For anyone who hasn’t kept up with the most relentless franchise since the endless Now compilations, the concept behind Kidz Bop is numbingly simple. Choose some very timely hits, then record copycat remakes with preteens singing (or shouting) along. Tapping into the vast demo of tweens who’ve ditched Elmo’s World for Jimmy Eat World, the first Kidz Bop, in 2001, was so successful that it quickly spawned one sequel, then another, then another. (Everyone, it seems, wants to be an American Idol contender, even at age 6.) Those with only dim memories of kindergarten probably didn’t become aware of this onslaught of discs until last year’s Kidz Bop 7, with its chirpy cover of Modest Mouse’s ”Float On” that did double duty as karaoke for kiddies and a novelty disc for indie yuppies.
But with each successive CD, culminating in the new Kidz Bop 8, the kids seem to be bopping less than they once did. While the albums have always employed (uncredited) grown-ups to replicate the lead voices of the original recordings, the children singing backup were hard to ignore. On earlier discs, they screamed out the refrain of ”Get the Party Started” and became pint-size Greek choruses on renditions of Maroon 5’s ”She Will Be Loved” and Ashlee Simpson’s ”Pieces of Me” (singing on the latter as well as Simpson herself).
The kids are still audible on 8. The ”na na” part of Gwen Stefani’s ”Rich Girl” couldn’t be better suited for a pipsqueak holler-along, and they lend an eerie, Rock Children of the Corn quality to Avril Lavigne’s ”Nobody’s Home.” But in general, their voices appear to be mixed lower than before, making the covers of Franz Ferdinand’s ”Take Me Out,” U2’s ”Vertigo,” and Green Day’s ”Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sound like little more than the work of a particularly slavish hipster-hotel lounge band.
For the Green Day remake, the producers show they’re mindful of their young audience by changing the phrase ”what’s f—ed up” to ”what’s messed up.” But elsewhere, the men and women behind the Kidz don’t seem to be quite so conscientious. It’s one thing for the nameless tweens to join in on the chorus of Frankie J’s slurpy ”Obsession (No Es Amor)”: At least they get to practice another language. But when the adult faux Frankie sings, ”We can do this all night/ Now I don’t care if you got a man,” and the kids reply with ”Baby, I wish you’d understand,” it’s a little creepy. And that’s just one such example. Kidz Bop 8 needs to let kidz be kidz — as much as that’s possible these days, anyway.