Friday, June 3, 2016

Songs of Toxic Friendships, Delinquent Boyfriends, and Forbidden Elements of the Periodic Table

My friend is working as a counselor for a girls' camp this summer. All the counselors are required to compile a playlist of songs approved by the camp board of directors. I spent some time trying to help her with this last day and had little success.
They're not allowed to play love songs to their thirteen year old campers, because that might encourage them to have boyfriends at a young age. They also can't sing about partying or escape. That actually does leave a lot of songs to choose from, but most of what we could come up with was melancholy in tone, and she needs pump it up music for her campers.
Today I went to download my favorite song, Elle King's "Ex's and Oh's", when I stumbled across the Kidz Bop cover. Kidz Bop, who we know to be cool because they spell their name with a z, produces "By kids, for kids" cover albums of popular songs. They're not bad. These kids can sing, and some Kidz Boppers, such as Zendaya and Becky G, have gone on to have successful singing careers of their own. But I have trouble listening to these with a straight face.
Ex's and Oh's is, as the title would suggest, about a tough girlfriend haunted by clingy exes. If it disturbs anyone it's probably due to the rough, flippant, maneating tone of the song. Kidz Bop keeps the tone, but all the lovers are now friends. Oddly clingy friends. Friends that haunt you like ghosts. Friends that always want to hang but never want to leave (Elle King's lovers always want to come and not leave).
Elle King with some of her friends
Even though the song is now about toxic friendships, it retains the title Ex's and Oh's and keeps it titular lyrics in the chorus. Kids who listen to this will either
A. See right through the substitution
B. Not understand why the chorus obsesses over exes when the rest of the song is about losing friends
C. Come off thinking friendship is a lot more horrible than it actually is.
Here are some more gems. Most of them come from the latest album, Kidz Bop 31, just like Horrible Clingy Friends and Oh's.

Wildest Dreams, which I regard as the most sexual of T-Swift's songs, has the lover whispering "No one has to know what we do" as he strokes her hair and leaves his clothes in her room.
Kidz Bop:
"No one knows just what we went through.
His hands are in the air.
He looks across the room."
Hmm. What are those hands in the air for? I'd wager that Kidz Bop's lover is getting arrested and pleading with the cops to consider his tragic childhood. Except, we learn a few lines later that "He's so good and he knows it too well." Taylor Swift's lover is so bad and does it so well, but at least he isn't cocky.
Demi Lovato's "Confident" has a harsher tone than Ex's and Oh's and makes reference to sexual bondage. I've never felt comfortable listening to it. Kidz Bop sings "It's time to get the word out" when Demi brought out chains. That I understand. All the following lines:
It's time to get the chains out
Is your tongue tied up?
'Cause this is my ground
And I'm dangerous
And you can get off
But it's all about me tonight
Are left mostly intact. You can still be dangerous and self centered. But off is traded for out and tonight becomes today. That's right, kids. No one ever sex during the daytime. Wildest Dreams was allowed to keeps its "all night", provided the delinquent lover is just"hanging out" instead of "tangled up."
Some of these just feel like insults to children's intelligence. All About that Bass is edgy enough that Meghan Trainor recorded her own clean version. She retains the self-empowering body positivity message while removing anything sexual. In this version, Meghan's mother tells her boys like a girl for the beauty they hold inside, rather than a little more booty to hold at night.
Kidz Bop could have grabbed these lyrics, but in their version the mother tells her fat child, "Don't let it keep you home in your room at night."
Uh, thanks Mom?
The Kool Kidz Bop Krew also decided kids aren't mature to learn about the fourteenth element on the periodic table: silicon.

Meghan Trainor's "Stick figure silicon plastic Barbie dolls" are now fake plastic Barbie dolls. Now, I'm no chemist. I only passed eleventh grade chemistry because my Smart Friend's AP Chem class conflicted with marching band and she had to take non-AP chemistry with me. We sat in the back corner where the teacher couldn't see us and talked about Marvel comics. But I did pay just enough attention to know what silicon is, and I can confidently say there's no such thing as fake plastic. It's either plastic or it isn't.
Shawn Mendes, out of breathe after running. Presumably into a pole.
Kidz Bop even found something to edit in teenager Shawn Mendes' "Stitches". While Mendes' lover watches him metaphorically "Bleed until I can't breathe," Kidz Boppers prefer to watch him run until he's out of breath.
Best of all: Becky G sang for Kidz Bop herself, but when they later covered her song "Shower", it wasn't enough to change "Baby you make me hot like an oven" to "Baby you know me just like a friend". They also substituted "Your loving" to "Your love yeah" while "Homie, lover and friend" became "Only homie and friend."
Only? Wow, Becky G, your social life is kind of sad. You should've stuck around with your Kidz Bop crew instead of becoming famous in her own right.
It doesn't do much good to substitute keywords while the overall message stays the same. I appreciate good, clean music and other media. But the message of a song is carried in tone more than word choice. Weak, watered down versions that wipe away every trace of blood and nightfall from the lyrics can't match songs that are written to be clean in the first place.

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