“Kidz Bop 34” is the mind-boggling 34th offering from the children’s music brand. Created in 2001 as some sort of elaborate device for making prisoners talk, Kidz Bop has been getting stuck in listeners’ heads for 33 albums, and for the 34th, the Voice’s crack team of music critics sat down to try to analyze the album. To listen to all 14 songs would simply be a health hazard, so Graham Piro bravely chose to tackle the first seven songs while Dan Sheehan valiantly volunteered to take on the final seven. The mental states of both writers were painstakingly tracked and noted.
- 24K Magic: Beginning the album with such a catchy tune is undoubtedly a strategic move on the part of Kidz Bop. Unfortunately, their rendition of Bruno Mars’s “24K Magic” falls short of the magnificence Mars produced. The more mature lyrics have obviously been swapped in favor of family-friendly phrases (substituting “kids” for “players” is the most glaring example), but Kidz Bop chooses to go a step further. The line “I’m a dangerous man with some money in my pocket” has been replaced with “I’m a dangerous woman with some money in my pocket.” This is certainly an admirable attempt at inclusivity; however, the choice to omit the line “We too fresh, gotta blame on Jesus, hashtag blessed” proves to be an error. The song lacks the subtlety and nuance of Mars’s religious allusions. The gender swap works, but leaving the biblical reference out causes this rendition to feel shallow and lacking in overt religious imagery.
Mental state: Optimistic and intrigued. Disappointed by the lack of theological references. What sort of profound statements about the existence of God is Kidz Bop trying to make?
- The Greatest: Sia’s high-pitched vocals in the original prove to work perfectly with Kidz Bop’s crooning sopranos. The casual listener may not even notice a difference between the soothing voices of Kidz Bop and Sia’s refined tones. What will determine the likeability of this song is the listener’s opinion of Sia’s original tune. The differences between the two are practically indiscernible. This can have one of two effects on the listener: either one will embrace the skillful similarities or reject “The Greatest” for being far too similar to Sia’s original work. As neither a Sia devotee nor a critic, I accepted “The Greatest” for what it was, and even enjoyed it.
Mental state: Still very pleased. My faith in the world remains.
- Let Me Love You: Following the aptly named “The Greatest” is a tough job. “Let Me Love You” is so bland that it begins to wear on the listener. This cover does nothing to accentuate the original, and while that criticism can be levied on “The Greatest” as well, that song is perfectly made for Kidz Bop’s strengths. There will not be any love for “Let Me Love You,” as by the third song, Kidz Bop’s shtick begins to grow old.
Mental state: Beginning to have doubts. Can God exist if evil exists?
- Don’t Wanna Know: The cleanup hitter of the album strikes out. This song is heavily reliant on the vocals of its faux-angelic chorus, and much like some sort of awful earworm, the chorus will stay stuck in the listener’s head for hours after finishing the song. Midway through, I thought that they had just taken the background music from the previous songs and copied it into this one. There isn’t much to the production besides the painfully catchy chorus, and the song thankfully just peters out after three long minutes (is that it? Just three minutes?).
Mental state: How many songs left? THREE? Why did I sign up for this?
- That’s My Girl: The upbeat, poppy intro to “That’s My Girl” provides a brief glimmer of hope amidst the darkness. It injects some much needed life into the album. Perhaps existence is not quite as pointless as “Don’t Wanna Know” would have me believe. The song is upbeat, energetic, and quite memorable. Even when the song was finished, I found myself quite shockingly repeating it once more without despising what I was hearing. After five songs, I’ve come to believe that “That’s My Girl” is the album’s strongest song, and perhaps brighter times lie ahead.
Mental state: Hope is kindled.
- Closer: No. Please. I don’t ask for much in this life. All I ask is that Kidz Bop never take on this song. I believed that I was free from this song, only for Kidz Bop to pull me back in. At around the time that they changed out the lyric “mattress” for “notebook” (which makes no sense in the context of the song), I experienced an out-of-body experience where I observed my physical essence become tangled with the spiritual world. Perhaps this was Kidz Bop’s intention. I can only imagine that in deciding to cover “Closer,” the producers knew that they would be pushing the human listener into a state of transcendence to the next stage of human evolution. Perhaps this is following the form of “24K Magic” to deny the existence of God and instead place humanity in a state of nihilistic existence. Anyway, my spirit returned to my physical form in time to wade my way through the last painful few seconds of the song.
Mental state: “God is dead. And Kidz Bop has killed him.”–Friedrich Nietzsche
- We Don’t Talk Anymore: Now that this album has taught me that nothing except my mind exists and there is no God, I was able to enjoy the sadistic tune of the last song on my half of the album. The lyrics blended into each other, and I found myself in a bizarre trance of trying to decipher what further statements Kidz Bop could be making about the state of human existence. The line “we don’t laugh anymore” shows that Kidz Bop envisions a humorless future devoid of natural human interaction. This is undoubtedly a profound statement about–what? It’s over? I’m free! After a long, slow journey through night into day, I emerge from the first half of the album understanding that while existence is meaningless, at least I can understand my purpose by listening to Kidz Bop 34.
