Kidz Bop, as you might know, is a brand that releases kid-friendly covers of Top 40 radio songs. The company has been going strong since 2000, and judging by the July release of Kidz Bop 24 and the ubiquitous TV commercials, it will be around for years to come. Every kid needs an album to turn-up to. Some parents let their kids do such to Waka Flocka; others, to Kidz Bop.
I decided recently to listen to nothing but Kidz Bop for four days straight, trying to get through as many as the albums as possible, in chronological order. My reasons for doing this wasn’t because I hoped for some perspective-changing epiphany on the Kidz Bop franchise. Honestly, I just wanted to make fun of and discredit the brand as much as I possibly could, and listen to its music while doing typical, everyday things during my summer in New York. But through exploring Kidz Bop’s many albums, website and the miscellaneous online articles related to the brand, I discovered much more than I anticipated.
I still have a 99-percent hate, one-percent love for Kidz Bop, but I can honestly say that founders Cliff Chenfeld and Craig Balsam have created a community for teenagers that are lost, confused and have yet to discover the vast world of music that is essentially at their fingertips.
So here it is: a log of my weird-as-fuck four days of Kidz Bop.
9:00 a.m.: As I ride on the subway to work, I begin listening to the Kidz Bop 1 album released in 2001. Smash Mouth’s “All Star” begins to play; I am already regretting this.
10:15: WHO THE FUCK IS SINGING TOM DELONGE’S PART ON THIS COVER OF BLINK 182’S “ALL THE SMALL THINGS”?
11:00: An ad for the Vans Warped Tour comes on featuring music by Black Veil Brides. At this moment I have two epiphanies: Never take Spotify ads for granted, especially if you’ve forced yourself to listen to mediocre music, and Kidz Bop is better than Black Veil Brides.
3:20 p.m.: A cover of Ja Rule and J.Lo’s “I’m Real” comes on. Nothing makes sense; whoever is doing Ja Rule’s part is so bad that he’s good.
3:30: I repeat the first two seconds of “I’m Real,” like, 15 times. I become so obsessed with it that I offer a friend Whataburger when I return to Texas, only if he creates a 10 minute loop of the song’s first two seconds. He does it, and now I cannot do a damn thing.
9:30 p.m.: My grandmother calls as I begin listening to the third Kidz Bop album. “What’re you doing?” “Listening to Kidz Bop.” “How old are you?” No response.
Kidz Bop is a part of the label Razor & Tie, which is also founded by Chenfeld and Balsam. What’s most surprising about this is that artists Devin the Dude and Vanessa Carlton, and bands P.O.D., Hatebreed and Foreigner, are also a part of Razor & Tie. I’m pretty sure being a part of the same label as Kidz Bop undermines a band’s or artist’s credibility.
I’m not surprised to find out that five of the 24 Kidz Bop albums have peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, including Kidz Bop 23, which dropped in January of this year. What does surprise me is that Kidz Bop music is still as popular as when it first debuted in the early 2000s. In an internet-dependent culture this doesn’t make sense to me. Where it might have been harder for kids to access pop hits 13 years ago, nowadays it’s literally a click away.
Surely, a kid’s curiosities get the best of them and, as they’re viewing their personal Kidz Bop web page (more about this later), they’re probably looking up the original version of a song covered on a Kidz Bop album. Back then I could understand kids asking their parents for a Kidz Bop record. What’s often overlooked about Kidz Bop as a whole is that it builds a sense of community for some kids. They see the commercials where kids are hanging out in parks and beaches, singing popular songs with wide, almost maniacal smiles. And they want that too, because they’re young and shit like that is alluring.
Plus, no one is trying to illegally download a Kidz Bop album. Parents are going to spend the $10-plus price tag for these releases. It’s easy to laugh at Kidz Bop but the surprising truth is that they’re winning.
10:00 p.m.: A cover of Sean Paul’s “I’m Still In Love With You” comes on, and I am truly grateful for its existence. I finally understand what the fuck Sean is saying in the song’s intro.
10:32: Music aside, I have two complaints: One, if Kidz Bop’s motto is “songs sung by kids for kids,” why are these kids subjected to primarily ad-libbed chorus lines? One of the purposes of Kidz Bop is to empower kids. How can they feel empowered when some adult who can’t even hold a note is responsible for the main parts of a song? Two, although most of these songs have been erased of their more blatant and explicit content, why do some sexually suggestive lyrics remain? For example, Ciara’s “1, 2, Step” on Kidz Bop 8. The cover omits the line, “So retarded, top charted,” but keeps the lines, “Strut my stuff / And yes I flaunt it / Goodies make the boys jump on it.” Moments like this occur throughout most of the early Kidz Bop albums, which leads me to ask the following question: How can you claim to be a more suitable alternative to pop music when you fail to completely eradicate every song of its adult-related themes? And why wasn’t there any uproar from parents in regards to this? I’m not even a parent and I’m pissed that Kidz Bop allowed this to happen on multiple occasions.
Side note: I find it funny that in a 2011 story by the LA Times, Kidz Bop A&R Michael Anderson claimed that he passed over Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” because, “catching a grenade and taking a bullet to the brain is not imagery kids should really be singing about.” Yet, the Kidz Bop cover of “Livin’ La Vida Loca” retains the lines, “She’ll make you live her crazy life but she’ll take away your pain / Like a bullet to your brain.” GTFOH, Anderson.
