It’s early on Friday morning. You roll over, rub the sleep out of your eyes, and open your phone to see R&B star Ne-Yo and Venezuelan singer Carmen DeLeon dancing through a cotton-candy-colored world with a mysterious new DJ who appears to be part llama. But no, you’re not still dreaming.
Universal Music Group (UMG)’s Astralwerks Records announced the signing of family-friendly DJ/Producer L.L.A.M.A, which stands for “Love, Laughter, and Music, Always,” late on Thursday night, introducing the new artist as “the first LEGO minifigure to sign a deal with a record label,” according to a press release. Debut single “Shake” features Ne-Yo and DeLeon, but was co-written by Ryan Tedder and David Stewart, the song’s producer. Stewart is known by many for producing and co-writing the smash hit “Dynamite” for BTS — aka the biggest K-pop group in the world. And while it’s no secret that Tedder’s hitmaking capabilities extend far past his own band, his recent credits have been linked to fully human and already-established superstars like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.
Who is L.L.A.M.A, though? Astralwerks’ origin story goes something like this: L.L.A.M.A was born in the Andean region of South America, before moving to Los Angeles “to pursue his dream of making music that makes people happy.” In what is likely a fictional story, L.L.A.M.A then met Tedder at party. “He was the only one who could keep up with me on the dance floor,” L.L.A.M.A said in the press release. “A few days later, he turned up at my place and we just clicked. By sunset, ‘Shake’ was born, and it was beautiful. It’s fun. It’s energetic. It makes you want to move.”
At least that’s what parents can tell tell their kids. Adults will wonder about the identity of the performer wearing the llama-head helmet, but Astralwerks confirmed to Rolling Stone that such information is top secret.
“Shake” is available across all major streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon, but it can also be found on VIDIYO — “a playful and innovative music video maker experience designed for children, aimed at celebrating and expanding their creativity and shared passion for music,” according to a press release. Users can think of the platform, designed in a partnership between LEGO and UMG, like a TikTok for kids that offers a safer and more-controlled digital environment.
What’s clear about LEGO’s relationship with UMG is that family music has become more important than ever during a global pandemic, which has closed schools and canceled social activities, leaving kids stuck at home with many parents acting as their teachers and entertainment. “We want to feed the imagination of the next generation of creatives, providing a new canvas for kids to creatively express themselves,” Julia Goldin, the LEGO Group’s Chief Marketing Officer, said in a separate press release. “Research shows over three quarters (79%) of parents globally wish their children had more creative confidence, so we’re launching LEGO VIDYO to help make that happen. We know children are always chasing new ways to experiment creatively, and LEGO VIDIYO is here to help all kids with a passion for music unleash their creativity through LEGO building and music video production.”
Also according to LEGO: “89% of parents say music helps build creative skills, while 83% say it helps build confidence. 94% of parents believe playing with LEGO bricks helps develop creativity, 91% say it improves problem-solving, and 89% say it builds confidence. 74% of children aged 5-12 say music helps them connect with friends with over half of children aged 6-10 confirming they listen to music every day. 76% of both parents & children aged 5-12 believe music helps them express who they are. 81% of parents say music brings families together and helps them bond with their kids.”
(The data is based on two surveys. LEGO’s Play Well Study was conducted across 18 markets between May and June 2020 and based on information provided by 18,117 parents with children aged 1.5-12 years old, and 12,591 children aged 5-12. UMG’s 2019 music consumption study focused on 6-10 and 11-13 years olds in the U.K., DE, USA, surveying 1500 children and 1200 parents.)
The L.L.A.M.A project’s openness to collaborators from different backgrounds and genres signifies great potential. As L.L.A.M.A said in Thursday’s press release: “Labels are for clothes… No musical style is off-limits for me.” Historically, the family music sector has not been without its flaws. For a story Rolling Stone reported in January, multiple artists who perform music geared at children shared grievances about the genre lacking diversity and feeling white-washed. Many pointed out that a child’s understanding of inclusivity and respect for other ways of living starts early on and in the home; before children are reading books or watching TV, they’re hearing and reacting to music, and its power as a developmental tool is undeniable.
Given the state of the world in a pandemic, L.L.A.M.A only exists virtually for the time being — but an Astralwerks representative tells Rolling Stone that “there are plans for L.L.A.M.A to perform live in some capacity as soon as it’s safe to do so.”