Mental state: Bellum omnium contra omnes.
Good luck Dan!
Thanks Graham! Here I go!
- My Way: In a daring move, the gang of tweens tackles a Calvin Harris club banger with a purely instrumental chorus and general lack of vocal variety. Over a deceptively simple beat, Julianna, Cooper, Ahnya, Freddy, Sierra, and Isaiah take turns saying “You were the one thing in my way.” To the average listener, this section might seem repetitive. But a musically trained ear can detect the subtle variations–the tremolos, the vibratos, the glissandos–that the Kidz use to differentiate themselves from one another. Not to mention, always masters of efficiency, the Kidz Boppers have neatly pared down the original 3:39 long track to a brisk 2:52. 7/10
Mental State: Foolishly optimistic.
9. Scars To Your Beautiful: Props to Kidz Bop for choosing a song with an important message about beauty and superficiality. But if you look at the actual Kidz from Kidz Bop, they clearly don’t need to be reminded they’re beautiful. They already goddamn know it. Just log on to the official Kidz Bop website and look at their professional headshots. Freddy, Ahnya, Sierra–every last one of them is gorgeous. I don’t want to be told I’m beautiful just the way I am by a bunch of perfect children. Yet another potentially uplifting Kidz Bop song marred by condescension and hollow empathy. 2.5/10
Mental State: Embittered.
10. All Time Low: In one of the lesser known songs on the album, the Kidz cover a Jon Bellion tune about depression. Within the first thirty seconds, “All Time Low” gives us probably the most impressive instance of censorship in a Kidz Bop song, when the line “You’re the reason I’m alone and masturbate” is transformed to “You’re the reason that I just can’t concentrate.” Here, the truth is laid bare and the entire history of Kidz Bop is distilled to its core purpose: avoiding awkward conversations with your kids in the backseat. 8/10
Mental State: Apathy slowly creeps in.
11. Starving: In one of their more profound exercises of artistic liberty, the Kidz eschew the carnal “You do things to my body” in favor of the infinitely more poetic “You do things to my heartbeat.” And when they sing the line, “I was so much younger yesterday,” you can tell they mean it. Fame can change people, especially impressionable eleven and twelve year olds. Imagine how signing a record deal underneath the stern gaze of an attorney could shatter a child’s innocence by demonstrating how they are nothing but cogs in the machinations of corporate America. Not to mention growth spurts; some of these kids probably literally grew an inch overnight. 6/10
Mental State: Just when you thought pop music couldn’t get any shittier…
12. Gold: This track might represent the pinnacle of production quality on a Kidz Bop record. In Kiiara’s original version, the chorus is constructed from snippets of vocal tracks spliced randomly into one another. Some brave team of producers at Kidz Bop took this melody and reconstructed it with such meticulous and painstaking care that it is nearly indistinguishable from the original, apart from it having the vocal timbre of preadolescents. But, of course, that’s why Kidz Bop producers get paid the big bucks. 9/10
Mental State: Kind of impressed, but should I be? This album is an emotional roller coaster.
13. Send My Love: In yet another show of audacity, the Kidz Bop crew attempts to imitate the vocal prowess of Adele. Taking on the first verse of this quixotic endeavor is none other than our favorite plucky 12 year old from California, Sierra (at least I think it’s her–all the boys’ and girls’ voices are indistinguishable). According to her bio, Sierra is “a total fashionista,” but unfortunately, asking her to replicate an Adele vocal line is like asking Daniel Radcliffe to dunk a basketball–it just can’t be done. As the chorus climaxes in an incredible instance of irony, the Kidz sing without reservation or self-awareness the line “We both know we ain’t kids no more,” when, in fact, they are still very much kids. Some would call that cute. I call it deceitful. 3/10
Mental State: If I have to listen to one more Kidz Bop song I will be violently ill.
- This Town: The final track on the album is a song by some rando named Niall Horan and holy shit I can’t do this. Graham I’m sorry. Please don’t make me listen to this song in its entirety. My body physically cannot take any more of this. I would rather douse myself in Dr. Pepper and lie down in a pit of fire ants than listen to the remaining three minutes and sixteen seconds of this song. I apologize to those of you anxiously awaiting a measured critique of the Kidz’ rendition of “This Town.” I wish I were stronger. [poop emoji]/10
Mental State: Andy Dufresne being cleansed by the rain after escaping Shawshank prison by crawling through 500 yards of human feces.