Review: Kidz Bop Kids, Singing Sanitized Pop With Relentless Cheer

Last month, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” ran a sketch about an imagined compilation called “Kidz Bop Hip-Hop,” a set of sanitized and cheerily naïve remakes of hip-hop songs. Ice Cube’s elegiac “It Was a Good Day” became “Snow Day,” and Ty Dolla Sign’s “Paranoid,” about dodging a vindictive lover, became “Dirty Boy,” about hating baths: “I see all these bubbles in the tub/got to hide from my mother.”

The skit was funny not for its implausibility, but for how closely it approached the truth. Since 2001, the Kidz Bop series of albums has sweetened and softened pop hits — and some hip-hop, though not the raunchiest stuff — by having child singers cover them, stripping out any offensive language along the way.

The results lie somewhere between funhouse-mirror pop, winking parody and the gleam of freshly brushed teeth. “Kidz Bop 32,” the latest installment, was released last week with versions of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” and Rihanna and Drake’s “Work,” which sounds like a Conceptual art piece about loneliness and confusion.

Accidental avant-gardeness aside, Kidz Bop is, in essence, children’s karaoke, and the Kidz Bop Kids — the four young singers who perform on record, and also live — are somewhere between musical talent and camp counselors, tasked with corralling the focus and energy of crowds of thousands, as they did on Sunday afternoon at the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk, in Brooklyn.

The Kidz Bop Kids — Ashlynn Chong, Sela, Grant Knoche and Matt Martinez, all between 12 and 15 — were relentlessly cheerful and vocally enthused even when their bodies suggested lack of interest, or their eyes communicated boredom. Given how young much of the audience was, somewhere between 3 and 7, zeal was a suitable stand-in for precision.

The choreography was loose, and everyone committed to it with different levels of fervor. (Generally, the girls took it more seriously than the boys.) Each of the singers is talented (here again, the girls stood out, especially Ms. Hack), though because of the combination of live and prerecorded vocals, there were few opportunities to truly show off.

That underscores a conundrum particular to Kidz Bop: The brand is far bigger than the performers. Maybe that’s why it hasn’t been a reliable farm team of future young adult talent, like Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel, which grooms stars like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez from improbably young ages. The Kidz Bop Kids are, by comparison, place holders, mirrors for the children in the audience, above all.

It must be exhausting. After the intermission, a handler went onstage to rile up the crowd. “We’re gonna get the Kidz Bop Kids pumped up for the second half of the show,” he barked, as if the four were backstage, deep in their sadness.

Naturally, in places, this concert underscored the tension between the adult meaning of the original songs and their sanitized versions, as in Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” where the lyric “I’m missing more than just your body” became “I’m missing you, and now I’m sorry.”

But the most illuminating moments at this show came when the Kidz Bop Kids’ versions of songs told a new musical story. At least one cover — “One Call Away,” by the dim Charlie Puth — was an improvement, and their version of DNCE’s “Cake by The Ocean” stripped away the attempted cool of the original, revealing the sturdy pop gem hiding underneath.

It all served as a reminder of how little space there often is between what’s thought of as children’s music and what’s considered regular old pop music. (Can a Kidz Bop cover of Lil Yachty be far off?) And, by extension, how little space there is between children and their parents.

The Kidz Bop Kids were endlessly tolerant and patient with both generations, especially near the end of the show, when a few dads were invited onstage to embarrass themselves by dancing to “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).” The Kidz Bop Kids offered them instruction, encouraged them, high-fived them — they treated them just like children, and no one felt left out.

 

Here is the original article from the New York Times:

 

Hot Kidz in the City: A Chat with a Kidz Bop Kid

At 15-years-old and with over 16 million albums sold, it’s about time for Kidz Bop to be taken seriously, sorta.

We’re all well aware of the kiddy capitalist entity known as Kidz Bop: a money makin’ machine that strips dirty words and suggestive themes from Top 40 pop songs and has the refurbished tune sung by cherubic tweens and distributed worldwide. But why has Kidz Bop been faced with so much controversy and ridicule for the past decade?

Word on the street is the haterz say there’s no point to cleansing the original song of potty language and crudeness, but fanz of the series think it’s an inoffensive, fun time. Regardless, both sides agree that the formula is foolproof. As long as there’s pop music and children, Kidz Bop instantly has a market.

So, to bop or not to bop?

Kidz Bop, in a way, is refreshing in that the choir of eager popstar hopefuls are excited at the chance of reaching towards the stars. Without KB, the kidz wouldn’t have the chance to have their voices heard on the album and their faces seen in music videos and live concert productions. Kidz Bop alumni include the now mega-famous Zendaya, Teen Beach hunk Ross Lynch and Latina sweetheart Becky G. Like the Mouseketeers in the The Mickey Mouse Club before them, Kidz Bop is a platform for aspiring musicians whose talent is bursting from the seams of their Justice and Gap Kids brand threads.

Not just satisfied with Top 40 hits, the brand’s branched out into holiday and decade-themed compilations, including the 100% Kosher Kidz Bop Hanukkah and the Bret Michaels endorsed Kidz Bop Monster Ballads. The Rock of Love heartthrob even played guitar, accompanying his daughters Raine and Jorja, on the Kidz Bop-ified “Every Rose has its Thorn” – a song that’s as squeaky clean as Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.”

sela

Sela Hack

We spoke to San Antonio native and current Kidz Bopper Sela Hack, 15, over the phone to talk about living in LA, missing her family and how Kidz Bop changed her life.

“I was an understudy last year and I opened up a few of the shows for them,” Sela said, when asked about how she got in with Kidz Bop. “There was an opening spot for auditions and now I’m a Kidz Bop Kid!” she exclaimed with an abundance of enthusiasm in her voice. Talent was in her blood from birth. “I started singing and dancing when I was little,” stated Hack, “and I’ve always enjoyed it.”

“I’m just living in LA for rehearsals right now,” she remarked on how long she’s lived in the American show biz capital, “I’ve been here for a few weeks now just to run through the show before we go on tour.” She continues, “I miss my friends, cool restaurants, Fiesta Texas, going shopping at La Cantera, so yeah.”

What I was interested in learning from Hack was if she is familiar with the “unclean,” uncensored versions of the Kidz Bop tunes, as many of them are decidedly R-rated.

“I only listen to the original songs so I learn them, and then the Kidz Bop version to record, so I do both.”

On life after Kidz Bop Hack commented that she’s interested in “Maybe writing and recording my own songs and doing shows as a solo artist … There’s so much training involved, but it all comes together at the end so it’s worth it.”

Catch the 2016 “Life of the Party” Tour at the Tobin Center on Sunday, April 24 and pick up Kidz Bop Greatest Hits on April 1.