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Tuesday, March 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Singing the praises of 'Kidz Bop' CDs

By John Soeder
Newhouse News Service

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"Kidz Bop" CDs are all the rage among prepubescents. Parents like them, too.

The latest release in the series, "Kidz Bop 5," features a chorus of pipsqueaks chiming in on covers of OutKast's "Hey Ya!," Britney Spears' "Me Against the Music," Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" and other hits.

It's not just a cute concept. It's a smashing success.

Four previous "Kidz Bop" compilations and a holiday album, "Kidz Bop Christmas," have racked up total sales of 3 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"Kidz Bop" CDs occupied half of the Top 10 positions on Billboard magazine's 2003 year-end Top Kid Audio chart, with four "Kidz Bop" titles finishing in the Top 5.

The discs have made a splash on the pop chart, too. "Kidz Bop 4" opened at No. 14 last year on the Billboard 200, the highest-charting debut to date by an album of children's music, not counting kid-oriented soundtracks.

"Parents feel OK about buying this for their kids," says Craig Balsam, co-owner of the New York City-based record label Razor & Tie, home of the "Kidz Bop" brand.

"And kids are very excited about getting it. Kids really love to hear other kids sing."

Balsam (the father of two daughters, ages 14 and 11, and a 7-year-old son) and his business partner Cliff Chenfeld (also a father of three) released the first "Kidz Bop" album in 2000.
"At the time, we realized pop music was getting more ... I'm trying to pick the right word ... explicit," Balsam says.

The lyrics on any given "Kidz Bop" CD are tweaked as needed to make them suitable for young listeners.

Take "Me Against the Music," for example. The "Kidz Bop" version of the Spears song changes the phrase "sexy lady" to "pretty lady."

"You want parents to be comfortable," Balsam says. "No matter how young their kids are, they can listen to this. They're not going to raise questions or get confused about something."

Mom and Dad also can blast Pink's "Get the Party Started," reworked for "Kidz Bop 2," on the minivan stereo with no fear of corrupting those impressionable ears in the back seat.

The original lyric "I'll be burning rubber/You'll be kissing my (expletive)" was revised to "I'll be burning rubber/You'll be watching me pass."

On the other hand, the "Kidz Bop" cover of "Hey Ya!" does not mess with OutKast's wink-wink couplet: "Don't want to meet your daddy/Just want you in my Caddy."

Um ... Mom? Um ... Dad? Why does he, like, want her in his, y'know, Caddy?

"You and I know what it means," Balsam says. "But if kids hear it, they might not think anything of it. ... The beautiful thing about pop music as a whole is it has different meanings for different people.

"We try not to alter the lyrics if at all possible. We really try to be true to the songs created by the artists. Occasionally a word here or there may get changed or omitted. But we try to keep it to an absolute minimum," Balsam says.

The "Kidz Bop" CDs are credited to the Kidz Bop Kids, a rotating cast of singers in their tweens and early teens. They're recruited through auditions, Balsam says. Seasoned adult singers handle most of the lead vocals, backed by professional studio musicians.

Geared toward children ages 5 to 12, the discs are promoted heavily with eye-popping television commercials on Nickelodeon and other networks.

Each "Kidz Bop" compilation is sold in two versions — retail and mail-order. The retail installments are single discs. Their mail-order counterparts are two-CD sets, bolstered with additional songs.

Only the mail-order version of "Kidz Bop 5" features a remake of John Mayer's "Bigger Than My Body." Belted out by the Kidz Bop Kids, the tune takes on a sweet new twist.

Ditto the likes of Talk Talk's "It's My Life" (recently updated by No Doubt) and Simple Plan's "Perfect," both found on both versions of "Kidz Bop 5."

Who knows? A few decades from now, the Kidz Bop Kids could prove to be the next Langley Schools Music Project, a group of Canadian schoolchildren whose disarming 1970s recordings of popular songs by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Eagles and others have won a cult following of late.

In the meantime, there is no end in sight for the "Kidz Bop" product line. It also includes a video, "Everyone's a Star," released last year. The "Kidz Bop 6" CD comes out this summer.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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