Former Rock Label Pushes Kid Pop Machine Into Overdrive

What was the worst year for most musicians has been one of the best for a record company that gets kids to perform cover versions of hit songs.

Kidz Bop has gone viral with British children who whiled away lockdowns dancing to Dua Lipa, Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake tunes belted out by the label’s U.K. ambassadors — Max, Mia, Ashton and Twinkle. 

The bubblegum pop phenomenon began in 2001 with an album of covers aimed at U.S. youngsters after its founder, music publisher Razor & Tie, decided to branch out from its roots in rock compilations such as the heavy-metal CD set “Monsters of Rock.” It’s had 6.5 billion streams since its inception, and grown into a sprawling franchise offering merchandise, videos, talent search competitions and concert tours. 

Kidz Bop streaming traffic and watch time doubled outside the U.S. last year. It’s capitalizing on that growth by partnering with Comcast Corp.’s European pay-TV unit Sky to air fitness classes and singing and dancing workshops in the U.K., where it’s logged more than 240 million audio streams since launching in 2017. The label has created spinoffs in Australia, Germany, Portugal and the Baltic states and says it’s looking to add another European territory in a new language shortly. 

“At its core, kids love to hear other kids sing. It’s inspirational but attainable,” said Kidz Bop President Sasha Junk. “When you’re six it’s hard to imagine yourself as Katy Perry. But you can imagine yourself as 12-year-old Twinkle.”

There’s another reason for Kidz Bop’s success: It replaces explicit lyrics with more sanitized versions, making it popular with parents who don’t want their children exposed to sexual content that’s now mainstream in pop music. 

The new lyrics sometimes make little sense, drawing mockery from some corners of the Internet. Yet there’s nothing new in the idea itself -- record labels have made “radio edits” of explicit songs for decades. 

“If a child has unfettered access to YouTube, or indeed a cell phone with an unrestricted browser, that rather strikes me as a bigger issue” than Kidz Bop toning down explicit lyrics, said Tim Ingham, founder of music industry news and analysis site Music Business Worldwide.

Kidz Bop hit the gas through lockdown, releasing around 100 commercials and videos while abiding by social distancing rules by filming its performers individually using green screens and sterilized remote-filming kits from New York-based production company Hayden5. Sky will air a Kidz Bop concert in London at the end of the month while organizers wait for a chance to reschedule a series of U.K. gigs that were cancelled due to Covid-19. 

Meanwhile, viewership is growing, with the KIDZ BOP UK YouTube channel increasing its subscriber base by 100,000 in three months to almost 400,000. 

It’s the kind of success that’s firing up the value of music back catalogs as investors latch onto the potential for giving songs a second life -- either as cover versions or as backing tracks to Peloton fitness sessions, TikTok dance routines or video games.

Squeezing more revenue from hits by repackaging them for a different demographic is one way to keep the industry growing as a red-hot music streaming market starts to mature and growth slows. Global streaming revenue at major music labels grew by just 0.8% in the first three months of 2021 from the previous quarter, according to London-based Midia Research.

“Until now, streaming enabled revenue growth in its own right. Now it will enable growth in new adjacent markets,” said Midia analyst Mark Mulligan. 

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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