Kidz Bop, the hit children's musical covers series, is an enterprise fueled by relevance. Infamous for sanitizing risque material (“Hey sexy lady” on “Gangnam Style” becomes “hey hey lady” in the Kidz' hands, for example), the franchise has gotten archetypal tweens to sing the pop music hits of the moment on a total of 30 compilations since 2001. The most recent edition, October’s Kidz Bop 30, was the fourth Kidz Bop comp released this year. It features renditions of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”, Major Lazer & DJ Snake’s “Lean On,” and Silento’s beloved whip and nae nae anthem: Relevance to what the Kidz are listening to is key to Kidz Bop's success.
Now, every lucrative franchise has inevitably come across a commercial dud. But one of Kidz Bop’s duds stands out in particular, since it goes so firmly against what, as established, is their main selling point. In 2011, Kidz Bop put out an album of 80s power ballad covers, Kidz Bop Sings Monster Ballads. It's hard to say where this style fits into the music of the last decade: The power ballad's most recent pinnacle was probably when Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” (covered on Monster Ballads) played in Hot Tub Time Machine. So why did Kidz Bop do 15 songs worth of them?
Part of the reason is Poison's Bret Michaels, one of the prime emblems of hair metal and power ballads. “A portion of [Kidz Bop Sings Monster Ballads’] proceeds will benefit Bret’s Juvenile Diabetes Foundation,” the album’s purchase description explains. This connection no doubt helped facilitate the choice to have Michaels's daughters Raine and Jorja sing over Michaels on guitar on a cover of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” which Michaels originally sung with Poison.
Monster Ballads wasn’t an absolute philanthropic effort, though. Kidz Bop somehow saw a money-making opportunity in it, since only “a portion” of the album’s sales were going towards Michaels’s charity. And the fact that Monster Ballads was a serious money-making effort, devoid of any intention of being deliberately bad is frankly pathetic. However, that just makes it all the more worthwhile to scrutinize.
When hair metal bands weren’t flaunting virility and insatiable libido in their totally epic rock songs, they resorted to musing on heartbreak, longing, and other gushy cliches of love. The ballads are hard to even deem genuine because they’re juxtaposed with the hair metal affinity for hook-ups, drugs, and other bacchanalia. And the Kidz really highlight that.
On “Still of the Night” (an instance of a totally epic rock song), Whitesnake’s David Coverdale sings, “In the still of the night / I hear the wolf howl, honey / Sniffing around your door.” On “Is This Love” (covered on Monster Ballads), Coverdale sings, “I find I spend my time / Waiting on your call / How can I tell you, babe / My back's against the wall.” The former makes the latter's expression of exaggerated pain and heartache seem a little ridiculous. Now imagine the latter sung by pubescent and prepubescent voices, not by Coverdale’s manly voice. While the instrumentation of Monster Ballads’ version doesn’t differ from the original’s, needless to say, the kids are unintentionally demeaning the value of these ballads by rendering them cute.
It’s nice to hear the songs get shot down, to hear these bombastic, gluttonous bands' serious, intimtate arena anthems landing in the genre of children’s music—although, to reiterate, that’s not Kidz Bop’s actual intention. Although Monster Ballads never charted or garnered much attention, the fact that it made “Is This Love” and the other gaudy, romantic songs cute and innocuous is still kind of rewarding. The sole non-romantic track on Monster Ballads, the Kidz Bop version of Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” which is about peace and solidarity, also ended up sounding cute.
Then again, it’s a tad unsettling to hear minors sing some of these lyrics, which present an unhealthy perspective on love, particularly for tweens. Cinderella (the band) convey borderline abuser-esque desperation on “Don’t Know What You Got” with, “Do you wanna see me beggin' baby / Can't you give me just one more day / Can't you see my heart's been draggin' lately / I've been lookin' for the words to say.” And on White Lion’s “Wait”, an inability to move on and allow a partner to do the same is explicit: “Wait and show your loving like it was before / Cause I won't let that feeling walk out through the door / Yeah wait just a moment and try once more / Cause babe I need to hold you like I did before.”
The way they’re singing, though, is great: Kidz Bop actually has some really talented vocalists, and there’s beautiful harmonizing on Monster Ballads. Additionally, the session guitarists enlisted to play on the album really shredded. Despite the problematic lyrical content, the Kidz Bop musicians have earned two devil’s horn hands! \m/ \m/
Eli Zeger is Noisey's teen correspondent. Follow him on Twitter.