Pop Quiz: Who Is Kidz Bop Actually Made For?

Kidz Bop is the epitome of "kid-friendly," but critics from both sides of the political spectrum still negatively view the hugely successful brand.

Pop Quiz: Who Is Kidz Bop Actually Made For?
Razor & Tie / Kidz Bop

Newsy's new segment "Pop Quiz!" is dedicated to the rabbit holes and plot twists from the world of pop culture.How old were you in 2001, and who was your favorite musician back then? That's the year Kidz Bop first launched, which leads to today's Pop Quiz! question: Who is Kidz Bop actually for?It's one of the most recognizable brands in the multi-billion dollar market for children’s entertainment, but for those who don't know, Kidz Bop is the music brand that takes popular songs from artists like Britney Spears or Outkast, changes the lyrics to make it more kid-friendly and then has kids sing the altered songs.Over the past decade, Kidz Bop has become an incredibly lucrative brand — recording around 900 different songs, selling more than 22 million albums and generating more than 1.2 billion streams on Spotify. There have been 24 Kidz Bop albums that have debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200, which is more than Bob Dylan, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen. Some of Kidz Bop’s most notable alumni include Ross Lynch, Olivia Holt, Becky G and Emmy-award winning actress Zendaya.  So how does Kidz Bop get actual permission to alter and cover these songs?  "The right to arrange is basically the right to create derivative work," said Lisa Alter, music copyright attorney at Alter Kendrick & Baron.Basically, as long as Kidz Bop pays the necessary royalties, licenses and streaming fees to the original copyright holders, they’re allowed to alter music as much as they want. When they perform that music live — like they have throughout several of their U.S. tours — they really just need to make sure they’re clear to audiences that they’re not the original artists.  “We’ve all seen plenty of Beatles cover bands and that sort of thing, but it’s when you start claiming to be the original that you can run into trouble," Alter said.The original artists could always complain, but they probably won't get anywhere. Publicly, the only artist we've seen even acknowledge their music’s kid-friendly counterpart was Lil Nas X tweeting a screenshot of Kidz Bop’s sanitized cover of his song “Montero.”  The brand is the epitome of “kid-friendly,” and at first listen, it’s not hard to understand why the brand exists.   “It’s a clean way to introduce your kid to popular music," said Jill Murphy, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media.Ultimately, Kidz Bop and this entire market for kid-friendly entertainment exists just as much for adults.When Kidz Bop debuted in 2001, it was a sort of compromise for parents who didn’t want to listen to kids’ music but also didn’t want their kids to hear certain lyrics from popular artists.  “A lot of that came from so much commercial television having so much sexual content or drinking and drugs and smoking, and parents feeling like, 'I just don't really want my kids seeing all that or hearing all that,'" Murphy said.In 2001, an FTC report found that “nearly half of the theaters sold tickets to R-rated movies to underage moviegoers, while 90% of the music retailers sold explicit content recordings to the underage shoppers.” Because of that, one could argue Kidz Bop came out during a time of heightened scrutiny over pop culture and its effects on children, but the truth is these concerns from adults have been around for  decades.   "Certain rock music that is now being sold deals very explicitly with sexual subjects," former Sen. John Danforth (R-Missouri) said. “There's always been this kind of conservative element of concern about the welfare of children," said Kent Bausman, professor of sociology at Maryville University.In the '80s, the Parents Music Resource Center formed and heavily criticized artists like Madonna, Prince and Mötley Crüe for singing songs with lyrics deemed profane, violent or sexually explicit. "In fact, they look like they should be in Playboy or Penthouse," said Tipper Gore, co-founder of the Parents Music Resource Center.The group was founded by prominent Washington D.C. women, including Gore, who was married to future vice president Al Gore. Their work is the reason the “Parental Advisory” label is now put on albums with explicit lyrics and adult content. “They were making all these kinds of psychological arguments that this music was having incredibly damaging effects to our generation," Bausman said.The Parents Music Resource Center shut down in the '90s, but their influence can be seen in today’s demands for “family-friendly” media — a term that varies across different groups. "I think in some cases, it means heavily edited — a little more washed of any controversial sexual content or swearing," Murphy said. Family-friendly can also kind of skew very conservative.”Several outlets today help review and recommend media for parents. Parent Previews and Kids In Mind contextualize movie violence, substance abuse, language and sexual content.  Outlets like Common Sense Media offers similar context on films, TV shows, books and video games, and the resource also gives advice on how to engage with kids about the media they’re consuming.   "We're not really looking to censor content," we're really looking to get kids and families talking about challenging topics and using media as an entry point to do that."Those outlets are typically politically neutral and nonreligious, but several others like Plugged In or Dove are socially conservative and Christian. Beyond scrutinizing explicit content, they also review media on how they represent conservative Christian values, including criticizing pieces of media that include LGBTQ characters.So, how do all these different outlets and critics review Kidz Bop? It’s negative on both ends.   Liberal-leaning listeners criticize the brand for removing LGBTQ references in songs like Lil Nas X’s “Montero” or Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Conservative-leaning listeners criticize the brand for covering artists like Lil Nas X or Lady Gaga in the first place.Lastly, other critics argue that Kidz Bop’s sanitized lyrics don’t actually sanitize the adult messages. “The ultimate themes of the original artists are not really whitewashed very well," Bausman said. For example, songs like Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” or Britney Spears’ “Toxic” are still about adult romantic relationships even with Kidz Bop’s cleaned-up lyrics, and kids do pick up on that.“There are issues that kids are aware of and that are around kids, even if it isn't specifically what parents are curating for their kids, right?" said Mia Doces, vice president of innovation for the Committee for Children.Because of that, some children’s media experts and psychologists say it’s more important to actively pay attention to kids media, “co-view” or watch things with them and have conversations about it — rather than just passively play sanitized media for them.   Projects like the Committee for Children’s podcast “Imagine Neighborhood”  was created with co-listening in mind.“To ignore it, without engaging in a conversation feels like a missed opportunity," Murphy said. “It gives an opportunity to understand what your child is listening to — how they're processing that information," Doces said.The good news is that there’s so many more options for kids today — including entire streaming platforms — plus many more guides and resources for parents.