Without a doubt, pop music lyrics have grown more decadent.
Among this summer's hottest hits, Katy Perry sings about the ménage à trois she had "Last Friday Night," and Nicki Minaj raps about dropping her panties on "Super Bass." Billboard's current number-one pop song is "Party Rock Anthem" by a group called LMFAO. As anyone who's ever sent a text probably knows, that stands for Laughing My Fucking Ass Off. The F bomb is even showing up in song titles, like Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" and Pink's "Fuckin' Perfect."
Also without a doubt, children listen to pop music in large numbers. Arbitron has estimated that 90% of American children ages 6-11 are exposed to at least eight hours of radio per week, and much of it is Top 40.
Increasingly, children and pop music are an uncomfortable mix. While radio edits of songs keep some of the worst content off the air, kids who go to iTunes to download their favorites may be intrigued to find explicit versions.
No wonder a lot of parents have embraced Kidz Bop, the series of compilation albums that sanitize Top 40 hits in versions sung by clean-cut, wholesome kids. Kidz Bop reaches a milestone this year, its 10th anniversary. Distributed by Sony on the Razor & Tie label, Kidz Bop 20 was released July 19.
I spent last week immersing myself in this album to see if Kidz Bop succeeds in doing what Holden Caulfield never could - erase all the "fuck you" signs in the world.
Surprisingly, the 16 tracks on Kidz Bop 20 don't shy away from some of the grittiest songs on the chart. After 19 previous releases, these producers have grown confident in their ability to neutralize offensive content.
Britney Spears' "Till the World Ends" is a case in point. In its original form, the song is a sexually provocative seduction story that includes the lines "Get you off with the touch dancing in the dark" and "Baby if you want this good shit."
Kidz Bop writers understand that pop lyrics don't need to make sense. They convert these lines into "get you it with the track dancing in the dark" and "if you want this good dish." The edits preserve the rhymes and cadence, even if meaning is lost.
I suspect red-blooded American tweens would have a field day joking about Kidz Bop edits with their friends. "The Lazy Song" by Bruno Mars includes the lines "Meet a really nice girl/Have some really nice sex/And she's going to scream out, 'This is great, oh my God, this is great.'" Kidz Bop 20 recasts the verse to have the singer send a really nice text. The texted reply is, "Oh my God, you're so great."
Some things about Kidz Bop are not so great.
The child singers who perform these songs do so with no emotional depth. Their voices are as vapid as the makeup and costumes they wear in the accompanying videos.
And here's where Kidz Bop grows offensive itself: The lyrics are edited for more than references to sex and drinking. They avoid any challenging references to race, gender or sexual identity.
On Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," the Kidz Bop crew sings, "God makes no mistakes," but they skip whole verses describing the different ways people are born.
Gone is the line "No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgendered life." Missing, too, are references to racial diversity, "Whether you're black, white, beige, Chola descent, you're Lebanese, you're Orient."
Funny, because for this parent, that's one of the few meaningful lines this collection of pop songs might have had to offer.
I'm the first to agree that pop music themes aren't friendly to kids. I would suggest they're not really friendly to anyone with an imaginative mind, anyone bright enough to understand that human emotion doesn't always revolve around sex, alcohol and partying.
But Kidz Bop doesn't succeed in making pop music any less shallow. Amazingly, it makes it even more so.