“I absolutely don’t want to put this song in the same bucket as the Beatles, but I do think that we still wanted to put a stamp of good workmanship on this song.”
There are many topics that my 5-year-old and I don’t see eye to eye on: how many popsicles per day is reasonable or the virtues of sleeping past 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday. But there is one area where we are in philosophical lockstep: “Poop” is a funny word. So when my son commanded our Amazon Echo Dot, “Alexa…play poopy diaper,” I shot him a faux-stern look that indicated this isn’t appropriate, but I’ll allow it. And when Alexa replied, “OK, playing ‘Poopy Diaper’ from Spotify,” I was intrigued. When the voice robot creation of one of the richest men on the planet started playing a thumping techno banger with a soaring chorus of a woman vocalist signing, “I’ve got a poopy diaper, a poopy diaper, that’s me,” I descended into hyperventilating eye-watering laughter.
As it turns out, there are quite a few songs that will fill Alexa requests for the whole gamut of things a kindergartener might dream up: poop, diapers, dog poop, stinky butt, farts.
"Poopy Stupid Butt" by Dandyland
It’s not surprising that there are songs about the most basic of human functions — what is the point of art if not to unite us through shared feeling? But connecting these songs with their ideal audience (children who can’t yet spell) took a technological leap: voice-enabled smart speakers like Alexa. Several of the songs’ creators told BuzzFeed News that their biggest source of revenue by a landslide is Amazon Music — the default music player for Alexa. When it comes to these novelty artists, the evidence is clear: The word “poop” translates to streaming gold.
To his shock, his account had several hundred dollars in it — all from plays of “Poopy Stupid Butt.”
Joey Helpish is well aware that kids using Alexa may be the main source of plays for his ukelele-tinged hit “Poopy Stupid Butt.” “We may have heard this 10,000 times before,” he told BuzzFeed News. Helpish and his partner, Kristen Muir, run a music school in Oregon that specializes in working with autistic kids and helps them through the creative process of coming up with song ideas.
“We did a big songwriting session with these three kids,” Helpish said. “I said, ‘Give me five syllables to start,’ and the little 4-year-old girl screamed, ‘Poopy stupid butt!’ And the next 10 minutes were me writing down everything the kids were yelling at me that poopy stupid butt was doing.” He added the song to Amazon Music, along with a bunch of other songs cowritten by kids from the school.
In 2019, Muir needed to pay some medical bills, and the couple was strapped. Helpish did the digital version of checking the couch cushions: He looked at his statement on Amazon Music — something he rarely did since it was only ever a few dollars. To his shock, his account had several hundred dollars in it — all from plays of “Poopy Stupid Butt.”
“I went on all social media and saw it over and over: ‘My kid said this to Alexa,’” Helpish said.
"Poopy Diaper" by Mike Bielenberg
For a while, the couple was making around $100 a month from the song — and then COVID hit. Kids were stuck at home with little to do, and frazzled parents became more willing than usual to let their kids be entertained by an electronic device. The streams on Amazon for “Poopy Stupid Butt” skyrocketed: It’s now been streamed about 10 million times on Amazon Music and has generated about $10,000 in total income for Helpish and Muir.
Amazon did not respond to requests for comment about whether it knows how often children yell “poop” at Alexa. A representative for Spotify said they were unable to determine the play method. Lacking definitive proof that Amazon knows that these songs are primarily played by kids talking to Alexa, I believe there’s sufficient circumstantial evidence. The fact that Amazon Music — which has a much smaller share of the US streaming market than Spotify — is the main driver of revenue for artists like Helpish suggests that Alexa plays are probably behind it. And lived experience tells me that kids love asking Alexa to play poop.
Play counts are visible on Spotify, but not Amazon Music — but the Spotify play counts are useful for some generalizations of what poop songs are “hits” (it’s possible to connect your Spotify account so that it’s the default music service for Alexa, but my strong guess is that many Alexa device owners don’t bother changing their settings, especially if it’s not primarily used for music). One thing revealed in Spotify is that it’s not just English-speaking children asking for “poop” — the French song “La chanson du caca” has over 1 million streams, suggesting children in France yell “caca” at Alexa. Très drôle.
