The Thing That Should Not Be

Every now and then you come across something so distasteful and disturbing, that you find it difficult to even think about it without feeling ill. For some it's the atrocities that happen to the animals involved in dog fighting. Others can't stomach what they see as the steady decline of morals and ethics among people in this country.
But if you ask me, the worst thing in the world right now is Kidz Bop.
For those of you who might not know, Kidz Bop is a wildly successful series of albums featuring groups of choruses of happy-voiced children singing re-made versions of current Top 40 rap, rock, and pop songs. They are marketed relentlessly through unbelievably cloying television advertisements played ad nauseam mostly on kid friendly channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
Seriously, it makes me want to puke.
Of course any parent can tell you that one of the singular hells of having young children in this day and age is having to suffer through hours and hours of repeated listening to songs by Raffi, The Backyardigans, or The Wiggles. You start out like everyone else, thinking it's kind of cute that there are quasi-educational songs made especially for your kids. Add to that the fact that your kids become instantly addicted to it and seem to light up no matter how many bazillion times in a row they listen to it and it seems like a pretty good deal.

But then two months later you're stuck in a daze where you only have a faint recollection of what popular music sounds like because the only real musical input your system has is "Hot Potato, Hot Potato" all day, every day to the point where you catch yourself humming the melody in the elevator –-
Which would be fine if no one knew what you were doing, but only ever seems to
happen when you're alone in the lift with the hottest co-worker in the building.
So it's not a real hard stretch to imagine some marketing executive out there coming up with the brainstorm to take songs adults like and give them a kid-friendly spin. It's certainly not a new idea, but in our pop-star worshipping/NOW That's What I Call Music! culture -- it's the kind of thing that's quickly crossed the line from being some sort of novelty act into a multi-million dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

The problem with the whole thing is that while the intended audience for these Kidz Bop albums is children, the standard for selecting the songs to be used is how popular they are with adults. This means that the entire pantheon of top 40 music is fair game, regardless of the subject matter.

As a result, the tracks featured on the albums are frequently edited to exclude any lyrics that are considered inappropriate for younger audiences. This means any songs that contain profane language or references to mature content are actually re-written by the producers to make them more acceptable for parents and young listeners.

I guess I can kinda see the good intentions behind this, but when you see the commercials (and if you spend any amount of time watching cartoons like I do you quickly realize that there's absolutely no escaping them) that even if they've gone to all the trouble to take out all the quote unquote "bad words" to protect little Sally's precious virgin ears -- the albums are still loaded with songs that focus on issues related to sex, drugs, and death.

Take for example the case of Kidz Bop 3, which features the little sprites singing along to the choruses of Nelly's 2002 hit "Dilemma" -- which goes:
I met this chick and she just moved right up the block from me
And (uh) she got the hots for me, the finest thing my hood has seen
But oh, no, no, she's got a man and a son doh'ohh
But that's o.k. cause I, wait for my cue and just listen, play my position like
a short stop, pick up everything mommy hittin
And in no time, i'm gonna make this friend mine
And that's for sure
Cause I, I've never been the type to break-up a happy home
But(uh) somethin' bout baby gurl, I just can't leave alone
Which trust me -- sounds totally convincing when sung by a horde of 10 year-old white kids.
And while I suppose it was thoughtful of the producers to remove several references to the n-word in later verses of the song -- the fact remains that there's still a bunch of children crooning to a woman about how much they want her to dump her man and let them come in and be a step-parent.

I've never been one to buy into the idea that lyrics influence behavior. It's one of the most ludicrous assertions of our time that the words in songs are somehow direct commands intended to corrupt the minds of young children. It's an idea that's been around for ages, but has gained momentum as the music industry has become more prevalent in our daily culture -- i.e. songs about sex lead kids to have sex, aggressive songs lead to aggressive kids, and lyrics that glorify sexism and violence create people who are sexist and violent.

Personally I maintain that there is still such a thing as free will, and that while I might enjoy the way the music makes me feel, I don't really feel confident in blindly following any instructions hidden in any lyrics written by 50 Cent.
Boss: "You were supposed to be at work four hours ago, where are you?"
Me: "I'm in the club with a bottle full of bub."
Boss: "What? Why the hell are you there?"
Me: "I don't ..know --- but come give me a hug!"
Basically whenever someone starts to spout off about all the evils in lyrics and how they corrupt peoples minds I refer them back to something Frank Zappa once said:
If lyrics make people do things, how come we don't love each other?
It's important that you understand this point, otherwise you might get the idea that my main problem with the Kidz Bop series is the way they change the lyrics simply to remove profanity -- which isn't my issue at all. I mean let's face it, simply removing bad words from a gansta rap song based off worries about what the effect the words might have on the child sort of implies that parents think it's ok if little Johnny Jr. joins a gang and engages in premarital sex, just as long as he doesn't cuss while he's doing it.

