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How Peppa Pig became an LGBTQ icon

A pink anthropomorphic pig with a British accent is pop culture’s latest LGBTQ icon.

Peppa Pig!
Entertainment One
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

The mark of any good pop star is the number of times you’re left wondering if the rumors are true: Is she bisexual? Did she actually come out with a song about gay daddy sex pigs? Is she really 7 feet tall?

These queries are the ones circling pop music’s freshest new face, Peppa Pig, the eponymous star of the educational cartoon that’s aimed at toddlers and preschoolers, produced by the TV and film company Entertainment One.

Peppa is an English-speaking, clothes-wearing, 4-year-old anthropomorphic pig with a British accent. (I’d argue that her features more closely resemble a cartoon hair dryer than a pig, but that’s neither here nor there.) Joined by her family and friends like Suzy Sheep and Rebecca Rabbit, Peppa has been an integral figure in the lives of children for the past 15 years, teaching them important lessons in things like sharing, manners, and the art of whistling.

But it’s Peppa’s debut album — her first stab as a singer — that has everyone abuzz about this generation’s Miss Piggy. Released in mid-July, My First Album has already earned genuine meme status, with a hit single and a curiously curated Spotify radio station as proof to some that Peppa has transcended her role as a teachable TV star to become a burgeoning LGBTQ icon.

On the surface, the idea that a cartoon pig is trending within gay fetish and kink culture is an astonishing and hilarious turn. But that’s where Peppa has landed with a thud, a testament to the audacious humor of the young, queer internet, and just how far it can run away with a joke.

Peppa Pig is the meme queen we deserve

The first episode of Peppa Pig aired in the UK in May 2004 (and 2007 in the US) and has since run for six seasons, with the latest premiering in February 2019. Each season has 52 episodes, not including four separate Peppa specials; Peppa has hundreds of episodes under her belt after nearly two decades. The Peppa brand, according to statistics reported by CNN, makes more than $1 billion in global revenue annually, and the Peppa Pig official YouTube channel, which often posts full episodes of the show, regularly sees millions of views on each of its videos. Some videos have even climbed into the tens of millions of views. In 2018, Peppa Pig Live became one of the most successful family live show tours in North American history.

Peppa’s influence extends far beyond the quantifiable and directly into the larger cultural mass. Peppa has been blamed for a generation of children speaking with a British accent, has caused a conversation about censorship during the year of the pig in China (where Peppa was a megastar), and drives talk about investment in the show’s production company, Entertainment One.

Clearly, Peppa is popular among children and their parents in earnest. But with Peppa Pig now in its 15th year on the air, the show’s first generation of preschool-age viewers from 2004 are now in their late teens and early 20s. As they grew up, Peppa was one of their touchstones. And now that they’re older, memes have taken her place — and naturally, she and other childhood heroes have been taken along for the ride.

Consider Peppa’s compatriot in kid-friendly shows turned adult-skewing memes, Arthur the aardvark. Starting around 2016, snarky younger social media users have been sharing screenshots from episodes of Arthur and flanking them with satirical and adult captions (for example, projecting fantasies about sugar daddies dying and bestowing their entire fortune on a cackling Arthur). There are also more innocuous jokes, such as the viral Arthur fist, a reaction meme to something hilariously frustrating or anger-inducing. It’s taken on new meaning outside its context and its ironic target audience; the Arthur fist is as recognizable a reaction image as any online.

Peppa’s meme equivalent to Arthur’s famous fist involves a 2010 episode, “Whistling,” in which Peppa pettily hangs up on her friend Suzy Sheep. The setup: Peppa is sad because she can’t whistle. To make herself feel better, she calls up Suzy to ask if Suzy can whistle. At first, Suzy says she can’t, delighting Peppa — she’s not the only one! But that’s mostly a matter of Suzy not trying. Peppa explains to Suzy over the phone that all you’re supposed to do to whistle is “put your lips together and blow.” Then Suzy emits a thin chirp, to which Peppa responds by hanging up abruptly:

Eight years later, in March 2018, Twitter rewound to this scene and transformed it. Peppa suddenly became the patron saint of hanging up on unwanted messes and annoyances in life:

Peppa became meme royalty years before that, however. In 2014, she was part of another wildly popular meme, which garnered hundreds of thousands of views. It involved an original clip of the third season’s 46th episode, in which Peppa shows her friends what kind of “grown-up” music she likes:

As Know Your Meme points out, “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” was remixed to sound a little more “grown up,” exchanging the kids’ sing-along for something more explicit, like “Ass and Titties”:

And Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”:

And now over on TikTok, a teen-centric social media platform where users film short clips of themselves to dramatic effect, Peppa has developed a large presence. One of the more popular Peppa memes is a vlogger finding Peppa inside unusual places (like chocolate), then feigning surprise with a Peppa-ish accent. Warning: Watching these videos may make you start involuntarily muttering “Peppa” in a faux-British affectation.

Peppa’s TikTok fandom tracks, as the entire user base is full of people who most likely consumed wild amounts of Peppa content just a handful of years ago. And that group will only continue to grow, as more children grow older and flock to social media platforms that hinge on finding a joke and building it up into its most absurd, catchiest form.

