KIDZ ON THE RUN: The Kidz Bop 2020 Live Tour will travel to 80 cities in 2020. (Courtesy Kidz Bop)

The stage show, launched from the hit compilation albums, takes cleaned-up pop to the younger set

When the Kidz Bop franchise launched with a compilation album in 2001, kids sang cleaned-up versions of Britney Spears’ “Oops! … I Did It Again,” Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” and Cher’s “Believe.” Almost two decades later a different group of youngsters is performing current hits “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers, “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo, “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X and “Adore You” by Harry Styles on the brand’s seventh tour.

The songs may change, but Kidz Bop stays true to the concept: “It’s today’s biggest hits sung by kids,” said Vic Zaraya, president of Kidz Bop.

“There was no music for school-age children in the market except for Barney back in the early 2000s,” Zaraya said. “Britney Spears and Eminem were hot, but their lyrics were too racy for a 4-year-old.” The idea was to scrub clean pop songs, make them kid-appropriate and have kids sing them.

The franchise starts with the albums but also comprises music videos, talent searches, merchandise and the live touring show. 

 Kidz Bop’s first attempt at a stage show was in 2008. While successful, Zaraya thought they didn’t have it quite right yet. 

“The original show was more of a live band with adults playing the music and kids singing and dancing than a flat-out kid show,” he said. “Today’s show is a complete performance with only the kids and special effects and great stage production. It’s a tighter concept.”

Another big difference was a switch to highlighting the kids, who until that point were just voices on the records.

“The brand was not really anybody,” Zaraya said. “So, we created the Kidz Bop Kids, who had names and personalities.”

It worked. By 2014 the brand was booming, and the team decided to give another tour a try. 

“It was a good point in time for us,” he said. “We had developed out the brand, shows featuring kids were in demand, and we knew exactly what we wanted to create.”

Zaraya said that the six previous tours, which have grown steadily year-to-year, have given them the experience they needed to get it perfected.

“We’ve become really good at knowing how to create a show,” Zaraya said. “It has a beginning, a middle and an end. The show has moments when the audience is lifted up and then moments to calm everything down. We’ve developed a lot of interactivity. We have a good feel for the time length, pacing, and what the audience wants to see.”

The shows run about 90 minutes, with an intermission. The shows typically start around 5 p.m. and end by 6:30 p.m. 

“This is ideal for this audience,” Zaraya said. “If it were a three-hour show people would leave, and if it was too short, people would not get value for money.”

CLEAN TAKE: The Kidz Bop Kids perform today’s top hits with scrubbed-clean lyrics. (Courtesy Kidz Bop)

The shows have been promoted by Live Nation since 2017. Previously they were routed in-house.

“Kidz Bop has continued to grow from small to larger venues over the four years that we have been promoting it,” said Jared Braverman, senior vice president of Live Nation Touring. “We always have new venues requesting to make it into the routing since family entertainment is a top priority for so many of them.”

Braverman said the family-friendly show’s appeal is it’s a concert experience that kids and their parents can enjoy together.  

“The shows are always packed with today’s top hits, so everyone gets to sing along,” he said. “There’s not a lot of shows that have this element.”

“Our vision for the live touring show has played out spectacularly,” Zaraya said. “Growth has been huge for the division. We doubled from 2016 to 2017, doubled again in 2018 and last year we grew by 20%. This year we are expecting to grow another 30%. Live Nation has been a great partner and has helped grow the brand significantly.”

The Kidz Bop Kids, typically between ages 10 and 15, go to school, and a guardian tours along with them.

“We look for kids that enjoy being on the road,” he said. “It’s a mutual relationship between the kids, their families and us.”

“Typically, we try to change out the kids every two to three years,” said Amanda Andrews, Kidz Bop’s vice president of touring. “As we expand, we’ve tried different variations as well. We also have four kids who do recording, YouTube, satellite radio and other marketing.”

The Kidz Bop Live 2020 Tour will debut June 16 at the Palace Theatre in Stamford, Conn., and travel to 80 cities across the U.S., Canada, the Dominican Republic and the U.K. The U.S leg of the tour ends at 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Dec. 13.

“This year will be an evolution,” Zaraya said. “We work to make it more entertaining every year.”

According to numbers reported to Pollstar, the live touring franchise has sold over half a million tickets, with an average audience of 3,984 and an average gross of $137,627. Kidz Bop is owned by independent music company Concord Music, which acquired the brand in 2015.

The music is provided by a track and the performers play instruments during the show. This year’s four cast members are Liv, 13; Isaiah, 13; Julianna, 15; and Shane, 15.

The stage production is designed by Chris Gratton, the mastermind behind Justin Bieber’s tours, and Fireplay, which just wrapped up the Billie Eilish tour.

“We have some of the best creators in the business,” Andrews said.

“It’s a real spectacle,” Zaraya said. “We’ve got really high production values. There are incredible special effects. There’s great backing video on giant screens. It’s a top-notch family entertainment production.”

It takes two trucks to move the sets from city to city. Load-in takes about half a day, as does load-out.

Interaction is a big part of the appeal, and this year Kidz Bop will feature more of it than ever.

“It’s ultimately the best part of our show,” Andrews said. “Often kids show up and they are not sure if they should dance and interact and so we encourage it.”

Tickets average $45. A VIP experience that includes a special a cappella performance, private party and meet and greet ranges between $165 and $195.

The tour will start at amphitheaters and then move on to performing arts centers.

Merchandise plays a significant part in the overall revenue of the tour and it’s all sold through Live Nation. “It’s part of our 360 deal with them,” Andrews said. 

“Our glow items are huge,” Zaraya said. “We have a lot of repeat customers who buy something one year and then wear it to next year’s show.”

Cracking new international markets is where Kidz Bop sees even more opportunity.

The Canadian version of the show will play nine shows, starting at Centennial Hall in London, Ontario, on Feb. 21, and winding up March 8 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The British Kidz Bop Kids were so successful playing one show in London last year that the U.K. leg of the 2020 tour has been expanded to eight shows, starting with a multinight stop at the London Palladium starting April 7. Subsequent dates include Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester before the production moves on to Cardiff, Wales and Glasgow, Scotland.

“We’re only on our first full international tour,” Zaraya said. “We already have German kids. French kids are next on the agenda, followed by tours in Japan and Australia.”

A special concentration is being put on developing a tour for Spanish-speaking children. 

“Kidz Bop en Español” will go to Mexico, Brazil and the rest of Latin America,” Zaraya said. “We think there’s tremendous opportunity South of the Border for us.”

Braverman thinks the show has long legs.

“It’s 100% sustainable,” he said. “Kidz Bop has had 24 Top-10 debuts, sold millions of albums and generated billions of streams since 2001. That type of longevity doesn’t go away.”   

Zaraya said that they are looking at a TV show and experiential shows. 

“YouTube, Roku, anywhere kids access long- and short-form video is where we want to be,” he said. “We want to be where the kids are.

“We’re just at the beginning,” Zaraya added.  “Twenty years in and we’re just at the tip of what this can become.”