My real issue with all of this is the utter hypocrisy of the people who are terrified of the effect that an f-word might have on their kids, but somehow seem blind to the fact that songs without any profanity in them at all can still discuss topics overprotective parents would never want their kids hearing in the first place.

It's a lot like the way movies filled with profanity are the first to garner R-ratings from the MPAA, but films overloaded with scenes portraying violence and death continually find themselves with PG and PG-13 ratings.

It's like people freak out more over profanity because they know what it is, but then shrug their shoulders when more subjective concepts are put into play.

I may not agree with efforts to restrict the media input kids get instead of letting them experience what's out there in concert with open discussions with their parents about what it is and how it makes people feel, but I'm never gonna tell someone else how to raise their children.
That being said -- If you're gonna shelter your children, then fucking shelter them.
Think about it for a second -- who is this Kidz Bop thing really for? Kids who want to listen to music without the hassle of all those awful references to scary bad things, or parents who don't want to stop listening to their favorite songs but are kinda tired of having to turn it down at selected moments, or answer complaints from teachers or daycare workers who are concerned about your son's insistence on singing selected lines from "The Real Slim Shady" during naptime?

But beyond that, by buying into this whole "cleaner, gentler" version of popular music idea -- aren't you kind of saying that the music you listen to as adults is somehow harmful and dangerous?

Maybe the truth of the matter is that you're the ones who can't handle the dark, hot, throbbing messages hidden inside your own favorite songs? Maybe secretly you're glad that someone finally made a version of "Crazy in Love" that completely removed all the rap breaks.
It makes you think there are people out there having conversations like:
I mean, Beyonce's wonderful -- she's been on Oprah, but I read in People
last week that Jay-Z is black, and I'm not so sure how I feel about that.
If you're worried about the way songs can affect kids who haven't got enough perspective to dismiss suggestive music as just escapism, then don't let them hear it. Believe me, I sympathize -- The Wiggles suck, but if you're that worried about the issue you're just gonna have to bite the bullet and let your kids enjoy the emotional reward that listening to music provides without the risk of asking them to grow up too fast .

But if the real issue here is that you selfish bastards don't really want to let go of your own musical tastes just to appease the impressionable sensibilities of your own fucking children, then what you really need to do is go in the kitchen, open the freezer door, stick your head in there, and then slam the door as hard as you can again and again and again until you realize just how stupid you're being.

I mean seriously, an album of Ramones lullabies that's not intended as some kind of gag gift or joke? Are you so attached to your hot topic lifestyle that you can't put it down for five damn minutes to help your own baby go to sleep? Because if you are, you better be going the whole nine yards with it. You better be slam dancing with that toddler during playtime and showing them how to curbslide their teddy bears -- because otherwise you and your kids are fucking posers.
That's right BABY, you're an effin wanker!
It's like people these days are terrified to appear uncool to their own children. That somehow it's really important to get social validation from a 6 year-old. I really do believe that if Neal Pollack's son walked up to him and called him a sellout that the dude would go jump off a bridge. And it really doesn't make any sense to me at all. Yes, being a parent means you've got to set aside huge hunks of yourself for the sake of someone else, and having kids means that you will spend a large number of years being focused on things that your non-breeder friends might think are silly,

But do you know what's really cool?
Being a dad.
I know it sounds cheesy, but there’s something awesome about singing kids songs with your kids. I’m not proud of it, but there was a time when I could play a handful of Wiggles tunes on guitar (mainly because my kid thought it was great, but also because there was no way I was gonna live in a house where my son believed goddamn Murray was a better player than me). There was a time when I read bedtime stories and did funny voices for each character. And yeah, I suppose technically those things could look uncool if seen by someone else, but it’s not like I go up to hot women in nightclubs and say
"Hey baby, wanna get out on the dance floor and Move Your Arms Like Henry?"
Besides (and this is the real key that all of these Kidz Bop clones seem to forget), once they become teenagers your kids will discover their own tastes in music, and I guarantee you that it will have nothing to do with the things you like to hear. Because if there's any golden rule in this world, it's that once your kids become teenagers -- you're not ALLOWED to be cool to them.

Part of growing up is finding your own tastes and boundaries. And like it or not, a huge part of that in this country is that period where kids basically point blank reject the culture their parents have given them and seek refuge in some form of teen culture with their friends. I did it, you did it, Elvis did it, Frank Sinatra did it -- it's what kids do.