2:00 a.m.: I decide to take a shower and leave my laptop near the bathroom door. A techno song begins to play and catches me off guard. Once I’m dry, I check the name of the song: “Axel F (The Frog Song).” It’s too late for this shit.
2:00 p.m.: I discover a Kidz Bop album made up of mostly Spanish songs, and cannot help but click on it. This is for sure the best Kidz Bop album I’ve heard so far. I have no idea what they’re saying, but at least these vocalists actually sound like they know how to sing. A song called “Sera Que No Me Amas” comes on, and it’s fire.
2:10: I listen to “Sera Que No Me Amas” again, and realize that I like it because it sounds like the theme music for a stage on Sonic the Hedgehog.
3:00: I’m supposed to be interviewing someone around 4:30. I contemplate asking him if he would ever do a collaboration with Kidz Bop.
4:45: The interview doesn’t happen. It’s as if Kidz Bop senses my sadness: A cover of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine” comes on. I start humming the melody and all of my troubles are gone.
7:30 p.m.: Somewhere between Kidz Bop 14 and Kidz Bop 16, the creators finally lived up to their motto by allowing kids to sing every part of a song, and by editing just about every lyric that could be interpreted as suggestive or questionable. But part of me wonders if a heavily edited pop song even benefits these kids. Once again, it comes back to a shift from pre-internet and post-internet tweens. It’s so easy for a kid to look up one of these songs and realize that they’re covers of original music (if they didn’t know that already).
8:00: I order a cheeseburger while a cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless” plays. I honestly think I like this version more. This kid’s Auto-Tune game is so on point.
8:30: As I’m eating, my grandma calls me. “Are you still listening to Kidz Bop?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Are you ok?” “Yes, why?” “It’s not common for a 21 year-old to be listening to Kidz Bop.” “It’s for a story.” “Okay. What album are you on?” “16.” “Wow.” Silence.
3:35 a.m.: I finally decide to view the Kidz Bop website. Apparently it received a makeover in 2008 (I couldn’t find the definite year the website was created), becoming a moderated, Facebook/Youtube-esque social networking site with over one million members. There’s a lot to do: Kids can upload videos and photos, play games, interact with each other as well as semi-famous tween stars (including kids from the pop ensemble, Kidz Bop Kids) and participate in contests, including something called Kidz Star USA. The competition essentially gives one kid a recording contract with RCA Records, as well as an appearance in a Kidz Bop commercial.
3:45: As I stroll through some of the entries for this competition I notice that some of the songs covered are the original versions, and not the Kidz Bop ones. There’s one kid doing the radio-edited version of Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” and another kid is doing Bruno Mars’ “Grenade.” (Anderson, have you seen this?) However, there is a decent amount of entries that use the Kidz Bop versions of certain pop songs. I don’t know how to interpret this. Maybe there are kids that genuinely enjoy the music of Kidz Bop as well as the sense of belonging that the brand brings, and maybe there are kids that don’t enjoy the former, but enjoy the latter (as well as the opportunity for tween fame that it offers). The gated, fairytale land of innocence that is the Kidz Bop website, epitomizes Chenfeld and Balsam’s goal of bringing kids together, as they motivate each other on their videos and spread based levels of positivity. Maybe I’m giving Chenfeld and Balsam the benefit of the doubt, but it is almost four in the fucking morning, after all.
1:05 p.m.: I wake up to a text from my roommate telling me he’ll be back in a couple of hours. I decide to go workout real quick, and put on Kidz Bop 22.
2:00: I’ve been lifting weights and jogging to a Kidz Bop cover of Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe.” I know what you’re thinking and yes—it was exhilarating.
4:22: I return to the apartment and my roommate is playing Bioshock Infinite. Him to me: “Did you go workout?” “Yeah, while listening to Kidz Bop.” “The fuck? Really?” “Yup. You want to listen to some with me?” “Sure…” I put on a cover of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships.” My roommate: “Do you usually listen to Kidz Bop?” “No. This is just for a story I’m writing.” “Have you been listening to nothing but Kidz Bop?” “Yes.” “Shit. How are you not dead?” “No idea.” “Wait, is that ‘American Boy’ by Estelle?” “Yeah.” “Could you put it on?” “For sure.” “Did she just say ‘I’ll show you to my best friends,’ instead of ‘I’ll show you to my bedroom?’” “Yes.” “Man, fuck Kidz Bop.”
8:30 p.m.: I end with a cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” and exhale heavily. Kidz Bop 24 is easily the worst one so far because of its edits. The budget for enjoyable production and vocally competent children has obviously increased since Kidz Bop 1, but what good is that if the lyrical content no longer makes sense? I guess Kidz Bop will never get it right. I close my laptop, somewhat saddened by the thought that I’ll probably never voluntarily listen to a Kidz Bop song again.
8:45: Ha, who am I kidding? This “I’m Real” cover is a banger.
Watch the latest official music video from the Kidz Bop Kids below, featuring a cover of Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” Or don’t.