Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Creeped out by Kidz Bop: Notes on Halloween playlists / Cruelty in children's music

Over the weekend we took our infant son to a pumpkin festival. The event was on the grounds outside a museum and was free to attend. Cute pictures in the pumpkin patch, etc. Here's a taste:
Here's all you get, internet.

But that's not our focus for this entry.

There was a stage where children's bands (that is, bands who play songs geared toward children) performed starting in the late morning, but before that and between acts the P.A. played a selection of recorded tracks. Being a "family" event they were of the "Kidz Bop" variety, where children sang cover versions of popular songs. I should interject here that my familiarity with those are still very limited; given our child is only an infant with no agency yet to demand we play particular songs yet I've mostly only heard bits of these types of songs on commercials.

Within a short time it became evident that the songs had been chosen to approximate a Halloween theme—which given the impending holiday's connection with pumpkins that was hardly surprising. And within a somewhat longer time it became further evident that the playlist was limited as the same songs kept coming up over and over again. (In researching this post I was able to figure out they were from a Kidz Bop Halloween album.)

While I concede people don't listen to lyrics, and parents are supposed to be too busy chasing their children for paying much attention to anything else, upon repeated listens (and because our little guy isn't walking yet) certain recurring thoughts kept coming to mind, which I must share.

While I understand why it gets played around October 31st, Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" is not a Halloween song. It's a good song, of course, and he references a scary movie monster in a metaphorical way, and even if taken to be about actual werewolves, but there's nothing remotely creepy about the track; the werewolves are looking for Chinese food or drinking piña colatas. Mixed in with other non-Halloween songs and played only once is acceptable, but that's it. That someone thought to have a children-sung version recorded makes me feel as though identifying that restriction is doubly necessary.

There are actual Halloween songs out there (besides just "Monster Mash") if one makes the effort, but I suppose for a free event that's more than should be expected.

I grasp that like pretty much every countercultural thing from three or more decades ago the Rocky Horror Picture Show has been completely de-fanged and made palatable. I also concede its Halloween appeal, so I'll give the inclusion of "The Time Warp" a pass. However, if a song from a movie featuring a transvestite—a sweet transvestite—in the lead is deemed okay for kids to record and there are instructions in the chorus on how to perform the eponymous dance then those lyrics should be left intact. In the version sung by the children the line "It's a pelvic thrust that really drives me insane" gets revised to "It's the way you shake it that really drives me insane" and that is beyond tolerable. Declare it inappropriate for the younger set and leave it off the set but don't water it down so egregiously.

Especially for us parents who know the dance and will get thrown off by the alteration in the words. It is bad enough we're pelvic thrusting around a bunch of kids but it's worsened by losing the flow when the instructions are altered. One might go as so far as to say that sort of nonsense really drives me insane.

Third, and most important:
Rockwell's 1984 hit, "Somebody's Watching Me" (with the uncredited Michael Jackson vocal on the chorus), certainly could be construed as somewhat creepy (although the verses seem more about celebrity paranoia than about being stalked by Jason Voorhees) but it's way too far a stretch to lump it in as a "Halloween song."

That is, until you have children sing it, at which point it becomes among the creepiest things I've heard in a long time. However, to my mind that actually makes it hideously inappropriate as part of what precedes live entertainment where the performers are singing to toddlers about eating their vegetables and being nice to their siblings.

But if you're an adult throwing a Halloween party with only other adults and you want to send shivers down the spines of your guests throw that cover in the mix. Do be prepared to follow it up with something outside of any scary theme (you may need to resort to Pharrell's "Happy" or something equally upbeat to avoid a stampede for the door).

Oh, and seriously: "Monster Mash" more than twice in a single evening justifies everyone cutting out whether the ultra-creepy kids "Somebody's Watching Me" is included or not. Just pepper Halloween songs into a playlist with other songs (whatever your preference may be). And if you get the chance to throw in Weird Al's "Nature Trail to Hell" you'll impress one nerdy guest more than you could possibly imagine.


On another kids' music topic:

For our infant we have purchased some toys that play instrumental music—the usual public domain suspects like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," etc., where there aren't royalties to be paid.

On two different such toys I've heard them play "Alouette"—a song where if the lyrics had been sung they'd be in French:

Alouette, gentille aloutte
Alouette, je te plumerai

That translates very roughly as (with the same melody):

Little skylark, pretty little skylark
Little skylark, I will pluck you

And it goes on to run through the various body parts on the bird ("Je te plumerai le tête"—"I will pluck your head") that will be abused in the interest of teaching French children vocabulary.

it's one thing to pluck a bird of its feathers in preparation for cooking and eating it; it's quite another to sing a song to the bird (in almost an affectionate way) telling the bird of your intentions. That borders on sadism, delighting not only in the process but in tormenting the victim along the way.

Apparently animal cruelty is easily overlooked with a bouncy melody and words in a foreign language that are probably describing the sort of thoughts a sociopath has.

That actually might make it subtly apropos in your Halloween party playlist. Again, most people won't be paying attention but you may get that one nerd to give you a knowing nod.


It does have a jaunty melody, and again, what matters is not so much the deconstructed message behind the song but whether it can be had without paying royalties.

It's good that the versions on the toys have no words so we won't need to explain what they mean to him someday.

At least until he learns to read and eventually we allow him on the internet, but by then the entire world will get spoiled for him and this song will be the least of his worries.


Once our son is walking (and then soon running) I won't have any attention left for such things, so I need to provide this public service announcement while I still have the chance.

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