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:

 

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