselman. “Sometimes, if you’re listening to something you’re familiar with, and if you open your ears and your mind, you can discover new things.”
And they’re nostalgic about it too — the team looks back fondly on their time making The Backyardigans, remembering what a warm and creative time it was in their lives.
“It’s a great feeling, knowing you’re a part of something that touched a lot of people,” said Tuggles. “To this day, people are still like, ‘You were in The Backyardigans?! I loved that show! I still watch it!’ And I’m like, ‘Man, we’re about to be 30!’”
Nash said she’s loved seeing all the TikToks and has been touched by the messages she’s been receiving from the show’s now-grown-up fans.
“I’m still floored at how many years have gone by and people are making this a big thing, but I also understand, because I smile every time I think of The Backyardigans,” said Nash. “Being a part of everyone’s childhood, that’s been the best part of my career.”