My dad loved country music, and my mom was a Beatles fanatic -- and for a while I loved listening to those things with them because it was like they were sharing something grown-up with me. But that doesn't mean once I hit age 13 I didn't turn right back around and call the both of them out for being old fogeys.
Geez Dad, are you still listening to Kenny Rogers? Come on -- everyone knows that The Tubes are the best band that ever decided to write, perform, and record music. They'll be around forever, so you'd better get on board now!
Unfortunately it seems like this whole Kidz Bop culture thing all goes back to this sense of hypocrisy that seems to permeate the consciousness of this country when it comes to the perception we have about protecting little girls.

Because we love to see them dance cheerleader style in too much makeup like the little pop-star princesses that they are (especially when they flip their hair and hips and look oh so grown up -- did you see that, my girls got it going on!) -- As long as that image of adopted adult cuteness doesn't cross the line into the pseudo-sexual dirty mouthed foulness that does not become a little lady.
       So let me get this straight -- what you want is for little
       girls to be sexy just as long as they're not sexual?
For example, last Sunday morning I was at a Waffle House enjoying some breakfast when someone put a dollar in the jukebox and kicked in some dance-o-pop song I’d never heard before. Normally in a place like that you just tune it out and focus on eating your meal – but almost as soon as the song kicked in a little girl appeared on the floor in front of the cash register and started doing an impromptu dance routine along with the song.

And it was sort of this mixed experience, because there was something cute in the way she seemed to be enjoying herself --- but at the same time equally horrifying in the way all of her moves had this sort of choreographed-cheerleader feel to them. She’d wave her arms and shake her hips in sequenced four-count groupings in a way that made it pretty clear she had practiced many times before in front of a mirror somewhere. Plus, she had this horrible fake teeth-filled smile on her face that clearly wasn’t the way she really smiled but was rather forced there by some overbearing harpy of a stage mom (who actually turned out to be sitting a few feet away from the young Gypsy Rose Lee, watching her every move).
It was an experience that went from being kinda cute to
really creepy a lot faster than it probably should have.
It’s kinda like those times when you’re at a supermarket or something and you see some woman walking around with a daughter whose outfit and accessories looks almost identical to theirs -- not only in the low cut of the blouse, but in the amount of eye makeup, the length of the dangly earrings, all the way down to the thong line that's uncomfortably visible over the waistline of their pants.
In situations like that most people freak out and say things like:
"What kind of parent lets their daughter dress like that? She looks like a tramp!"
Obviously there's some logic to that sort of thinking because there's a point where wearing clothing like that might force issues of body consciousness onto girls whose young bodies have not developed enough to even begin to start thinking about those sorts of things -- but what amazes me is that no one ever seems to look past the parents involved to wonder about the clothes themselves. Because no matter how many skanky moms wanted to buy buttfloss-styled underwear for their daughters, they'd never be able to do it if there weren't any stores that actually sold them.

There’s no question that responsibility for the way children appear and behave rests with the parents. Just because you can go to Limited Too and get a Daisy Dukes for your 8-year old that have the word "come and get it" embroidered across the ass doesn't mean that you actually have to buy them.
But make no mistake -- Limited Too (and their corporate parent company overlords)
would never sell something like that if they didn't think anyone would pay for it.
It's thought processes like this that make the whole Kidz Bop thing worse. Because when people buy into the idea that the American idol/MTV cribs lifestyle (MINUS all the bad words, black people, and drugs) is the ultimate goal -- then you perpetuate the idea that no matter how much you want to make your little girl into a princess while she is young, you fully expect her to let you down and disappoint you once she grows up.

I don't mean to imply the same thing doesn't happen to sons -- but the simple fact is that in this country, our moral conscience is still largely based off the image of blue-eyed blonde haired little girls.
  • Think about when that rich girl went missing (and was eventually found dead) in the Bahamas.
  • Think about what happened when Miss America screwed up (but was later forgiven) last year
  • Now think about what happened to Vanessa Williams, the first African-American
    Miss America when she was forced to give up her crown in shame back in 1984.
Music is a wonderful thing. It’s one of the main inspirations and treasures in my life. But it’s not more important than my sense of self, or my ability to make good judgments. Being a rock star is a dream I’ve had probably since I was 3 years old – but it doesn’t mean that I was ready at that age to handle the responsibilities and challenges that came along with being a performing musician/celebrity.

But I think the most important thing was that my parent’s weren’t disappointed in me for feeling that way. They knew I wanted to be a famous guitarist, but they weren’t disappointed when I didn’t act like it when I was in pre-school. Of course that was probably because they weren’t afraid to talk to me and find out what I wanted instead of driving in the car and pretending that the tagline to the Ludicrous rap break in the Fergie song Glamorous is:
If you ain’t got no money take your broke self home.