How the kid-friendly Peppa Pig became an LGBTQ icon

But Peppa’s most recent ascension has been to LGBTQ icon, on top of her already worldwide renown. That perhaps surprising turn of events can largely be attributed to something more commercial: the release of a full-fledged music album (My First Album), and specifically a track called “Expert Daddy Pig.” The song is a bait and switch. It documents the everyday activities of Daddy Pig, Peppa’s father, like making pizza or hanging pictures. But in contrast to its title, Daddy Pig isn’t actually adept at any of these things.

LGBTQ communities online have latched onto the album and this song in particular as a satirical anthem of sorts. But it’s not the humorous irony of “Expert Daddy Pig” that has led them to take a keen interest in Peppa and her pop star aspirations. They’re obsessed because of the song’s inadvertent connection to a gay kink.

The combination of the words “expert,” “daddy,” and “pig” can mean one thing in the general parlance, but they unlock a certain randy, graphic image in gay culture: a man of a certain age who is also an authority on kink and eliciting sexual pleasure from his partners. Fuse this together with a British porcine character that’s primarily geared at children and there’s a strong sense of subversive humor born from Peppa Pig’s music career.

While Peppa’s music doesn’t explicitly (or implicitly, for that matter!) reference anything sexual, LGBTQ people and allies are streaming and inherently supporting Peppa. The explanation: Peppa is clearly a gay pop icon who deserves hero worship. Fueling that are shoutouts from pop icons beloved by queer communities, like Charli XCX:

And Lil Nas X:

Peppa’s gay icon status may have been best cemented by the Peppa Pig Spotify Artist Radio station. Spotify’s Artist Radio feature is a playlist populated by an algorithm, and at one point, possibly due to the people wanting to partake in anointing Peppa an LGBTQ Icon, Peppa Pig’s playlist included songs from beloved pop stars like Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX, and Hayley Kiyoko — each of whom has a massive LGBTQ following, and some of whom identify as LGBTQ.

Strangely enough, as of this writing, the Artist Radio for Peppa has changed dramatically, and now features nursery rhymes and the “Chicken Dance” from Dora the Explorer. We’ve sent an email to Spotify asking for clarification on how and why Peppa’s related artists have changed, although we speculate that the algorithm may have shifted as unaware parents found the album.

Nevertheless, this flash of attention isn’t going to define Peppa. Rather, it’s just the latest signifier of her pop cultural dominance, and another meta-layer to the Peppa Pig fandom.

The indomitable, unstoppable, Peppa Pig

As of July 19, 2019, coinciding with her album release, there’s also been a proliferation of Peppa Pig fan accounts popping up. BuzzFeed reported on the phenomenon, noting that some tweets have received likes and retweets that extend into six figures. The accounts have gotten so in depth that there’s coordination between photoshopping Peppa into fictional places and then telling a story about her travels over multiple tweets. One fan account, for example, imagined her as bisexual (adding to her gay pop icon mystique) and visiting Disneyland with her girlfriend:

Another separate account then escalated the joke by keeping Peppa at Disneyland but putting her and her girlfriend in a different part of the amusement park:

The overcommitment to the joke (and its subsequent overachievement) — including flourishes that Peppa is apparently 7 feet tall or that she’s bisexual — is emblematic of what’s known as stan culture, a brand of fandom that sometimes uses irony and extreme satire to express genuine love of a property.

Recognizable examples of stan culture can be found in pop star idolatry online, and how queer men especially, as BuzzFeed reported, have reclaimed and legitimized their idolization, taking charge of a conversation that often deemed these celebrities and their fans unserious.

While “Expert Daddy Pig” sure isn’t actually about gay kink, and Peppa isn’t hanging at Disneyland with her girlfriend (not publicly, anyway), this preschool-age pig has been redeployed as something more subversive by people who didn’t grow up seeing themselves represented on Sesame Street or Barney or The Magic School Bus.

Peppa’s most popular tracks, like “It’s Peppa Pig” and “Bing Bong Zoo,” have now been streamed more than 100,000 times each. And those numbers, should they fall in line with those achieved by the Peppa Pig North American tour, her television show, and her global sales, will continue to rise.

Although she may seem unstoppable now, this singing and talking toddler pig isn’t immune to the pitfalls of internet trends. We’re likely almost at the point where Peppa no longer is an inside joke — the point at which she becomes corporate and the edges of these memes dull. Peppa came dangerously close earlier this month, when Iggy Azalea tried to start a Twitter feud with the character’s official account, possibly hoping to siphon off some of Peppa’s clout and goodwill:

But if there’s anything this 4-year-old force of nature and meme queen has shown us, it’s that she’s made a case to be the exception to the internet’s rule that everything viral is fleeting. Though she might have a bevy of new fans thanks to the internet’s obsession with her kink-friendly album, her 15 years of booming popularity has shown us that she’s more than a flash in the pan. She’s much more than a meme star in the making — she already is one.