Friday, February 27, 2009

Kidz Bop: Ain't nothing like the real thing

Earlier this week I noticed that my good friend Liz B was ranting on her Twitter about the greatest abomination ever visited on pop culture: Kidz Bop. Because this was not the first time I've talked to librarians about the trials and tribulations of collecting popular music, I promised I would blog about it, so here I am.

Here's a How to Make Your Own Kidz Bop tutorial: Download whatever song is playing on the Top 40 station right now. Replace the choruses with children singing. Now replace most, if not all, of the solo lines with a child singing. Child singing on key is optional. Now, take out any lyrics that might be deemed offensive. What "offensive" means is up to you. Replace them with either silly, "kid-friendly" words or delete them entirely, depending on how you can get it to fit into the music. Put the song back together! Voila!

Let's get the positive out of the way first: If there's one good thing about Kidz Bop, it's that they're beneficial to children's music development. Just as it's important for babies to see pictures of other babies in board books, it's important for children to hear the sound of other children singing. From the perspective of a former music educator, I can see some of the reasoning behind the series. From the perspective of a librarian and someone who enjoys popular music, I think they're a waste of money.

First, the lyrics. Generally, the songs picked for Kidz Bop aren't that dirty to begin with. It's not like they're re-recording Eminem. About the most-inappropriate-for-six-year-olds song they re-record is along the lines of Maroon 5's "Makes me Wonder" or Pussycat Dolls' "When I Grow Up." The songs are, however, often high-concept. The latest volume of Kidz Bop, for example, includes their version of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida". By changing or omitting the lyrics, you don't change its "appropriateness," you change the meaning of the song. You change everything the artist wanted to say through his or her lyrics.

Second, the musicality. Kids voices, yes, I get it. But you know, there's plenty of good children's music out there, sung by both adults and children. Maybe it's not on Top 40 stations, but what percentage of music is? Also, most children sing off-key. That's just the way it is. So why glorify it? Speaking as one who has good pitch, the off-key singing drives me insane. A song is also more than just its lyrics. While Kidz Bop keeps the same basic melodies, it sometimes changes the orchestration, blend, and balance. All of these things are important to building a song and dismissing them means dismissing a big part of the reason why the song exists in the first place.

I know the arguments for having Kidz Bop. "Kids want to listen to the popular music that their big brothers and sisters listen to!" "They want popular music!" "They want to be cool!" I understand all of this, I really do. Music is important to all of us, even if we lack the ability to produce it ourselves. But Kidz Bop, for me, isn't much different than what might happened if we decided fourth-graders needed to read John Green. We'd have to make the book shorter, perkier, take out the dirty words, etc., and it would all be completely pointless because in doing so, we'd change the meaning of Green's work and basically say that the work he put into creating the novel is worthless. Teens deserve to have their own books, good books, and teens and adults deserve to have their own music. No matter how much some people (not myself) may wish it so, not everything is for children, or can be for children. Public libraries buying the sanitized versions of albums is not "serving the public," or making the library "safe for children," it's ignoring artistic intent and it's lazy music selection. The books have rude words, so why can't the music? My colleagues, please, save money on Kidz Bop and spend it on Shari Lewis or Sharon, Lois & Bram.

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