Kidz Bop is In Da House!

23 Jul 2009

“Ah, the Children of the Night!
What sweet music they make…”


I always knew that a vampire can’t just walk into my house. It can hover around doors, or beat its wings on the outside of windows, but without an invitation it’s pretty much stuck. What I didn’t realize, of course, is that highly skilled predators know a few tricks, and throughtout history vampires have been able to get on the guest list in any number of imaginative ways. A few tugs on the heartstrings, a direct appeal to one of the more vulnerable members of the family, and – oops – there goes the sanctuary!

And so it happened that, last week, Kidz Bop showed up at my door in the form of a neighborhood kid singing the KB version of “So What,” Pink’s ode to marriage. I tried to tackle him on the threshold, but it was too late: my 7-year-old let him in. For the rest of the afternoon, they walked around the house belting out, “So what! I’m still a rock star! I got my rock moves! And I don’t neeeed you!” And knowing that I actually have Pink’s version of the song on iTunes, they asked me to play it. Yet somehow I didn’t feel they were ready to listen to a lusty, jilted celebrity wife sing about punching people out.

Cliff Chenfeld and Craig Balsam, though, think that it’s just fine, as long as it’s sung by a lusty, jilted pre-teen who wants to punch people out. If you don’t know Cliff and Craig, they’re the two lawyers who started Kidz Bop and its parent company, Razor & Tie Entertainment. According to, Kidz Bop is “the most-popular and recognized music product in the U.S. for kids aged 5-12, featuring today’s most popular songs, sung by kids for kids”. In a 2007 article in the Columbus Dispatch, Chenfield said that he started Kidz Bop when he realized that there “was not a lot of music for kids who had outgrown Elmo and weren’t quite ready for Britney.”

Now, I’m about to hit 50, and I don’t think I’m ready for Britney. But the idea that there is no music suitable for grade schoolers seems, on the face of it, bizarre to the point of lunacy. But Chenfield and Balsam are not crazy. After all, Razor & Tie is “one of the fastest growing independent entertainment companies in the United States”, and is “a vertically-integrated company that includes a music company with major label distribution, a music publishing business, a media buying company, a home video company, a direct marketing operation and a growing database of entertainment consumers” (italics mine).

Ah, there’s the rub. To misquote George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life, Chenfield’s not selling, he’s buying. How do the Kidz Bop releases manage to consistently include hits by Britney, Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, The Pussycat Dolls, and other top acts? Simple: Any major record company exec is going to knock over her MTV Award with excitement when she hears about the army of children that Kidz Bop is able to pipe into her cave.

Perhaps the last word should come from Kidz Bop Concert Emcee Jodi Katz. “The kids are so young that they’re truly not jaded,” she said in the same Dispatch article. “I go into the audience, and I’m just mobbed with excitement.” Jodi made that quote two years ago, when she was 20. I would imagine she has since aged out of the Kidz Bop system, and another Ambassador of Jade has since been appointed.

The worst thing about Kidz Bop is that it has put me in the position of having to complain about it. I can hear the exasperated sighs from parents even now. But for someone who is trying to pass onto his children a certain amount of beauty and compassion, Kidz Bop – perverse, predatory, aesthetically execrable – is a bit of a worry. And if it’s OK for me to be concerned with things like candy and soda, why shouldn’t I stay alert to what’s affecting my kids in other ways? I think their morality is at least as important as their molars.

But maybe I owe Counts Chenfeld and Balsam a word of thanks, since they’ve at least forced me to focus on what’s important. So here’s what I’m going to do: Play some music really loud – maybe Springsteen’s “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” from The Seeger Sessions, or some old Stax Soul, or maybe even the New King Porter Stomp, by Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra. Then I’ll grab the kids and we’ll strut around the house, waving a finger in the air and shouting, “Yeah, man! Yeah, man!” That should work as well as any Crucifix or garlic to keep certain bloodsuckers confined to the dark corners. For a while, anyway.



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