Matt Farley is an extremely prolific songwriter who has mastered the art of the SEO song. He has recorded more than 23,000 songs that are often very short and include phrases and names that someone might search for — lots of celebrity names, common first names. And incredibly, this is a sound business model — Farley is able to generate a modest income from his catalog. (Disclosure: He wrote a 2014 song “Katie Notopoulos Is a Talented Writer, Oh Yeah,” but as a talented writer, I won’t let this compliment cloud my reporting.)
In his vast collection of songs covering a wide variety of topics, his top hits are all scatological in nature. His biggest hit is “Poop Poop Poop Poop Song.”
The songs are surprisingly good; he makes music in a broad range of styles. Farley is in on the joke; he knows this is funny. You could see his SEO-gaming songs as a cynical cash grab, or look at his oeuvre as a decadelong performance art piece that comments on the nature of technology’s warping effect on art under capitalism.
Recording under the artist names the Toilet Bowl Cleaners and the Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke, and Pee, Farley has a wide array of songs devoted to this particular human experience. A 2021 profile of Farley on Debugger notes that when he noticed a trend of the poop songs being popular, he assumed it was because kids were getting into their parents’ Spotify accounts and typing in naughty words.
However, when I spoke with Farley over the phone from his home in Massachusetts, I floated the idea to him that it was in fact preschool-age kids yelling “poop” into Alexa-enabled devices. The theory made sense to him — in fact, it lined up with the data he had seen.
"I Poop With My Dog" by the Toilet Bowl Cleaners
“I make more money off of Amazon Music than any other streaming service,” he said. This wasn’t always the case — Spotify and iTunes or Apple Music used to be more popular for him (and typically are for most popular artists). Around 2017, Farley noticed that the Amazon revenue was starting to rapidly grow, especially around his poop songs. That timing tracks: The cheaper Echo Dot was released in 2016 and came down in price significantly in 2017.
“Amazon is at least 30% of my income, and the others go down from there,” Farley said. “It’s gotta be from Alexa. Amazon Music isn’t something big music fans use.”
Farley didn’t write hits like “I Poop With My Dog” or “I Need a Lot of Toilet Paper to Clean the Poop in My Butt” with the intention of getting 4-year-olds to yell obscenities into a voice-activated speaker. “I lucked out because smart devices weren’t even a thing when I wrote ‘Poop in My Fingernails’ , but it turns out I was biding my time, unaware,” he joked.
"Poop Poop Poop Poop Song" is Farley’s by far most popular song; he estimates it’s been streamed 8 million times on Amazon Music. When comparing platforms, the interest in poop is stark: “On Amazon Music, 80% of my earnings come from poop songs,” Farley said. “Meanwhile, on Spotify, poop songs make up around 50% of my earnings.”
“Poopy Diaper,” the techno banger with the woman vocalist, was no accident. Mike Bielenberg set out to write a song with commercial success, inspired by hearing that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” was a financial windfall for its writer. His dream was to write a song with timeless appeal that was an earworm for potty-training parents. Bielenberg works on the less glamorous side of the music industry; he runs MusicRevolution, a royalty-free music licensing company.
He recorded the song with his teenage son, a woman singer friend, and a rapper and released it in 2013. So far, it’s been streamed around 260,000 times on Amazon music, but only 60,000 on Spotify. Bielenberg told BuzzFeed News that he’s made just under $3,000 from the song (he pays regular royalty checks to the musicians who performed on the song).
Bielenberg knows the song is silly, but he’s pleased that it’s had longevity. “I absolutely don’t want to put this song in the same bucket as the Beatles, but I do think that we still wanted to put a stamp of good workmanship on this song.”
As a parent, I try to be careful with my tacit approval of laughing at the word “poop.” I’ve explained that it’s OK to laugh at potty words at home or with your friends, but not at school. However, it seems that even at a young age, kids realize the things their parents like aren’t cool or transgressive. After I kept singing the chorus of Farley’s earworm, “I Poop With My Dog,” my child grew sick of it. When he overheard me playing it while writing this, he rolled his eyes and said, "Are you listening to the poop song again?" ●