Changing the lyrics doesn’t mean changing the meaning
By Colleen Cunha
Today’s pop culture-soaked world, Sean Kingston sings about the slums, children with guns and police in the West Indies. But for ages 9 to 13, Sean Kingston is going to sing about the tropics and chillin’ in the sun! In the original version of “Take You There,” the artist sings, “Little kids with guns only 15/Roam in the streets up to no good/When gun shots just watch us, run quickly/I could show you where.” But he teamed up with Kidz Bop, which creates compilation CDs with pop songs sung by kids instead of the major artists, to sing the song, “Yes you lookin’ good, yes you’re pretty/You and me we’ll be a good look/So just roll with me in a hurry/I could show you where.” This song does not send the same message as the original at all.
Does changing a song this much really leave enough of what the original was trying to say? But if the makers of Kidz Bop didn’t change as much of the song, would it be appropriate for children? Mat Barletta, a musician from the Boston area discussed censorship in music and what it really means. “Artists pick their words for specific reasons,” he said, “‘Fuck You’ by Cee-lo Green is a perfect example … the censored version is ‘Forget You.’ Obviously, saying you’re going to ‘forget’ someone versus telling them ‘fuck you’ has a different meaning, both connotatively and denotatively.”
When an artist writes a song, they choose words meticulously and purposefully. If Sean Kingston wanted “Take You There” to be about hanging out in the sun, he wouldn’t have written about the violence and slums of Jamaica in the first place.
On the other hand, does changing only a few words in a song make it suddenly appropriate for children? On Kidz Bop Dance Party, Ke$ha’s song, “Tik Tok” is hardly changed at all. Instead of “Before I leave/Brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack,” the Kidz Bop version says, “Brush my teeth and then I go pack” version is hardly different. Later in the song, instead of “Tryin’ to get a little bit tipsy,” the kids are “Tryin’ to get a little bit silly.” This entire song, if you are lucky enough to have never heard it before, is about crazy partying all night long. Does changing only these two lines really make a difference?
Bridget Cahill, a mother of three, says it does not. As a mother, she makes a conscious effort to “exclude the artists intended for more mature audiences” when it comes to her children’s musical selection. She has never purchased a Kidz Bop CD and said, “My older children and I always chuckle about the fake lyrics.” But do these changed lyrics make songs suddenly appropriate for children, the obvious target audience for Kidz Bop? “Absoutely not,” she said. “Removing an expletive cannot change the intended meaning of the lyrics.”
When it comes to things like this, some parents don’t give their children enough credit. Children are like tape recorders—they hear everything that’s said around them, and they repeat it. Pop songs like this are no exception when it comes to their absorbent brains. Artists like Lady Gaga, Ke$ha and Rihanna probably aren’t the best idols for children of this age, but their songs are going to be stuck in these kids’ head for a long, long time. The songs are catchy and they’re targeted straight at these kids.
Some artists, like Fall Out Boy, realize that their songs may be lyrically appropriate while the message is not. In 2006, their song “Dance, Dance” was posted online on the track list for Kidz Bop 10. It’s important to note that the creators of Kidz Bop do not need the artist’s permission to use their songs. They only need permission if they wish to change the lyrics. Fall Out Boy bassist, Pete Wentz, quickly fought the company, saying “I can’t imagine some young kids singing ‘[I only want sympathy in the form of you] crawling into bed with me,’” quoting some of the quite obviously sexual lyrics from the song.
In the end, the band got their way and the song was dropped from the album. Although the song has no profanity, the subject matter is still inappropriate and thankfully, the artist caught on quickly enough to keep it from being recorded by children. In the end, is it the profanity or the subject matter that makes these songs unsuitable for children? It’s really both. If you change too many words, the song itself is destroyed, and if you don’t change enough of the song, the artist’s message may be all too clear for these tweens. “They’re eventually going to wonder what the hell they’re singing,” Barletta points out. Personally, I don’t want today’s youth running around dressed like Lady Gaga and Ke$ha. Just saying.
Colleen Cunha is a sophomore cinema and photography major who wants to be a Kidz Bop Kid, so fucking—sorry, very—bad. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.