When it comes to kid-friendly covers of pop music, Kidz Bop has been at the top of the food chain (and the charts) for 20 years. But sanitizing all manner of unsuitable content across genres is hardly straightforward, and the edited versions run the gamut from totally nonsensical to still vaguely inappropriate.
In 2020, The Pudding did a deep dive into Kidz Bop songs to find out what exactly falls under the censorship hammer. While it’s not difficult to guess which categories are most problematic (alcohol and drugs, sexual references, violence, profanity, etc.), you might be surprised about specific words that get cut. Kissing, for example, is frequently omitted, as is the word touch. Bullets—even in metaphorical phrases like dodge a bullet—are generally updated to something less violent; and though praying is fine, praying to God is not. The study also revealed that censorship in Kidz Bop songs has pretty steadily increased since the first album debuted in 2001, so the conventions mentioned above don’t necessarily apply (or, at least, don’t consistently apply) to tracks from the early aughts.
Though Kidz Bop can’t really hold a candle to the original songs, and experts have questioned whether the censorship is even effective, listening to aggressively cheerful (and frankly very talented) kids belt out sterilized refrains is its own type of entertainment. Here are 11 of the weirdest—or best, or worst, or laziest, or funniest—Kidz Bop covers for your amusement.
1. “I’m the One” // DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne
DJ Khaled’s 2017 chart-topper gave the Kidz Bop creators a perfect opportunity to employ what’s arguably their most beloved mantra: Any song can be about dancing if you try hard enough (or at all). The lyric “And when she on the molly she a zombie,” for example, got swapped for “And when she hear this song she dances crazy.” And rather than risk parents’ having to answer questions from curious kids about the fraught relationship between Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, “She think we Clyde and Bonnie, but it's more like Whitney, Bobby” became “She thinks I’m like a party but she’s really more a smarty.” (Meaning unclear.)
2. “Let It Rock” // Kevin Rudolf ft. Lil Wayne
Kevin Rudolf’s 2008 rap rock anthem was simply too anti-establishment to toe the line without some updates. “And you do your crime” became “And you stand in line,” and “So he stuck his middle finger to the world” became “So he raised his hand and waved it to the world,” among other edits. And since mentioning God is generally against the rules, “So you pray to God” shifted to “So you pray a lot.” The resulting song is a jumble of mixed messages that mean nothing, but as they say: Just let it rock.
3. “Cake by the Ocean” // DNCE
Most fans assumed Joe Jonas et al. were referencing something sex-related with the shiny new phrase cake by the ocean (and they were), but Kidz Bop predictably chose to make it literal. While the original “See you licking frosting from your own hands” was too voyeuristic and/or too suggestive, “Now we’re licking frosting from our own hands” evidently evoked a fun beachside bash. (It’s only too bad they didn’t add in a parental “Honey, don’t lick your fingers—here’s a napkin” afterward.) In keeping with the this-is-strictly-between-me-and-cake theme, the Kidz Bop kids even sing “It’s a life that’s meant to be” instead of “You’re a real-life fantasy.” Why they didn’t just tweak it to “It’s a real-life fantasy” is a real-life mystery.
4. “I Love It” // Icona Pop ft. Charli XCX
Though it makes sense that parents might not want their toddlers singing something so violent as “I crashed my car into the bridge, I watched, I let it burn,” the Kidz Bop version—“You drove your car across the bridge, I watched you let it turn”—makes significantly less sense. Then again, toddlers come up with plenty of nonsensical utterances on their own, so maybe it’s a moot point. The Kidz Bop editors also tossed out “You're from the ’70s, but I'm a ’90s b***h” in favor of “You’re from the ’70s, but I’m a Kidz Bop kid.”
5. “Uma Thurman” // Fall Out Boy
High-octane lyrics like “the stench of summer sex” and “the blood of the lamb” fit the (relatively) hard rock sound of Fall Out Boy’s “Uma Thurman.” When that sound is accompanied by very mild, decontextualized phrases like “the stench of sunny heads” and “the love of a lamb”—and sung by kids—the whole thing is sort of hilarious. Even “May nothing but death do us part” was deemed too touchy and changed to “May nothing but this do us part.”
