Musings on media, culture, and technology
There are few things on television that make me reach for the mute button faster than the commercials for Kidz Bop. The clips of “kidz” bopping and lip syncing to peppy, PG-rated versions of he latest hit songs give me a sensation of discomfort I can’t quite describe. They’re on the playground. They’re by the pool. They’re at the amusement park… the arcade… the inside of my skull pounding on my eardrums. My God, they’re everywhere!
When I recently saw an advertisement for “Kidz Bop 23″ (that’s one for every year I’ve been alive), I became determined to get to the bottom of how and why Kidz Bop has become such a long-lasting media phenomenon. While I can’t come to a solid conclusion, my resulting hypothesis is something I hadn’t even considered.
The longevity of the series implies that the albums continue to be successful. Somewhere out there, people — and I assume lots of people — are buying Kidz Bop. So I considered that perhaps my negative attitude towards Kidz Bop was actually not widely felt by others. “It’s not you, Kidz Bop. It’s me.” Maybe there are actually many parents out there who are very concerned about sheltering their children from naughty words in popular music. Maybe even enough to drive the series’ success year after year, album after album.
I took to Twitter and did a quick search for “kidz bop” to get a lay of the land. I was relieved but disturbed that the query did not turn up a single positive comment. I mean, not even remotely positive. Not even neutral. What I found reflected my own sentiments in varying degrees of brashness and readability.
Ok, so maybe Twitter wasn’t the ideal place to start the research. But my next stop proved more fruitful: Amazon.com reviews. The previous compilation, “Kidz Bop 22,” has a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 with 70+ reviews. Jackpot. Here I could find out who is still buying and enjoying Kidz Bop and why. Unsurprisingly, many of the positive reviews are from adults who bought the CD for their young children or grandchildren. While the “who” is predictable, the “why” is far more intriguing. First, there are a fair amount of reviewers who say they legitimately buy them for the intentional censorship, or because they legitimately enjoy them:
“Makes me dance in my seat all the way to work. I probably enjoy it more than my son does.”
But the sounding majority of positive reviews come from parents who claim their young kids or grandkids just…well… love Kidz Bop. They enjoy the music. They ask for the CDs. And this comes to varying degrees of dismay to the adults:
“kids like kidz bop. my kid has like 5 of them. keeps them entertained, but sometimes it drives me nuts. “
“personally think it’s a litte cheesy, but the kids adore it and want to have a ‘dance party’ all the time!”
“It was exactly what [my granddaughter] wanted…of course she had ‘hinted around’ about wanting it previously and so I had a good idea that she would love it”
“I think my kids have worn this CD out.”
“My kids were thrilled with the Kidz Bop CDs they found in their stockings on Christmas morning”
Something now seemingly obvious has dawned on me. The target audience for Kidz Bop is kids. And if kids truly like Kidz Bop, then their parents will buy it. Perhaps the success of Kidz Bop isn’t rooted in cultural values or corporate exploitations so much as basic child and media psychology. While I can’t claim to be an expert in these areas of study, I can say that when “kidz” sing these contemporary songs, the lyrics tend to be annunciated more clearly and the the instrumentals seem simplified. While these give the music a quality that is poppy, cheesy, and downright irritating to many, perhaps these are attributes that many young children enjoy. They can sing along with the clear lyrics and dance to the simplified beats, engaging and connecting with the songs more so than with the original sources.
Of course I cannot speak to the musical tastes of all children everywhere, especially across a wide age range. But when I was in the 5-12 age demographic that the compilations target, I’ll admit that my own preferences in music were not that far removed from the pop sounds of Kidz Bop. And by “musical preferences,” I mean Hanson and the Spice Girls.
I can confidently say that my tastes have evolved quite a bit. So too will the tastes of the 5 to 12-year-olds who listen to and enjoy Kidz Bop. Some adults may be able to proclaim that they’ve been hardcore since the crib, rocking out to Queen instead of Raffi. But I suspect many might find in reflecting back that they preferred the sounds of simplicity — Disney soundtracks and pop songs — or perhaps no music at all.
By the way, is it possible for one to “rock out” to Raffi?
About Kendra Mack
Kendra is a twentysomething who writes about media, culture, technology, and various combinations of the three. She is a web strategist by day and otherwise spends her time a collecting ideas, books, and curious artifacts.
Drop her a note at kendra.e.mack[at]gmail.com!