- The Marshes have been singing all their lives, but COVID-19 urged them to share it YouTube.
- Their political parody song about UK politics went viral, but also drew criticism.
- They told Insider dealing with negativity isn’t always easy, but they try to protect their kids from it.
Ben and Danielle Marsh first met at college, when they both participated in musical theatre performances. Now, two decades later, they’re married with four children — and they’ve harnessed their musical abilities to turn their family into a viral sensation.
The Marshes, based in Kent, England, posted their first YouTube video in April 2020, around four weeks after the UK went into its first Covid-19 lockdown. The four-minute parody of Les Miserables’ “One Day More” saw Ben, Danielle, and their children (Alfie, 16, Thomas, 14, Ella, 13, and Tess, 10) singing about grocery shopping online and Skyping family members — all key cultural talking points of the moment.
The video blew up, and has to date been viewed over 700,000 times.
“We didn’t really kind of anticipate it at all, it was quite scary. It felt like suddenly the world was watching,” Danielle told Insider. But buoyed by the response, they continued to post family-singing videos that typically mimic well-known songs, replacing the lyrics to convey a cultural or political message.
To date, the family has posted 58 videos on their YouTube channel, which have attracted over 18 million views combined and 126,000 subscribers.
But their online presence is not without its challenges — they face backlash from people who don’t support their political views, and deal with the challenges of raising kids while also creating content with them.
Their political messages are not always well received
Almost all of the Marshes’ YouTube songs are based on what they’ve “talked about around the kitchen table.” These ideas are then translated into song by Ben, who said he “goes away for a while and puts pen to paper” to come up with the lyrics they want.
On October 19, the family drew widespread attention on another platform — Twitter — when they posted a video of themselves performing a song themed around the resignation of UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman. The clip was set to the tune of “The Wellerman,” a song often described as a sea shanty (although the characterization is disputed) that blew up on TikTok in early 2021. Its scathing take on a chaotic week in British politics resonated, and it’s received 1.8 million views.
—MarshFamilySongs (@MarshSongs) October 19, 2022
The reaction to the song was mostly positive, according to the Marshes, but there were also many comments expressing anger at the content of the song. Ben said, “We got some trolling on Twitter for the Braverman one, people who liked her were annoyed by us commenting on it or ‘mocking’ the situation I guess but we know that it made a lot of people smile.”
Danielle added, “There are people who are going to be offended if you sing about Suella Braverman or the Conservative Party, and are we happy with that? No. But, we feel like it’s worth doing.”
It’s not the first time their content has drawn a mixed response.
In January 2021, they posted a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” where they changed the lyrics to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, leading to anger from some viewers who said the family was “forcing them to do something they didn’t want.” But they also received comments, particularly from people “in the medical profession” who said the song “made a huge difference.”
A parody of Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back,” in which the family satirically criticized the UK’s plans to send refugees to Rwanda also led to vitriol from people who felt that the family shouldn’t be commenting on politics at all.
“We weighed it up a few times, asking whether it was worth it for the family to get this kind of negativity but we didn’t want to stop completely and we have developed ways of dealing with it,” Danielle said.
In order to deal with the negativity they can receive, Ben manages their YouTube and Twitter accounts and carefully moderates all comments, while Danielle makes liberal use of the “block” button on the family’s Instagram account.
“We have this chance here to say something powerful or to reach other people. We don’t owe anything to the rest of the world so we can kind of do what we want and be who we are,” Ben said.
Turning your kids into online celebrities has its challenges
After their first video blew up, the family “had to have some serious discussions about whether we wanted to continue” because of how it would affect their family and, especially, their kids.
Broadcasting children online is a contentious issue, with family vlogging channels facing increased backlash in recent years, Insider previously reported. The Daily Dot reported that consumers are becoming warier of “child exploitation” in online spaces and whether children can consent to share their lives online.
In May 2022, the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee released a report expressing concern that child content creators are “being used by parents and family members as a source of revenue, affecting their privacy and creating security risks.”
Ben and Danielle say that they will always take the lead from their kids. If there is anything they don’t want to do or if they decide that they don’t want to be part of the online channel any longer, they won’t be forced into it.
They said the family operates as a democracy — they discuss what songs they sing, whether it’ll likely lead to backlash, and how they will deal with it if it does, and they check in with each other regularly about whether they want to keep posting songs on YouTube.
Ella, who is 13, told Insider, “We really enjoy singing and acting and being on camera. There are some situations where it’s nerve-wracking or there are certain things that you don’t want to be a part of, so it’s nice to have the safety blanket of mum and dad helping us with it.”
Despite featuring them in videos, the Marshes also have resisted creating social media profiles for their children.
“Ultimately it is our responsibility as the parents to screen the accounts and protect our kids,” Ben said. “We share some of the hilarious conspiracy theory stuff with the kids but that’s the line for us.”
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.