6. “Sweet Dreams” // Beyoncé
When Kidz Bop released their cover of Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams” in 2010, on the other hand, the “death do us part” motif avoided the chopping block: Her line “Not even death can make us part” remained unchanged. What didn’t slip by unnoticed was “Tattoo your name across my heart,” which became “I’ve got your name across my heart.” Tattoos usually get cut from Kidz Bop songs, as does any mention of being high, even metaphorically. Instead of “Boy, you’re my temporary high,” the kids sing “Boy, you’re my certain type of guy.”
7. “Counting Stars” // OneRepublic
In the Kidz Bop world, it seems that any lyric even loosely suggesting immorality or a lack of good judgment is liable to get the boot. This is clearly illustrated in OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars,” an entire song about rejecting societal expectations and indulging your own instincts. Instead of “I feel something so right doing the wrong thing / And I feel something so wrong doing the right thing,” the Kidz Bop kids just chant “I feel something so right doing the right thing” twice. And where OneRepublic vocalist Ryan Tedder sings “Sink in the river the lessons I’ve learned,” his Kidz Bop counterparts say “Swim in the river, the lessons I’ve learned.”
8. “Love Me Harder” // Ariana Grande, The Weeknd
Similar to the “Let’s just make it about dancing” censorship tactic is the equally common “Let’s just make it about singing” one. This is used to unintentionally comical effect in Ariana Grande and The Weeknd’s breathy bedroom duet, where “Can you feel the pressure between your hips? / I’ll make it feel like the first time” gets replaced by “Can you hear the song singing in my heart? / I’ll make it known for the first time.” The track is heavily edited throughout—to the point where “beyond bliss” becomes “beyond this”—but the repetition of “Love me harder” cancels out a lot of that hard work.
9. “That’s What I Like” // Bruno Mars
This is another dynamite example of the “Let’s just make it about singing” method, where “Pop it for a player” becomes “Sing it with a friend.” It’s also a reminder that any mention of alcohol will get cut: Instead of “Strawberry champagne on ice,” the Kidz Bop vocalists sing “Strawberry milkshakes, so nice.” The reasons for certain other swaps in this particular song are less self-evident. Where Bruno Mars says “I got a condo in Manhattan,” the Kidz Bop kids say “There is a condo in Manhattan”; but later, “I’ll rent a beach house in Miami” only gets changed to “I have a beach house in Miami.” It seems like the second swap is related to agency—kids, after all, don’t rent property—but then why not leave “I got a condo in Manhattan”?
10. “U Remind Me” // Usher
Even the more laid-back lyricists from Kidz Bop’s earlier days had to admit that “Thought that she was the one for me / ’Til I found out she was on her creep / Oh, she was sexing everyone but me” was unfit for little ears. They left the first line as was and changed the rest of it to “’Til I found out she was on her dream / Oh, she was sassing everyone but me.” The cryptic meaning of the phrase “on her dream” (which, to our knowledge, isn’t a phrase at all) probably didn’t bother many people. But seeing as the track is sung by an adult male vocalist accompanied by a chorus of young children, it still seems pretty adult-themed.
11. “Closer” // The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey
The edits in The Chainsmokers’ 2016 breakout hit are, for the most part, understandable, but the new lines sound strangely formal and robotic. “Now you’re looking pretty but you are so far,” is the substitute for “Now you’re looking pretty in a hotel bar,” and “As we stand against the Rover” replaces “In the backseat of your Rover.” And then there’s “Pull the sheets right off the corner of the notebook that you stole,” which is such an abnormal way to word that sentence that it’s only too obvious the original lyrics were about bedsheets (“Pull the sheets right off the corner of that mattress that you stole”). It’s also surprising that stealing made the cut, since it doesn’t always: In the Kidz Bop cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” for instance, “I beg and borrow and steal” is “I beg and borrow and feel.”